January 23, 2019
Dear Daddy —
We’ve come to a crossroads. Is that the right turn? Maybe it’s a fork? Anyway, we’ve decisively chosen a path.
The document begins, ” – Witnesseth – That for an in consideration of the sum…”
It continues on to say a lot of other things, including, “Beginning for the same at a nail now set in the center of a thirty-foot-wide right-of-way of the county road known as Simpson Road… “–a description of the landmarks and boundaries that define the 13 acres that you bought 53 years ago, we believe for sum of $18,000.
In short, it says that Renee and I, as of yesterday, own the house on Simpson Road, with Mother as holder of a life estate, meaning that she enjoys the use of the property until her death. Well, sometimes perhaps “enjoy” is too strong a word…
For now, Mother plans to continue to live there, in the apartment we’ve set up for her–what you knew as the family room, the office, the laundry room, and the only bathroom. Renee and I plan to stay in our house on Hunt Club Road. That’s her home, and one of my homes. It’s where we raised our children and spent nearly half our lives.
Work on your house continues. I must admit that the holidays and all the legal preparations for what we did yesterday have distracted me, as have financial plans. You see, there’s a second document, which in short, says that Renee and I will pay Mother and/or her estate the difference in value between what we’ve received, and what my brother and sister have received. Mother also signed new deeds yesterday, and, between them, Charles and Susan own all of our property in North Carolina–the house and about 67 acres. Property values between Central Maryland and Western North Carolina are different enough that that huge chunk of land is worth about half what the house and acreage here are worth.
In “our” new house, I need to finish the pink bathroom. Susan is chafing that there are tile and tools laid out all over the floor in her old bedroom. But first I think we’re going to finally build the basement steps. Since the house was built in 1967, there have been no stairs leading from the first floor to the basement. There’s just a door that opens to a drop. The outside steps are there, going down into the outside entrance to the basement. That’s the only way most people enter it. It’s very inconvenient when you just need to carry something downstairs, or when it snows.
For all these years, a ladder has leaned up against the wall on the other side of that door in the hallway. When weather was bad, we used that. The ladder was just leaning there. I never liked to use it for that reason. Of course, in later years, you had amassed so much stuff in the basement that it would have been impossible for the ladder to move more than about six inches side to side, or about 18 inches backward. I suppose there was some safety in that.
You didn’t remember this when you were alive, but, during the last year of your life, you decided to use that ladder. We don’t know why. We just know that you had disappeared for a while, and Susan noticed the basement door standing open, and the stairway light on. That was unusual. She walked to the door, looked down, and saw you clinging to the ladder. You said you were too unsteady to finish climbing down, or to come back up. She said to hang on, and she would come and get you.
She went around to the outside basement entrance, only to discover that you had built a barricade over it, using plywood, bricks, rocks and cardboard. We’re not sure why you had done that. The door locked. We can only assume that you thought it would keep mice and insects out. It would not have, and, based on available evidence, did not. It took Susan quite some time to dissect the barricade while you hung on the ladder by your 94-year-old arms. Finally, she made it to you, climbed up and helped you down the ladder. Standing in the telephone-booth-sized opening between computer cabinets at the base of the ladder, you asked, “Who put all this stuff down here!?”
She didn’t have the heart to tell you it was you, over all of our objections.
The only change I’ve made to that area thus far–aside from cleaning out almost all of the junk from the stairway area–has been to secure the ladder to the upper floor using number 12 Romex cable. The ladder can wiggle, but it’s unlikely to fall while we’re climbing on it.
So stairs will be the next task. I have to get the supports bought or made. The treads and risers are already cut and waiting–they were the temporary stairs to the second floor.
The only delay–I’m not sure I know where all of them are! [As of this writing, I’ve cleaned out the area where she stairway supplies are stored. And then emergencies arose. We’ll be back to it soon enough.]
Anyway, the uncertainly of “will we own the house?” is over.
The uncertainty of “Are we crazy? Can we afford to keep this house?!” has begun.