If I didn’t know better, I’d say buying this house was just an excuse for Bruce to acquire another trailer. He’s obsessed with them. Is there such a thing as a hauling fetish?
“We have to be able to pull it with the Explorer,” he said.
“We have another truck you know?” I said.
“We have a flatbed work truck and a dump truck. You want to haul the stuff to the little house in Chincoteague with the dump truck?”
“Yes ,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Let’s take the dump truck and park it on the tiny lawn on Ocean Blvd.”
“See what I mean,” he said. “We need a smaller trailer, one we can park beside the house.”
I sighed. There was no sense arguing. He’d win anyway. So we built a trailer, painted it and waited for the state trooper to come approve it for tags. We loaded it and left at two-thirty on a Thursday morning, headed for Chincoteague, and a one o’clock closing appointment at the office of a lawyer on the island.
We pulled into McDonald’s parking lot at eight-thirty and went in for a cup of coffee and a long wait. Storm clouds gathered to the west and the air hung heavy. We took a corner booth and watched as a light mist turned into a solid downpour. I wondered if this was a sign. I’m always looking for metaphors, rain is a big one.
“It’s been raining like this for a week,” the man in gum boots sitting across from us said. “Mosquitoes worst I’ve ever seen.”
I was ready to run, taking my down payment, our brand new trailer filled with household items, and my dreams back home again. An epic flood and/or plague of mosquitoes was about to descend on my hopes and I didn’t seem to have sense enough to heed the warning.
“Stop worrying,” Bruce said, sighing. I looked at him. I hadn’t said a word. He patted my hand.
The phone rang at ten o’clock. It was Debbie, our real estate agent. Her son was being taken to the emergency room with shortness of breath and chest pains. Did we mind holding off on the final walk through of the house until she went to check on him? Oh dear, another sign.
I assured her that was not a problem, we didn’t have the appointment to close until one o’clock and I wasn’t worried about the walk through anyway. We had met Melva’s daughter and son-in-law on a previous visit and were certain they hadn’t stripped the house of copper pipes or aluminum siding. Debbie agreed to call as soon as she was certain her son was alright.
The phone rang at eleven-fifteen. It was Debbie. “He has pneumonia and they’ve given him some heavy doses of antibiotics. He’ll be fine. Can I meet you in ten minutes?”
We drove with windshield wipers sweeping water away at high speed and arrived at at the house at the appointed time. We pulled into Melva’s driveway. I stepped out of the truck and into soggy grass. Water seeped over the soles of my sneakers. We dashed through the door of the screen porch, and watched as rain poured off and through the green plastic awning above us. Leaks we hadn’t seen on sunny day visits dripped at our feet. Another sign, I thought.
Debbie unlocked the door to the house explaining that Melva’s daughter had been overwhelmed with packing and the ordeal of moving her things. They’d expected the house to stay on the market for awhile and thought they’d have time to go through the process slowly. Whatever was left in the house and sheds that we didn’t want, we could donate to the local Opportunity Shop or the Hospice Thrift Store.
The house was as if Melva had cleaned up after her breakfast and gone for a walk. Everything was clean and in its place, all the rooster dishes on plate hangers lined the kitchen walls. Cabinets held china, glassware, pots, pans, and even food and spices. Drawers contained silverware, cooking utensils, handmade hot pads, and birthday candles. Melva’s mop and broom hung in the closet along with the apron she wore to keep her dress clean. Fabric softener with the picture of a teddy bear on it, sat on top of the washer.
I wandered the house, picking up her things, wondering how she must have felt, leaving them all behind for the last time. Her bed was made with lavender scented sheets and a hand made quilt was pulled neatly under the pillows.
Her toothbrush and tube of toothpaste stood in the china holder at the sink in the bathroom; her shower cap hung on the back of the door. Up in the attic, her canning jars and pressure cookers waited for her to return from the farm stand with beans, or tomatoes, or cucumbers.
I felt like I was breaking Melva’s heart. Oh my, another sign.
Bruce inspected the front window and door locks, the screens on the porch, the attic for leaks and the bathroom for water pressure. All was in order.
The phone rang. “Hello,” Bruce said, then silence. Finally he said, “Sure, we’ll see you at three then.”
My face must have revealed my anxiousness. “It’s alright,” Bruce said to me. “Some of the closing papers haven’t arrived from the bank yet. He’s pushed closing ahead two hours.” Oh no, another sign.
After the inspection, Debbie suggested we go to one of the local restaurants for lunch and listed some gift and art shops we might be interested in visiting. She said we could unhook the trailer and leave it in the driveway. It was no problem.
We returned to McDonalds and ordered from the dollar menu, ate slowly, deciding what we would do with our time until three o’clock. The forecast hadn’t called for rain, only a twenty percent chance of showers. It fell steadily and in driving sheets at times. Bruce, always prepared, had packed tarps for the trailer and covered everything securely before we unhooked from the trailer. Neither of us packed our foul weather gear though, and agreed that thrift store rain coats were in order. We headed to the Opp shop. The coat rack sported two slickers just our size. Was this a good sign? I wondered.
We spent over an hour in the junk shop, browsing, trying to remember what Melva didn’t leave in the house that we might need. We came away with a coffee maker and two mugs. Melva had fancy tea cups and instant coffee.
At three-fifteen we hadn’t heard from the lawyer and I couldn’t stand the suspense anymore. “No word yet,” he said, sounding frustrated. “They emailed wanting to know if you had flood insurance. I’d sent them the policy five days ago, but I re-sent it,” he said. “I’m still waiting to hear from the bank’s closing officer so I can fill out the numbers and email them back to her. Settlement shouldn’t be this difficult.”
“Do you think it’ll still be today?” I asked. “We planned to stay the night at the house. We didn’t make other arrangements.” My heart sank, this was another sign.
“I’ll call the loan officer and let them know that. You call them too. They’ve had every document they need for almost a week. There’s no excuse for this.”
I telephoned our loan officer at the bank. She and I have been corresponding since the process began, and she’s been nothing but helpful. She felt my frustration and assured me that she would stay as late as she needed in the office to make sure that the closing officer had our papers to the lawyer before the end of the day. “You won’t have to drive five hours home tonight, if I have to drive the papers to you from here,” she said.
Bruce and I slogged out to the truck and drove to the beach at Assateague. We parked facing the ocean. I sat silently, watching the waves crash onto the shore under a now gray drizzle of rain. Everything looked deserted, no colorful umbrellas, no children running after beach balls. Even the gulls were hunkered down, looking bleak.
“Do you remember when we bought your Grandma’s house in ’86?” Bruce asked.
“Yeah,” I said, smiling.
“We suffered the same red tape and frustration. It took a week longer to close than we thought it would. Some HUD paper was lost, remember?”
I had to think way back. “Seems to me I do remember,” I said.
“It’ll work out. You worry too much. If we don’t get in tonight, we’ll stay at the Best Western, no big deal.”
I kept looking at my phone, at the time readout, willing the thing to ring. It was almost five o’clock. Didn’t lawyer’s offices close at five o’clock? We opened the cooler and shared a box of raspberries and a banana. I dug around in the glove box and found a plastic spoon. We shared a container of cottage cheese and blueberry yogurt. Bruce scraped the sides of the plastic yogurt box and looked in the cooler again. “Nothing else in here,” he said. “I could go for some seafood.”
“I’m not very hungry,” I pouted.
At five-fifteen I had given up hope and was ready to head to a hotel. We turned the truck around and started for Chincoteague. The phone rang. “I think we’re ready,” our lawyer’s voice said. “Come on to the office; we’ll start signing the papers.”
It took five minutes to get there. Our soggy shoes squeaked our arrival as we hung our slickers to drip from the coat rack in the corner. Mr. West, dressed in his tweed jacket welcomed us with a firm handshake and a smile, then pointed in the direction of the conference room. “I’ll be right with you,” he said. “Just have to make a few more copies.”
We sat down at the long conference table. The windows faced the bay. Ducks waddled through the yard, pecking at something in the grass. Bruce pointed to the sky. “Rain’s on its way out,” he said. “Sky’s getting lighter.” He comes from a farming family. He knows the weather.
Twenty minutes later, after signing what felt like hundreds of forms, Mr. West handed us the keys to our new house, to Melva’s home. We gathered our raincoats and draped them over our arms as we walked to the truck. The sun was shining over Chincoteague Bay. I took it as a sign.