The Inspection



We offered a low bid for Melva’s house. She counter-offered, and the push and pull of home buying began. Finally, we signed a contract contingent upon the home inspection.

We wanted to be there for the walk through, and could only come to the island on the weekend. The inspector squeezed us in on a Sunday morning at the end of August. Our realtor called to let us know that Melva, her daughter, and son-in-law would also be at the house that day, packing.

I imagined Melva’s last weekend in her home of sixty-two years. I saw her walking from room to room, her fingertips sliding across the dark wood furniture she’d polished to a shine over her lifetime, picking up and sorting through her hinged-top sewing box filled with spools of thread, needles, sock darner, and seamstress scissors. I could see her apron-clad figure standing at the gas stove, turning crisp slices of bacon that morning before church. I watched her drink her final cup of coffee at the kitchen table and peer out into her backyard one more time while she washed the dishes.

When we walked into the house, Melva’s daughter, Lynn, and her husband were wrapping photo frames and a collection of fine china in newspaper. Melva was not there. Friends had picked her up for church.

“This is so hard,” Lynn said, shaking her head. “I never thought I’d be packing away my childhood.”

I thought of our place back home, my grandparent’s house, its corner kitchen cupboards built by my grandpa, the water dipper hanging above the sink, the aroma of grandma’s lilacs in spring, my view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the front window, all my memories. I couldn’t imagine letting go.

Lynn reminisced about the house, and growing up in the neighborhood, aunts, uncles, and cousins, school, church, and the ice cream parlor, all within walking distance. The ocean was only a bicycle ride away, and the island kids used to ride the Chincoteague ponies bareback.

“When Mom and Dad built this place, they had less than five thousand dollars, and decided they would build a fireplace later when they could afford it. It never happened. By the time Mom was forty and gave birth to me, her only child, a fireplace was no longer a priority.”

As we stood and talked, we watched the inspector go from room to room, heard him turn on faucets in the kitchen and bathroom, then pull the attic stairs down and climb up. After a bit, he came down again and exited the front door. The four of us watched him shrug into a disposable white coverall in preparation to slide under the house. We listened as he bumped around under the floor where we stood. Bruce and I paid him little attention as we stayed and talked with Lynn, gathering the history of Melva’s place.

“I’ve always wondered what the hardwood floors would look like under this carpet. I bet they’re stunning,” she said.

Bruce and I finally left Lynn and her husband to their packing and joined the inspector outside in the yard.

“What’s the verdict?” Bruce asked.

I held my breath. I had already fallen in love with Melva’s place. Lynn’s stories had cinched it.

“Nothing worse than what you see with most of these older houses. Contractors didn’t have a specific code for footings and beams under houses back then. There’s some sag under the house, but nothing that can’t be shored up. I’ve seen a lot worse. At least this one has cement footers. Some on the island have oyster shell mixed with mortar as their foundation. Those are the houses with a tilt.”

We’d seen some of those structures. They resembled drawings in a Dr. Seuss book.

“What else?” Bruce asked.

“A few plumbing issues, not enough pressure in the shower and a few leaks under the house. A little rot under there as well, but not too much, easily fixable. That front window needs replacing, but you knew that already. Roof looks like it’s good for another fifteen years or so. Some of your electrical outlets need upgrades. I’ll fill out a report and send it to you so you can get an estimate on the repair cost.”

I sagged with the news. My excitement turned to trepidation; and I began to doubt our decision. Houses involve upkeep and cost, a never ending place to pour money. Something was always breaking at home and trips to the hardware store were weekly events. I was quiet on the way home, estimating costs in my head, thinking about the coastal area, worrying about taxes, insurance, and not living close enough to keep an eye on the place.

While my doubt grew, Bruce’s excitement expanded. It works that way with us. He emailed the inspector’s report to a Chincoteague contractor for an estimate of repairs. Then Bruce began gathering construction and yard tools. He started talking about building a trailer to pull behind the pickup to carry what we needed for the weekend after closing.

Meanwhile, I stepped back, calculating potential costs and tuning to the weather channel to follow every forecast mentioning hurricanes and slow moving low fronts dumping rain. I worried about another flood like the one in 1962. We hadn’t checked the price of propane, or asked how much the electric bill was each month. Water had to be another cost, and what about trash collection?

I closed my eyes and wondered what my husband had gotten me into.

part 5:

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10 Responses to “The Inspection”

  1. Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" Says:

    I love it! Yeah, let’s blame it on Bruce; such a lovely twist, O’Henry.

  2. Nikitaland Says:

    I love following along with this story….I keep watching my inbox for the next piece of the puzzle. Thanks for sharing! Take the bad things along with the good, and just think of all the new memories that you both will share in your new place. 🙂

  3. Joyce Says:

    Tension is mounting. Old houses do come with their issues as well as their charm. I will wait for the next installment. 🙂

  4. ly Says:

    Was thinking this morning that it was time for the next part of the house story–I’m hooked!

  5. rgayer55 Says:

    Beautiful locale. I visited that area once when on business, and would love to take my wife there some day. I could just see the memories hanging thick in front of Lynn’s face, and your husband being as excited as a little boy at Christmas.

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