How did I get here? Well, it all began when my wife decided that we should move, that is, buy another country house. That is, sell the one we have now – downsize – and buy another one. Not just any one but one she saw on the Internet.
“We can’t afford ours anymore,” she complained. “We need something cheaper.”
We made an appointment one Saturday morning to meet the owner and walk through the house. We hopped in the car, threw a picnic in the trunk, and drove a half an hour from our place in Ste.-Sulpice-des Plaines to a beautiful valley with the Tannatock Mountains on one side and the American border on the other. Sharon had seen photos of the place: the house needed a lot of work but she believed that we could handle it. She had spoken to the owner and said he was charming. Otherwise, I knew nothing about him. There would be no intermediary, no real estate agent; he was selling privately.
The drive was beautiful and was augmented by the season. The last remaining leaves on the trees were a dark golden colour. One felt that one could see forever. The house itself seemed to be located in a forgotten land; the neighbouring properties were run-down or abandoned. A place where time stands still, I thought romantically, but it was also a bit scary. Will we ever see anyone? I wondered as we drove, as I gazed at farmland to my left and the silhouette of unmovable mountains to my right.
Finally, at the end of a dirt road, we stopped at the house. It had never been finished. Instead of side paneling planked-in insulation greeted us, covered with plastic. The house was built on a crest of land bordered by a rushing river, its waters cascading downhill over giant boulders. On the other side of the road was a forested hillside.
I’m a city boy and the thought of living in so much Nature constricted my heart. Sharon loves nature and she gushed over the river. “Look at that!” she said over the sound of the rapids. “How lovely!”
We took our time getting to the front door. We ambled over the front “lawn”, a thin layer of sun-starved grass surrounding a large fire pit with immense unburnt logs spilling over its sides. The house’s owner, Stephan, lived in the big city now; he and his wife had run out of funds before the house could be finished and were unable to complete the project. It was unfinished inside and out, missing walls and some finished floors, among others. He seemed friendly enough though a bit edgy. “Oh no, don’t take photos of me,” he cried out in French when I started taking pictures of the place. “I’m a cinematographer but I don’t like to be in any photos.” Which I found a bit weird.
Everything was perfect from his point of view – the house, the location, the house’s potential. I wasn’t so sure: the house plan was completely open – an albeit, cozy open space – where would I find the coveted privacy which I enjoy in my present-day residence? How to tell Sharon, who was enchanted with the prospect of renovating it and loved it as much as the owners, although for now she was keeping her cards close to her chest.
A winding metal staircase painted orange took us upstairs to the loft above which would become our bedroom. The wooden beams of the unfinished ceiling stretched over us, planks and beams over exposed insulation. I looked down. There was no railing yet to protect one from falling onto the first floor. So much space – it began to give me a headache. Instead of letting Sharon notice any grievance I might have I just kept on taking pictures with her little camera, making sure the owner wasn’t in any of the shots. For his part, Stephan was a sensitive bundle of nervy information, pointing out details that he thought we might miss. He took us to every corner and nook and cranny to explain its advantages; it slowly dawned on me that as it was my wife who would be putting up the dough to buy the place, this might be ours for the next 15-20 years!
So, as we got together afterwards for our picnic, we had that first conversation alone where a husband must decide whether to tell the truth or pretend otherwise.
How did I get here?