Some people are into armchair traveling, but I go a step further. I’m into fantasy real estate. I don’t mean castles in the sky. Those create transportation issues at the very least. I mean real real estate. The fantasy is that I own it.
I come by this particular daydream naturally. My parents were always putting a down payment on a lot on a lake or a stunning house, always to lose their money for one reason or another. Since my brother and I participated in this particular pipe dream, our hopes were dashed each time the proposed marvelous new life did not pan out. But it didn’t keep any of us from the tendency to see a place and envision it as tangibly ours. “Home! Home! Home!” says E.T. looking to the skies. We looked a little closer, but it might as well have been a different planet.
Vacant lots, even on a lake, were not always so easy to imagine. There was a pie-shaped lot with a big tree on a lake in Florida. The ground was flat and the lake was medium sized by my reckoning. Since there was no structure in place, you had to draw quite a picture in your head. I was more interested in the wildlife and wildflowers growing there at the time, but kept a peripheral ear to my parents’ conversation. Dad was an architect and engineer; Mom had done house make-overs in her work as a journalist. They had a vision, a mental picnic.
I connected more closely to the Zachary House in Sanford a few years later. It was well after the pie-shaped lot faded away and my mother had opened her antique shop. The Zachary estate had hired her to organize the estate sale, so we all set about sorting, categorizing and pricing the contents of the enormous white Victorian house. It was full of memories so strong that I could touch them. The dust itself seemed full of life. Even the unused stationery seemed magical, letters yet to be written on airbrush decorated papers and envelopes from 1910-1920. We marveled at the aluminum business cards from the Zachary business, treated personal correspondence with respect and solemnity and delighted in each little find.
The house itself had dazzling wood floors, a central staircase with curving banisters, a “secret” back stairway, a sleeping porch for hot summer nights and at least one of the upstairs bathrooms with square footage enough to play half-court basketball in, perfect for singing at the top of your lungs in the claw-footed tub. The house was a short walk from one of the city parks where squirrels would eat peanuts out of my hand. After spending time getting to know the Zachary family, posthumously of course, we began to love the old house and sought to purchase it. My brother and I excitedly picked out our bedrooms and wondered how long it would be before we could try sliding down the banister. But it was not to be.
After my parents put a down payment on the house, an unbearable accident occurred. The water in a smaller upstairs bathroom sink had been left on, by the realtor, Mom said, and the resulting damage was to shape the living room wooden floor into waves so extreme that it would have to be replaced. And with the charm and price of the house based on the fact that features like the marvelous floors were original, the damage was huge. Unable to come to an agreement as to how to resolve this, my parents lost their down payment and we lost our dream house. My last connection to it is one or two of those aluminum business cards which will surface from time to time, reminding me of how much I loved that place and never got to live there.
The disappointment of loss of what was never to be has not put me off from later fantasy homes. My husband participates. We had a momentary glimmer of buying the old hospital in Montana where he was born. He envisioned a small casino on the first floor. I envisioned room after room for cats and toys. The price was even almost reasonable. But then, the reality of winter arrived, something like 40 below and just the thought of keeping even part of the building warm enough for human, feline and canine habitation was mind-boggling. The repurposed hospital started to seem more and more like Stephen King’s Overlook with me drooling on a dusty floor muttering, “Redrum. Redrum.” Some fantasies exit abruptly and with good reason. Others linger.
Our trip to Ireland a couple of years ago was nothing short of magical. We drove like we knew where we were going. Just hours off the plane from a long flight, we found ourselves in the parlor of the woman who babysat one of John’s old friends, now deceased. We didn’t know our hostess. We had merely taken a sudden right-hand turn when we realized we were right on top of Father Sean’s home town. After striking up casual conversation with a lovely white haired gentleman and his grandson, we found ourselves welcomed as if we were not strangers. With tea and cookies and good company, we received directions and found Sean’s grave with its headstone sent by Californians who loved him.
I fell in love with Ireland. We followed St Patrick’s footsteps up Croagh Patrick, just far enough to realize we hadn’t the stamina to make it to the top but high enough to see Clew Bay. We were transported by the sight of Norman and Gothic structures, now buttressed by falls of blooming, bee-buzzing ivy. We spent a week in the ten foot tall fuchsia hedges in West Cork with a view of Bantry Bay at the summer home of a solicitor whose hobby is horticulture, the house aptly named A Bit of Heaven. And fantasy real estate kicked in.
Never mind the fact that we happened to be in Ireland during the only two weeks of the year when the sun shined and all the flowers were in bloom. The Irish Real Estate Tigers were counting on this luck being the lure for the real pot of gold under their rainbow. In matters of true love, money is no object. In our case, it was lucky our money was objectively hard to reach, for I had found The Property. An old church repurposed as a dance and yoga studio was for sale. “Open floor plan,” I reasoned. Plenty of parking, if you hacked out some of the fuchsia hedge a bit. Solid stone structure and it has a kitchen. And look at those windows! And the kicker? A prehistoric standing stone in the yard. I could live here. Why, I could work from here. After all, my Blackberry worked all over Ireland; I was never cut off from the Day Job workaday world, no matter how remote the lane or field. We let that dream fade into storytelling. But then, last week, My Ireland resurfaced. And I can blame the hubs.
I’ve begun Fantasy Renovations already. It should be ready for Fantasy Move-In around the end of summer, just in time for the flowers to bloom.