The Improbable Tale of Nellie North


When you survive hard things, you know they’re meant to be. I know this for a fact based on the past year of my life, and my recent move is yet another prime example.

This story begins as many of mine do, with my children, The Precious Pair. They have a quirky habit of giving names to things, not just living things like pets and plants, but also cars and houses. For instance, my former car was Tessa the Taxi. My brand-new one is yet to be named. And they called the house we lived in for 11 years and sold earlier this month, Larry Sommerwood. The name they’ve given our new home (actually, it’s super old/circa 1900) is Nellie North, based on a variety of factors I can’t really explain on the girls’ behalf. But it seems to fit the house well, all the same…

Back in March as I was prepping to list “Larry” for sale, one of my best friends was substitute teaching at the grade school located in the downtown area where I’d been searching for a house since August 2018. This particular property was not even listed for sale, but it did appear to be under renovation. So I did what any proactive, semi-pushy person would do, and after driving by it several times on my own, I sent my trusted Realtor to knock on the door. After all, I had fallen instantly in love with what I was seeing, at least on the outside. I needed to see more.

On that afternoon that set my milestone in motion, my agent encountered a small crew of contractors, she scored their boss’s business card, and she and I proceeded to wander uninvited through the half-finished, yet clearly adorable little sage green house on the corner. Once we had finished the walk-through and based on the size and scope of this home, we both determined there was likely no way I’d be able to afford it. We waited to hear back from The Flippers.

Meanwhile, I drove the girls by this house as I had done with many others. “What do you think of this one?” Well, they too deemed it practically perfect at first sight. All of us were crushing on Nellie North.

About a week later I got the lucky call from my Realtor. She had made official contact with the owners, and amazingly the price was doable for me. Within days, I signed a purchase agreement and began the mortgage process which went swimmingly until The Appraisal, which came in a whopping $23,000 under the sale price I had offered to pay. The transaction fell suddenly on the rocks and looked like it wasn’t going to happen after all. My Flippers experienced sticker shock at the deep discount suddenly applied to their diamond in the rough. Ultimately, after another full week, we met almost exactly in the middle of the differential. I agreed to overpay the appraisal and bring a hunk of cash to the table, and they agreed to give up about the same amount in their profits. The only stumbling block now would be The Inspection and The Re-Inspection. There were a ton of back and forth disagreements during this phase of the deal, and somehow we made it through all of that, too.

I loved just about everything about the house. The size. The layout. The kitchen, large enough for dancing. 4 bedrooms. 2 full baths. A mud room with a boot bench. A vintage staircase. A wraparound porch. A fenced backyard. There was only one exception: The Basement.

You can’t even call it that. It’s not worthy of the term. I’ve used many others words to describe it to people, mainly to the multiple vendors I’ve already sent down there in 3 weeks’ time. Let’s see, I’ve referred to it as “The Hole” – “The Dungeon” – and most frequently – “The Cellar.”

Have I mentioned I have never actually seen this area of my home myself? Nor do I ever intend to see it; NEVER. Brick walls. Dirt floors. No lights. I tell people that zombies are the sole reason I would ever lift that trap door in the floor of my laundry room beneath the dryer and descend the 8-foot ladder into that space. As much as I hate tornados, I won’t even go down there for that purpose. We have a perfectly fine windowless interior hallway for storm protection. Zombies on the loose: that’s the ONLY way you will find me in my “basement.”

But there were and there continue to be problems in that part of the house. Leaks. Clogged drains. Seepage through the walls. I’m told I need a $2,500 sump pump and an additional $4,000 worth of work on the drains/pipes. I uncovered these matters after my toilets flushed inconsistently upon moving in, my tub backed up brown gunk, and the entire house bubbles and gurgles and burps anytime there is a water-based event like a load of laundry, a sink full of dishwater, or a shower. Of course, my home warranty is useless to me, so we’ve lived with these issues while pursuing our options. Based on the best advice I’ve gotten so far, I invested in a $20 bottle of enzymes called Main Line Cleaner from Lowes – my most frequently visited retailer this month. I’ve dumped and flushed this stuff for two nights into two toilets. I feel like it’s working something out down below. I can hope.

On the other side of this real estate transaction, at midnight on Moving Day, after 13 hours of loading and unloading with our moving crew, the girls and I returned to the empty house to say our goodbyes. We took CiCi the Pug along and left Sunny the New Corgi Puppy behind. (Trust me, she deserves her own blog posting soon.) After our final walk-through, we headed to the car, CiCi jumped inside, and then I had a late-breaking idea. “Girls, let’s go back inside for a minute.”

I took them straight to the growth chart wall in the entryway, the wall I’ve spoken about before here on this site and on Facebook. I had contemplated many different ways to transfer or preserve the markings I began on this wall in 2010. Ultimately though, I decided there was no duplicating it, not in an authentic way. I decided to leave the notches behind, including the final two measurements I took and dated in pencil that night. We took photos by the wall to commemorate this bittersweet moment in time; then we were done and more than ready for sleep.

We got to the car and pulled at the doors. Locked. But where are my keys? Inside. No way. Of course not. How would that happen? And there was CiCi inside peering out at us. She had locked us out of the car in the driveway of the home we technically – as of midnight – no longer owned. Thank goodness for our friends at Triple A, and the $89 membership Little Payne won for me at the State Fair last year by spinning a prize wheel. That night I called them for help for the 5th time in 2019, so far.

After the locksmith rescued us and reunited us with CiCi, we headed three miles due north, the driving equivalent of 10 minutes. And we spent our first night in our new home on June the 5th.

Since then, three weeks have passed. Despite the plumbing woes, I’m utterly thrilled to be there. It seems at times unbelievable that we made it , with all the obstacles and uncertainties we faced. I’ve described this house to some friends as “my little piece of Maine right here in Indiana.” And if you know me at all, you know my love affair with the State of Maine, where I hope to retire someday.

Why should I ramble on and on about my real estate transaction? I consider it a lesson to any reader out there that Life. Is. Hard. Right before it becomes sheerly wonderful.

I have a day coming to me, Lord willing, that I have spoken about many times in recent months with others, both in person and on social media. It’s a vision of myself sitting on my new wraparound porch on my white porch swing with a Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) in hand. The coffee is spiked with bourbon, which is a fun thing I like to do to my Starbucks once in a while. The timing is important because this day will likely take place in early fall, my favorite season and at a time that will represent a full year and then some of me enduring hard things. There will be a slight crispness in the air. The kids will be back in school. (Have I mentioned we live across the street from a really cool elementary school playground!?!) This vision of myself is within reach and reality with only about 100 hot summer days and nights and a mountain of moving boxes to unpack in my path. But it’s closer than ever after surviving one of the most stressful experiences of my entire 46 years, and that was the purchase of Nellie North and the move that followed.

What I learned from it:

Keep moving.
Keep asking.
Keep pushing.
Keep pulling.
Keep pressing.
Keep purging.
Keep packing.
Keep resting.
Keep cursing.
Keep praying.
Keep fighting.
Keep hugging.
Keep laughing.
Keep loving.
Keep enduring.

Whatever you do, keep. Whatever that looks like to you. Whatever that means. Continue to do things purposefully and to represent yourself intentionally. This is why we’re here, so I believe. Even when life sucks, we still owe it. We owe life the best part of our brains, our hearts, and our guts. If you’re not transacting life with these three forms of payment, why the hell not? What’s stopping you? What’s in your path? If it’s boxes, literally like mine or figuratively your own kind, unpack them. One by one. Empty them. Recycle them. Donate them. Then be done with their contents, or at least store them tidily on a shelf in the garage. (Oh my gosh, you should see my garage!?! It’s where half of what I own is currently kept. My goal by the first freeze of Winter is to clear a spot big enough to squeeze my car in there. Hopefully by then, she will be properly named!)

This is what Nellie has taught me so far. Undoubtedly, much like Larry did, she has many more lessons in store. Probably a few are lurking in my zombie bunker. But you’re far more likely to find me on the porch.

Moved — in more ways than one,

4 thoughts on “The Improbable Tale of Nellie North

  1. I am so thrilled with the renovations! I lived in this house as a little girl, and my parents did a “growth chart” on the wall between the hallway and the kitchen for my three younger siblings and I. (I am in my mid twenties now) I learned how to ride a bike on the sidewalks near the house. I remember my dad cursing to himself any time he had to go into the crawl space in the laundry room! Every time I drive past, I get so excited to see how beautiful it is now. Thanks so much for sharing your story 🙂

    • Wow! So exciting to hear this. How did you find my blog? Let me know if you’d like a tour of the house. Our families have a mutual friend – Laurie Dyer. She can bring your mom & you over!

  2. This made me cry, Meesh! I’m so inspired! I would love to join with a spiked PSL on your porch when the time is right!

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