You know Mary Bailey, George's wife? From Bedford Falls? She's the classy dresser with the perfect hair. Her hair's perfect even after she's been swimming in the high school pool, the one located under the gym floor. She's good and kind and loved by all.
Mary lives in her dream house at 320 Sycamore. She's always admired the old Granville place, the rambling, forgotten mansion hidden behind the shade trees. Others, including her future husband George, threw rocks at the windows, but she got dreamy-eyed and knew that her future children, the ones she'd have with George, would slide down the oak banister one day and sing Christmas carols in the parlor.
When she married George, all of the money they were going to spend on international travel was used to save George's family-owned business. No matter. Mary got right to work. That afternoon she moved into 320 Sycamore. Apparently no one really wanted it and the town may have even paid her to take occupancy. That's all a little unclear, but she did move in and within just a few hours she whipped up an ingenious rotisserie/ record player that could create a romantic mood while at the same time cook the Cornish game hen. The hen was cooked over the fire she started from the logs she'd cut earlier that day, as soon as she noticed George would be busy for a while at the bank. She hung posters, moved in furniture, put out her best china, and you should have seen the Honeymoon Suite. George was lacking for nothing.
Through the years, while having babies, Mary worked on the old Granville place. There seems to have been no real structural damage, no problems with the foundation, no rodent infestations; it just needed some wallpaper and paint and maybe a few new windows. Mary loved it and made it homey and beautiful. She never quite got around to fixing the decorative newel post on the main stair though. It frequently came off and drove George nuts. That and the draftiness. George didn't like draftiness. But other than that, 320 Sycamore was pretty idyllic. And it was done without money, without a Home Depot, and with the sole efforts of a perfectly dressed and coiffed beauty in a tool belt named Mary.
This was how my romantic notions regarding real estate were born; and how they were nurtured year after year at Christmas. Growing up, my time spent dreaming about my future George Bailey was often surpassed by time spent dreaming about my own personal 320 Sycamore. And I'll have you know that I did in fact marry George Bailey. He's got the same skinny, boy-next-door wholesomeness. He's humble and friendly and just like George, he also went into the family business--not banking, but dentistry. So I checked George Bailey off of my to-do list and went searching for the old Granville place.
Our first house we knew would be only temporary, just until we found the house on Sycamore. I hummed Buffalo Gals while I happily searched through the real estate listings and we religiously watched This Old House. After each episode my husband spoke in a Boston accent like Tom Silva and I wondered if I could possibly have some of his tools autographed by Norm Abram. He'd like that.
On the real estate search engines, we narrowed our choices to houses built before 1920. In our neck of the baby-faced Northwest, "old" homes tend to be more Brady than Bailey, so it wasn't easy. Through the years the search engine alerted us to about 10. There was the 90 year-old farmhouse on an acre of land on Bainbridge Island. It wasn't large or turreted, but it had charm. It also had no closets and a hall that ran through each of the bedrooms. Still, Mary would have seen the potential. We put in an offer. Our kids were convinced it was haunted and we were convinced the owner was insane. Mercifully the deal went nowhere.
Then there was the sideways house, named for obvious reasons. There was the 90 year-old house with the root cellar our kids refused to enter, the house covered with asbestos siding--our realtor said that was a big deal. There was the red farm house redone in the 70's-- nineteen-seventies, the turreted castle house with the modular home in front and the trailer around back. There was the Tudor on Sawdust Hill that apparently wanted to live in the valley evidenced by some structural propping and tilting floors. Our realtor stepped gingerly. Our realtor. The poor woman. She got tired. She said things like, "You know, there's a beautiful development going up over on Clear Creek.... Please? I can take you today...." The George in me considered, but the Mary in me thought it sounded suspiciously like something endorsed by Mr. Potter. No thank you.
Still, I had to admit that the old Granville place was proving elusive. I bagged the search engine and just drove down every street in our community looking for a house that spoke to me. I felt like Inigo Montoya. I was on a quest. Guide my sword. Guide my minivan. One evening I bounced down a long dirt road, dodging puddles and ignoring hungry kids in the backseat. I passed a white farm house with a front porch and mountain view. A light flickered on in the third floor attic bedroom. There was a little guest cottage and a pasture and even a sand volleyball court in the back. No "For Sale" sign; it was very much occupied, but charming.
Months later a friend (everyone knew about the quest) mentioned a new listing. "It's not old....Hear me out! No, it's not falling down, but it looks old and it's got land...It's even got a volleyball court."
We toured later that day. True, it wasn't old, but I got dreamy-eyed and envisioned our kids singing Christmas carols in the parlor while our big dog snored in front of the fireplace. I saw our youngest learning to roller skate on the long driveway and our oldest striding downstairs in a tuxedo, heading off to pick up his prom date. My husband carefully measured the detached garage. "I don't think we'll paark the caar in here," he said in his best Boston accent, "but it'll be just fine for a wood shaap." It wasn't the Bailey's old Granville place; it was better because it was ours. And you know what? For a new house, it's pretty drafty.