Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Other People's Ghosts

Sometimes what you see is not all that you get.  Sometimes you make a purchase with a little sumpin’ sumpin’ thrown  in for good measure.

We closed on our house on December 29th, but the turn of events would be more Halloween-ish  than  Christmas-ish.  After not eating breakfast at a local diner, due to nervous tummies, Rob and I headed over to our attorney’s office in Eastchester. We were dressed in full business attire, because we were, after all, about to become property owners.  This was serious.  This was the biggest financial transaction of our lives, at least the biggest transaction with our own money.   We were about to purchase a house on nine one-hundredths of an acre of land.  That was a lot of one-hundredths of an acre of ownership (for us).  This was our 40 Acres and a Mule moment, (hold the mule) by New York standards.  Immense. 

We arrived at our attorney’s office.  I had enjoyed working with our attorney, Christopher, though it was also my first time really working with (read: paying for) an attorney.  He helped us get this closing in under the wire of a tax year quickly coming to an end.   Despite our professional dress, Christopher greeted us in a hokey reindeer pullover sweater (granted it was a cold day), and introduced us to his notary, a guy donning a too-small black velvet blazer, which made him look like a lounge singer or a valet parker, or a guy who does both in between notary engagements.  Our mortgage broker was also there, and he  was rocking that fine line between business casual and the festive holiday red and green color scheme.  In the opponent’s dugout was our soon-to-be home’s seller, Mrs. Reinhardt, in a white and red Mrs. Santa Claus parka outfit with her post-cateract surgery sunglasses, her daughter, dressed normally, and their attorney, apparently a friend of the family, and a smartly dressed professional, the only one in the room taking ‘billable hours’ seriously.  Missing from this picture, to my surprise, was the real estate agent, on her big commission day.  I say “the” agent and not “our” agent because she was working for us but this house was also her listing, so the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent was one and the same.  This is a bad situation I would recommend avoiding at all costs. 

Sitting in Christopher’s conference room, we filled out about 5 trees-worth of papers, while the seller, her daughter, their attorney, the valet/notary and our attorney had a mini Eastchester High School reunion and chit-chatted about the teachers they had, who was still coaching what varsity team and which teachers they knew who were still teaching there now.  We were clearly the outsiders.  Well I was clearly the outsider.  I’ve learned much of ’good’ Westchester is filled with two kinds of people: those that left the Bronx, and those that left the ‘bad’ parts of Westchester.  I’m still not sure what constitutes ‘bad’ Westchester, but if you live in Westchester and send your kids to private school, you must live in a ‘bad’ section.  ‘Good’ sections are those where the residents freely utilize their public school district.  At the closing, we had two Eastchester school district-graduated attorneys, so it couldn’t be that bad of a school district, even if one was wearing a reindeer sweater.      

There was some more chit chat about our walk-through in the house the prior evening and by the way, where was the door bell?  Initially confused by my question, the Reinhardts realized they had packed up the chime box of the door bell, so that was settled.  The doorbell wasn’t your typical ‘ding-dong’ sound, no, it played songs when you rang it, so I was sad to see that little nugget of charm walk out of our lives.   Perhaps noting some pettiness in my question about the doorbell, the seller’s attorney passed a comment about “Kicking an elderly woman out of her house at the holidays”.  Hey, I can’t help it if the holidays coincide with the end of the tax year.  They do every year so let’s wrap this up.   We went into contract 2.5 months ago so let’s get moving, and there was a first time home buyers’ tax credit on the table and 72 hours left in this tax year so let’s cut the chit chat and close already.

Then two unique events occurred at our closing.  I had brought a bouquet of irises for Mrs. Reinhardt.  She was selling us her house of 55 years, she was 85 years old and recently widowed.  Mr. and Mrs. Reinhardt had bought this house during the Eisenhower administration in their early 30’s to raise their family.  We were buying this same house during our early 30’s.  As yet an unmarried couple, times had changed,  Obama was president, and we house-hunted on line.   If I was having separation anxiety from my rented studio apartment of six years, I am sure Mrs. Reinhardt was going through a lot, even if she had her poker face on behind those huge, dark glasses.  During the walk through, it was evident Mrs. Reinhardt had left her floral curtains up all over the house, and her fake flowers all over the bathrooms and even in the back yard.  She loved flowers.  I’m not sure she loved fake ones more than real ones, or if that was just a matter of convenience.  So I brought the lady some real flowers.  Our lawyer was touched, even the valet/notary was touched, as was the hard-nosed seller’s attorney, and of course the Reinhardts as well.  It was the least I could do.

In this warm-fuzzy post-holiday moment of sharing = caring, Mrs. Reinhardt decided to share something with the rest of us.  Her husband had died earlier in the year and loved their house very much.  His passing prompted her to sell after all, but not before she spread his ashes over the back yard. 

Silence.  Pin-drop silence.  Stunned silence all around the room.  I think the two attorneys were quickly spinning their wheels to make sure the disposition of human remains on the property didn’t nullify the transaction.  The papers were signed.  The checks were handed over.  Did we all just hear what we think we heard?  Did we just exchanged a bunch of money for nine one-hundredths of an acre (no mule) and a sacred burial ground?


We closed on our house in December when the days are shortest and the nights are long and we had no reason to be in the back yard.  We went through a paint and plaster repair job.  We hung new curtains, we unpacked, we moved in.  That first spring time in our house I’d go in the back yard with a suspicious eye like I was going to see something out of place.  Though I eventually threw out all the fake flowers (placed amongst the real ones) in the yard, I have never touched the other knick knacks left behind in the yard, like the fake birds or the plaque with the sun on it or the ceramic frog, or the wind chimes, and especially not the American flags.  Mr. Reinhardt was a WWII vet and employed by the Eastchester Fire Department.  He could be anywhere.  He is everywhere.   Rob has felt a ‘presence’. The cats sometimes watch things I can’t see move around the room, and then Nick would do the same.   Other friends have felt a ‘presence’.  Sometimes even skeptical me has even felt a ‘presence’.  The presence probably spends most of its time in the littlest bedroom, which is the guest room, so come on over and stay a night or two!

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