Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Ivy House & My Slipping Away Faith

This week I called up a Realtor friend, the lady that taught the Introduction to Real Estate class I took back two years ago. I wanted to tour the inside of the couple of homes we'd visited, been impressed with and been unable to do a walk through.

Mixed bag, but mostly the exterior matched the interior. If the exterior was crappy, chances are that the inside was the same.

But the one I was the most intrigued by was a house in the historical district that Jim and I had visited during our house hunt 24 years ago. It was going for about 15K less than it did 24 years ago and I wanted to see it again.

One of the things Jim and I had discussed in our rentals/sales/investments in real estate conversations was possibly getting a historically significant home in need of some tender loving care, remaking it into a sparkling gem of a place and selling it. Doing what others do, flipping it.

Back in college I'd done that a handful of times in the downtown historical district. A handful of us from the art dept/whatever would buy some crumbling former beauty, gut and transform the inside and sell it at a huge profit. Why not do it again, even if it's been over thirty years since I tackled something of that nature?

Back when we'd first started looking for a house in our tiny Southern town I wanted something in this historical district. We looked at about five homes in that area that is bounded by a brass Historical District plaque. This home, a red brick Cape Cod style cottage, had been the smaller of the homes we visited. It had only two bedrooms, which put it much farther down the possibilities list than any other of the houses on that street but it was beautiful, charming even, with crown molding, elaborately carved chair railing, antique solid oak floor. Post-Civil War yet not quite turn of the century.

It had a classic entryway, a rounded foyer with a perfectly round table and centerpiece that the front door opened on to. The rooms to either side, living room and dining room, were graciously beautiful, like something from an old plantation home. There were carved mantle pieces and fireplaces in all of the rooms, including the den off to the side of the house. The kitchen had been upgraded and modernized with a small half bath that looked like a professional decorator had picked the wall paper and accessories, darling!

At that point I was enchanted, ready to almost sign on the dotted contract line, the house was everything I'd dreamed of. Even the issue of the two bedrooms was doable as the house sat on an unfinished basement. All we needed to do was finish the basement and install at least one bedroom down there, perhaps two.

But then we went upstairs, and all desire for this house evaporated. One of the bedrooms was merely average sized and the other was minuscule. Jim and I started to murmur, and consider how much more an outlay of funds we would have to make to make the upstairs as charming as the downstairs. The bathroom was old, not antique in a delightful way, but just old, tiny, dirty looking grout, worn out fixtures. The costs were mounting. Discovering there were no closets upstairs, just a door in each bedroom opening onto unused attic space that could have been possibly used to adjust the size of the bedrooms was discouraging. The owners, a well scrubbed young lawyer and his wife, had strung poles in the attic spaces and were using those boiling hot spaces as a make shift closet.

We left and we had a conversation ruling that house out immediately. Too much money needed to have it the way we wanted it, moving some upstairs walls, adding closets, redoing the only full bath in the house before finishing the basement to add the additional bedroom needed for our growing family.

Over the years I've seen the house come up for sale at least four times. About five years ago whoever bought the house had a dumpster outside and it looked like the interior was being gutted, wall board ripped out and tossed. That must have been when they upgraded the upstairs.  So when the house came up on the for sale list again just as we were thinking about investing in rental property I knew I had to go back in and see what has happened in the ensuing years to cause this beautiful home to keep being treated like the ugly sister at the ball.

When we looked at the house all those years ago it had English ivy growing on one wall on the side of the house. Apparently none of the owners in the last twenty years took any trouble to trim it back. Now the house is a giant ball of ivy with a door in the front. The ivy has taken over the entire exterior.

That's not the only thing that has slipped the notice of the owners as far as maintenance. The beautiful antique oak floor is badly damaged, in need of being sanded down past the scratches and gouges, refinished and varnished. The walls are in good shape due to the replacement of the lathe and plaster walls. But the bath is still the same dreadful patched together shape. No ones finished the basement, it is still a no mans land of concrete and bare timber. The only improvement of any sort is that someone did finally hire a builder to turn the unused attic space flanking each bedroom into large walk in closets. Looks like little to no maintenance has been done on this old beauty.

We're talking about possibly finally buying this and doing the repairs and upgrades and flipping it. The thing that stops me is that while I can do the tile work in the bath and replace the toilet and sink myself as well as paint and Jim can rip out all of that ivy is the floors. With my asthma the idea of riding a floor sander followed by staining and varnishing makes my lungs tight just thinking about it. So, it's once again a slimmest of possibilities project.

It also sort of reminds me of my spiritual journey in and out of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity. Like the beautiful and charming downstairs of the Ivy house the first time I saw it, when I first joined the church I wanted it so much, seeing the beauty and where I wanted to be.

As time went by I finally saw the upstairs at the old church, the things that I really didn't want, at least not so much and I walked away, just like we walked away from buying the house.

My faith isn't surviving the sea change of leaving much better than this house has. In fact, the house is probably in better shape than my faith. The more I read my Bible, the more it seems like a pile of ridiculous stories, the more time I spend in church, the more it seems like I'm surrounded by hypocrites playing games and striking poses. I'm seeing very little of any value, or anything that relates to life as I know it. Just some book of stories that has been so heavily edited through the years that it has no relation to reality.

As much as I'd like to rehab the Ivy house and return to my faith I'm afraid it's too late for either one at this point. I think for 2015 I'm just going to contemplate what truth actually is without worrying about if it's labeled Christian or not. Quite frankly, the very label of Christian triggers me. I'm going to have to find a way, but modern American Christianity isn't likely to be what I'm going to be embracing. I think what modern American Christianity has in common with the words of Jesus is very little. I want more.

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