About 35 years ago, Tom and I decided to put our “starter home” up for sale and look for a permanent home. A starter home, for those of you who haven’t been at that stage, is the piece-of-poop little house a couple buys when they first get married. They’re tired of dumping money into rent, so they figure that a little starter house is better than nothing.
They usually don’t love the house all that much. It’s usually w-a-a-a-y too small for more than two rather thin people, located in a neighborhood where drive-by shootings are the norm. The furniture is a combination of college-day leftovers, duct-taped rejects from relatives, and scavenged wrecks found the night before large-item curbside pickup day.
So 34 years ago, Tom and I sold our starter home and bought the house we would raise our family in. And here we’ve lived since 1976—lots of bedrooms and bathrooms, a big yard, close to Tom’s and my workplaces, lots of neighborhood kids, and a short five-minute drive from all the schools our kids attended. It was the perfect house to raise a family.
Perfect. Except for one thing.
In a state where there are 11,842 lakes . . . in a county containing 141 lakes . . . in a community where there are a dozen lakes within fifteen minutes of our house . . . amidst all this water, we live on dry land.
Those lake homes were always just out of our financial reach. We were never quite comfortable sticking our necks out quite that far and getting into that much house debt. So we stayed where we were, in our safe, comfortable, finally-paid-for home.
Enter the Financial Crisis/Real Estate Recession of 2008-10. We got the bug all over again. In this state of 11,842 lakes, there must be one little lake house, one modest cabin, that we could afford to buy. Surely in this real estate climate of foreclosures and short sales, there must be one seller who would be interested in pricing a lake home reasonably enough for two conservative retirees to afford without pushing them to the edge of a financial precipice.
There’s also another problem: I love every single lake home I ever see. Every. Single. One. I’ve never met a lake home I don’t like.
Steep bank? (No problem! I will be able to run up and down those 483 stairs to the lake far into my 90s.)
Only one bedroom with a flowered curtain for the doorway? (Pshaw! Bunk beds! Pull-out couches! Futons! Tents!)
No indoor plumbing? (I’ve used an outhouse before! I can carry water from the lake! I can chop a hole in the ice for a weekly bath in the wintertime! )
I love this lake home--it just needs a little paint!
Holes in the roof? (Skylights, my good people, think of them as skylights!)
Boat dock is missing boards? (Leaping! I’ve always been good at leaping! Even across open spans of water, I can leap.)
A pot of geraniums on the front porch would make this lake home perfect!
Then there’s Tom. He’s never met a single lake home in our modest price range that he likes.
Two dandelion on the lawn? (Yikes, weed problems! It will cost us thousands to get the weeds under control!)
Scratch on the refrigerator door? (The appliances will need to be replaced! If you replace the refrigerator, it will be just a matter of time before the stove will need to go and the dishwasher will need to be junked!)
Dated carpet on the family room floor? (Oh, my gosh! This place is a money pit! First the carpet, then we’ll need to paint—and then it will be windows and woodwork and shingles and siding . . . !!!!)
We have an appointment this afternoon to see a house out on Lake Ida. It’s our favorite lake—clean, quiet, good fishing, beautiful. It’s a house that’s been for sale for over a year. It was owned by an older couple who are probably giving it up because they can no longer physically care for the property. From pictures on the realty website, I can tell it’s dated—dark paneling, lots of crocheted afghans and rocking chairs, flowered 1983 wallpaper, harvest gold bathroom fixtures. The owners have probably never watched an episode of “House Hunters” on HGTV in their lives.
I know I’m going to love it. Unconditionally and irrationally.
I also know Tom will find a thousand things wrong with it.
We may never agree on a lake home. Somewhere in between our two extremes is a happy-medium reality. And maybe, just maybe, the house we live in right now IS our dream home and we don't even know it. Just because we've been married for 37 years doesn't mean our dreams are identical.