How it all began

The Old House Web

By Nancy Platteborze

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"A series of life events catapulted me back to the ocean and into this house."

My own history is what led me to this house.

I was born and raised in the Berkshires by the fighting Irish, Welsh, and Lithuanians. We moved from house to house, my father renovating each one with me watching, helping, mostly hindering, until the next fight with the landlord - which always coincided with his finishing the house.

Every summer, the whole fighting crew would pack up and storm a New England beach. My father, WWII navy man, and I would get up every morning at dawn and walk alongside the ocean.

When my sister and I graduated from high school, we escaped to Newburyport, lived in a beautiful old half a house in the north end, and worked at the phone company.


My son Jude: Born with the ocean in his eyes

We met men and went off to live married lives and raise children. When my son was born, he had the ocean in his eyes. I promised him we would live there again some day.

My husband and I bought and renovated a big old house on Cape Cod - it required only light renovations - wallpaper, paint, stain. It didn't seem "light" at the time but now I know it was house fluff. We planned on living there forever, but the Cape offered no resources for our son, Jude, who was born deaf.

We sold that house and bought the biggest, ugliest raised ranch on the most beautiful five acres in a resource-full western suburb of Boston.

We did light renovations to the upper level, and turned the horrid lower level into a decent family room and three bedrooms. The real project there was turning the little one-horse stall out back into my writing workship. We transformed it from nothing into Thoreau's cabin -- complete with wood-burning stove.

After my divorce, I went back to school to get my doctorate (which I'm still working on!) and my son and I lived in apartments for which we had no time, interest, or money.

Then a series of life events catapulted me back to the ocean and into this house.

Three summers ago, while I was recovering from surgery, both my parents became very ill. I went back to the Berkshires to take care of them, lugging my academic work and medical ethics teaching work with me. Two years later both of my parents were gone.

These events were elemental, existential. The family seemed to have disappeared overnight. Holidays came - no Grandma and Grandpa's house to go to.

It dawned on me last summer that I was "it."

I was sharing a house with an eccentric old chemistry teacher who almost blew us up, flooded the house several times, and plain old scared me.

Flapping Tyvek Ghosts

Bad Times: "Haunted" by ghosts of work yet to be done

It was time to start looking for a home for me, my son, and future grandchildren.

A word about the chemistry teacher's house: She had a charming new house -- a would-be-Victorian, if she hadn't driven the builder mad -- in the historic town of Concord, Massachusetts. It would have been a perfect place to write my dissertation on Ralph Waldo Emerson. Her house was spanking new. It had gorgeous wood, gorgeous windows and a gorgeous architect-designed staircase.

She designed it tight, to keep out anything that threatened to exacerbate her environmental illness. A monstrous air system that she controlled with the thermostat loomed in the windowless basement.

The air was so dry that my skin cracked. But a humidifier carried the dreaded threat of mold.

"That's why we have Bag Balm," she beamed.

It was from this pure environment that I began my search for a house.

Index to all stories in this series

Next: Penniless and hopeless -- Let the search begin! ->

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