The Dream House with the Babbling Brook

By Felice Prager

With our first home, my husband, Sam, and I could not figure out why it had been on the market as long as it had been. We fell in love with it immediately. It was a little red ranch house with an apple tree in the front yard on a cul-de-sac with over forty trees and a little babbling brook trickling along the west border of the property. It needed a little cleaning up, we thought, some cosmetics, but other than that, we believed it was a great starter house.

If you ask Sam, he will tell you that when he first saw the house, he was a bit skeptical, but he did not want to disappoint me. According to Sam’s rendition, I fell in love with the little red ranch house with an apple tree in the front yard on a cul-de-sac with over forty trees and a little babbling brook trickling along the west border of the property. It was MY dream house. I was the one who loved the little babbling brook. I was the one who wanted to watch our children shimmy up the apple tree. Sam will tell you that he had his doubts from the beginning and will never mention the tree house he dreamed of building with multiple floors and sliding glass doors for our yet-to-be-born children.

The truth was that our dream house turned out to be a very high maintenance home. The forty trees had forty trees full of leaves that we had to rake and bag, forty trees full of acorns, pinecones and other assorted goodies that we had to clean up, forty trees worth of bird droppings and wildlife habitats, and there was poison ivy climbing up every one of the forty trees and bushes on our property. The lovely cul-de-sac was also not on the maps used by the men driving the snowplows during snowstorms, so we were forced to dig ourselves out of our little dream home every time there was a snowstorm.

That was just the outside of the house.

Once we took occupancy, we realized our little red ranch house with an apple tree in the front yard on a cul-de-sac with over forty trees and a little babbling brook trickling along the west border of the property required a top-to-bottom overhaul on the inside. What did we know? It was our first house. We did not even know the right questions to ask. The owners, who had lived in the house for forty years and seemed to be a sweet old couple, never fixed problems. They just covered them up. And they were not very good cover-uppers. When there was a cigarette burn in the linoleum, they bought a throw rug. When there was a hole in a wall, they covered it with a picture. After we removed forty years worth of layered wallpaper and paint, we realized these owners covered outlets they did not use by stuffing them with newspaper and wallpapering over them without closing off any electrical circuits. The fact that a fire never occurred was a miracle.

However, we were first-time homeowners, and we were optimistic. In my rendition of our first home story, Sam had these problems all worked out. Sam was going to remodel the basement so we could buy a pool table and have a place for parties. Not that we were party people, but Sam wanted a place for parties in case we ever developed a need to entertain. Sam was also going to turn the attic into a second floor so our children would have their own bedrooms, and I could have an office. Finally, Sam was going to break out the living room and dining room walls to build a deck overlooking the pretty babbling brook on the west side of our property.

As the new co-owner of the little red ranch house with an apple tree in the front yard on a cul-de-sac with over forty trees and a little babbling brook trickling along the west border of the property, I liked his ideas.

The real truth occurred to us when Sam took our dog, Tiffany, for a middle-of-the-night walk during the first significant rainstorm, which occurred within hours of us moving in. Tiffany always had an uncanny way of needing to go for a walk at all hours of the night. This time, her dog-intuition was telling her an important message, which Sam realized the minute he stuck his foot out the front door into four feet of water.

The little babbling brook that trickled along the west side of our property that I had fallen in love with swelled during rainstorms. It swelled across our driveway all the way to the street and right up to our front door. It swelled to the point where it was a raging river, and our house stood in the middle of it. Our dream castle had a raging moat around it, and there was no drawbridge. Sam, my knight in shining armor, was as baffled as I was as he stood in the doorway not knowing what to do next.

After the first rainstorm, we quickly got to know our new neighbors who explained this phenomenon to us. Apparently, each neighbor had also fallen prey to similar home sellers. It had something to do with a high water table and the Army Corps of Engineers who moved the babbling brook fifteen years earlier in order to build our small community and a mall a mile away. The bottom line was scientific: water will always find its way back to its original course. In other words, parting the seas and moving a river are jobs not left to mere mortals. In other words, we were in deep, deep, deep water.

However, we had no way of knowing this. It was sunny on the day when we found our first dream home. It was sunny on the day the house inspector did his job. No matter how wet the basement got, the house always remained standing firm when the waters found their way back to the babbling brook.

The original owners felt that the flooding was only a minor inconvenience to them and did not feel any overwhelming desire to share the information with us. To quote them, “It only got that bad a few times a year.” They were not actually hiding anything by painting over the water line in the basement; they were simply giving us that fresh paint look. According to them, when we threatened to sue them for hiding this pertinent information, one of their sons was a circuit court judge.

As with many other first time homeowners, we learned many other lessons. We learned that sump pumps never work during a black out, and every time there was a rainstorm, we lost our electric power. We learned that French drains sound exotic and intriguing, but they are merely holes in the ground that overflow when the water table is higher than the exotic, intriguing French drains – and the wetness attracts insects. We learned that no matter how much you try to improve a home, it still might be sitting in the middle of the Colorado River during a rainstorm. We also learned that you cannot bail out a house.

Thus, we learned the most important lesson: when sitting in the middle of a raging river, stay in the boat until you see dry land, then jump to safety! That was our plan.

We actually got quite lucky even before we could contact a realtor to put our little red ranch house with an apple tree in the front yard on a cul-de-sac with over forty trees and a little babbling brook trickling along the west border of the property on the market.

As we were removing debris from our front lawn that was left by the previous rainstorm, a young developer approached us and asked if we wanted to sell our house for much more than we had paid for it. When we asked him if he wanted to walk inside, he shook his head and said he was going to knock it down to build condominiums. All the neighbors in the cul-de-sac got the same offer, and they all took the money and ran. We joined the run-a-thon and never looked back. Apparently, not one of the neighbors mentioned the words babbling brook, Army Corps of Engineers or water table during the transactions.

In fact, when the young developer told us there would be a financial bonus if we could be out in thirty days, we asked him if he would raise the bonus if we were out by the weekend.

About this writer

  • Felice Prager Felice Prager is a freelance writer and multisensory educational therapist from Scottsdale, Arizona. She is the author of five books: Waiting in the Wrong Line, Negotiable and Non-Negotiable Negotiations, TurboCharge Your Brain, SuperTurboCharge Your Brain, and Quiz It: ARIZONA. Her essays have been published locally, nationally and internationally in print and on the Internet. Learn more at www.WriteFunny.com.

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