My First Home: The realtor didn’t tell us about John

Christoph hitz for the boston globe

My first home came with a used baby grand piano that rested in one corner of a step-down living room, a working fireplace, and John. Our realtor had no knowledge of this retired factory worker when he was showing my husband and me around the solidly built ranch, but once we moved in, John would help make this house we were buying a home. This neighbor became the go-to guy whenever our growing children needed bicycle chains replaced, toy truck wheels straightened, or tricycle seats adjusted. He had no children of his own, so ours became his. He doted on them — candy on Halloween, small presents at Christmas.

The house, which was in my husband’s Western Massachusetts hometown, Greenfield, was on a perfect street with an elementary school only houses away. It was built just for two, however. Literally. A sizable master bedroom and a smaller room the previous owners had used as a den were the only two viable sleeping rooms to accommodate all four of us, including a toddler and a newborn. Still we didn’t let its size deter us, although the price, at first, did. We had to negotiate, and it wasn’t until several weeks later that our realtor told us the house was ours if we still wanted it. The sellers had met our price.


This house we were buying was a far cry from our first apartment, which was 3,000 miles away. That apartment was in a motel-like two-story building, and we had rented the end unit. My husband, much to my dismay, had willingly upped the rent $5 (on a second lieutenant’s salary) so that we could supplement our two front, and only, windows with one in the outside wall. It was the first I knew of his liking, need even, for lots of light.

This new home had it, with two large windows in the front living room. When the afternoon sun came pouring in, I often rested on the floor with the rays warming me. The house grew along with our family. We remodeled a basement room to give our two boys a space to play. Later, when our daughter was born, we built a dormer off the back to utilize unfinished attic space. We added two new bedrooms and a second bath, enclosed an unscreened side porch for relief from the summer heat, put up a jungle gym in the backyard, and built a tree house.

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We had almost no furniture when we moved in. No matter. We had a picnic party in the empty dining room, placing artificial grass over the rug and a large red-checked tablecloth over that. Our friends sat on the floor, and all relished the informality. I even concocted a fishing hole using a large mirror as the pond and a magnet as bait for the clipped paper fish.

Eventually, though, it came time to move. A friend purchased the piano, the house was put on the market, and John was left with enduring stories of his interactions with our kids. He told these to anyone who would listen all the rest of his days, and we left knowing that leaving John behind would make our move much more difficult.

Phyllis S. Aliber, a freelance writer
and collage artist, lives in Wellesley. Send comments and a 550-word
essay on your first home to Please note:
We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.

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