George didn’t know the actual definition of marriage but he liked to think of it as two people, one of whom sleeps every night in a room that is too hot while lying in bed next to another who thinks the room is too cold. This was undoubtedly the case with him and Maggie. George was a city boy through and through. He was born in Brooklyn and had the accent to prove it. He's never actually said fugetaboutit but if he had no one would have batted an eye. Maggie, on the other hand, was a southern belle from Jackson Mississippi and used expressions like fixin’ to and Y’all with the sweetest drawl you ever did hear. They were a mismatched couple if there ever was one but somehow they fit like two comfortable socks. To the outside world, they were different in every way but their hearts fit more perfectly than an interlocking puzzle.
The first time George saw the “For Sale” sign in front of the house he knew he had found the worst possible perfect place. To most the home would be a front-page listing in Better Homes and Gardens, it was an American Foursquare painted light blue with a wrap-around porch. The third story had dormer windows on all four sides and from the front, it had a beautiful mountain view.
That’s not what George saw though. The large hill on which it stood would be a devil to mow and for a city boy, brought up on apartment living and with elevators, the three stories would be daunting. The closest general store was almost eight miles away and to get to a God’s honest supermarket you’d have to set aside at least an hour for the round trip. The porch would be perfect for an early evening pipe smoke but he had to sneak those in to avoid the ire of his loving wife. Yes, there was nothing George liked about this monstrosity except that Maggie would love it, and to George that was all-important.
“It’s darling, George. How did you ever find it?” The excitement in Maggie’s voice said more than her words. “I love everything about it. Look how majestic it is, sitting up there on the hill, and it’s three stories!” George managed a small smile as he pulled into the driveway. “When I was a little girl my Mamma said the more stories a house has the more stories it will tell. I want to hear all of this house’s stories, George, don’t you?” By this time Maggie had left the car and turned her gaze towards the mountain. She paused to take in the majesty of it all then turned back to her best friend and exclaimed "Look, George, not a single building for as far as the eye can see. It’s perfect, just perfect, please tell me we can afford it. Please make it ours” George just smiled and nodded his head.
Before he brought Maggie to see the home he knew he wanted to buy, but after her response he was determined. The list price on the house was $575,000 but George knew it had sold two years earlier for more than $100,000 less. The housing market hadn’t improved in the last few years and the comps in the area screamed this house was overpriced. What made matters worse was the listing agent was an old friend.
Bobby Jones, owner and one-man crew of Bobby Jones’s Real Estate, shared a name with a famous golfer but not the swing. He had known George and Maggie for the better part of 20 years and had handled the sale of their home a few years earlier. He had helped George and Maggie find the “perfect” place in the city just a couple of years back so when he saw the familiar number on the Caller ID, to say the least, he was perplexed.
George, never one to make small talk allowed for only a few pleasantries before stating emphatically the reason for his call. “Bobby, I want to buy a house and ironically you are the listing agent.”
“Which house are you looking to buy?” Bobby responded, confused at what might have changed in such a short time.
“The one on Sycamore. You know the one.” The silence that accompanied this revelation lasted almost long enough for George to think he had lost connection before Bobby finally responded, “I only have one house available on Sycamore, you can’t mean that one.”
“I do,” George replied bluntly. “Maggie loves the house and I love Maggie, so that’s the house I want.”
After another long pause to contemplate the situation, Bobby, well aware of who he was talking to, gingerly broached the subject of price. “It’s listed at $575,000 and the owner is firm on the price.” There was a hesitation in Bobby’s voice and the statement was delivered almost like a question and with a hint of fear.
The process of buying a house is like a religion to a boy from Brooklyn. It is the culmination of a lifetime of learning to negotiate. Brooklanders are street smart and relentless, they don’t buy anything for full price. When George’s father used to take him to the market to pick up groceries for the family restaurant he taught George the art of haggling. “Georgie Boy,“ His dad would say with a a roguish twinkle in his eye, “you gotta start low. If the first offer isn’t an insult then you’ve lost already. After that you get their indignant response and the competition is on.” George’s dad would play this game with all his vendors and they would eventually settle on the price both had in mind when the negotiation started. It was magic to George, it was in his DNA. It was also another in the long line of differences between George and Maggie. Maggie always paid full price even when buying a car.
“Who pays full price for a car?” George would ask, more disappointed than angry. “My dad is rolling over in his grave.”
“Your dad is on the mantle in an urn.” Maggie would reply, knowing full well George could never really be mad at her.
Whenever George would start to haggle Maggie would cut her eyes, sigh, and walk away not wanting to see George go in for the kill. It was a dance practiced and perfected over the years and they performed it masterfully.
As Bobby sat back in his chair anticipating the free for all he was sure was coming George said the most unexpected thing, “Done. When can we sign the papers?”
“You are paying the asking price?” Bobby blurted out unexpectedly.
“You got a problem with that?” George replied aware of the shock that accompanied this departure from the norm. Then his voice got shallow, “It’s for Maggie, Bobby, it’s for Maggie.”
“No problem at all my friend, I understand. If you’re paying full price we can get this done this week. I’ll call you when the papers are ready.”
Like most boys from Brooklyn, George had an opinion on everything and he made his opinions known. Everything, that is, except for the layout of the house, that was Maggie's department. On moving day, after his easy chair was placed in the front sitting room, George made a point of staying out of the way as Maggie worked the poor moving guys to exhaustion. He watched as each piece of furniture was placed in every possible spot until Maggie found its perfect home and then she would repeat the process with the next piece. George hated this home but he loved to watch Maggie set it up and as the process drew to a close and George looked at her choices he knew right away they were exactly right. Sitting there, in his favorite chair, George contemplated what he and Maggie had accomplished in just a few weeks and he found his soul lightened and his face smiling for the first time in at least two years.
There is no night like the first night in a new house and the night is even better when it happens at the beginning of fall in the country. After a nice but easy dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, Maggie and George found their way to the rockers on the front porch and held hands as they watched the sun go down over the mountains. George, noticing their breath now visible in the cool night air, placed a sweater over his wife’s shoulders.
“Beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” Maggie said breathlessly, breaking the silence, as she scanned the wonder in front of her.
“Absolutely,” George agreed never taking his eyes off his wife.
“George, thank you so much for this. I know this isn’t your cup of tea but it’s everything I could ever want, this house, this view,” she paused and finished her thought “and you.”
George just nodded and smiled. This is proof of God, he thought to himself as he took in the moment.
"I’m getting a little tired now,” Maggie said, almost reluctantly. “Would you mind if I turned in early?”
“Not at all, sweetheart.” he responded truthfully, “I’ll be up shortly.”
“Don’t think I don’t know you’re going to smoke that nasty pipe,” Maggie said pretending to be annoyed but smiling all the time. “Make sure you brush your teeth before you come to bed, you old poo.” and with that, she kissed him on the cheek and headed into the house and up the stairs.
George waited long enough for Maggie to make it to the top of the stairs and enter the bedroom before he pulled out his pipe, filled it with his favorite tobacco, and flame in hand took a drag.
For George time would seem to stand still when he could sit alone and smoke his pipe so he wasn’t sure how long he had been there when he saw some people coming up the walk.
“Hello.” came a voice piercing the silence of nightfall. “We come in peace.”
“John and Emily? Is that you?” George responded squinting so as to use the last of the sun's residual beams to make out the figures turning onto the front walk but only being sure of their identities when the porch light illuminated two familiar and confused faces.
“George? What are you doing here? Is everything okay?" John asked with obvious concern.
“Yes, it’s me. Maggie and I have moved back in.” George replied before pausing to take a deep breath "Maggie’s worse, much worse. She doesn’t remember almost anything anymore. I thought it would be better to be in the city, near her doctors and the hospitals but I was wrong. She would wander aimlessly until I couldn't find her.” George shuddered sharing the memory. "She didn't know that I knew but I could hear her crying almost every night.”
“That’s awful,” Emily replied as she hugged George. “So you bought your old house back?”
“Yes,” George said, “Maggie doesn’t remember the house, to her it’s new but she loves it just like she always did. I should never have moved her out. This is where we belong.”
The revelation brought tears to Emily's eyes. “Is there anything we can do?”
“Just pretend you don’t know her when you meet. I’m not sure how much longer she has but for now, this house has brought her smile back. She’s forgotten that she forgets and for now that’s a gift.
“Of course we will,” John replied. “And if you need anything else please don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Thank you so much," George said casting his glance up the stairs then turning back, "If you’ll forgive me, when you came up I was about to go up to bed. I don’t like to leave Maggie alone for too long”
“Absolutely,” Emily said knowingly and with that, they hugged once again and left George alone on the front porch of the house he never liked.
As George took the last drag on his favorite old pipe and looked out over his new old view he said out loud but to himself. “I guess I don’t hate this place after all.” And with that, he headed up to bed.