Flashback 16 years to 1998. This was the scene outside our house:
After months of searching for a place we liked and could afford on combined journalist’s and postal supervisor’s salaries, after crunching numbers, saying goodbye to eating out and other luxuries, we were ready to move into our first house.
Catherine was almost 3, and the condo we were renting had outlived its usefulness. We wanted to be rid of other people’s arguments and cooking scents, were desperate for a yard Catherine could play in, and eager to do laundry whenever we felt like it — without first having to ride the elevator and remove a stranger’s unmentionables from the machine.
We’d lucked out, finding this house in Havemeyer Park, a section of postwar homes on streets named for World War II luminaries that was then one of a couple of so-called “affordable” areas of Greenwich.
It had been on the market a long time, both because it hadn’t been enlarged over the years and because in an effort to maximize space a former owner had replaced the traditional staircase with a spiral one. Most people took one look at it and immediately turned heel. We thought it delightfully cute.
Plus we’d qualified for special consideration, being first-time homeowners and all. And it had the added charm of being in the neighborhood where Basil had grown up. Catherine would go to the schools he attended.
The paperwork was all in order. There was just this pesky problem of an abandoned, leaking underground oil tank. The then-owner was responsible for removing it and the contaminated soil surrounding it.
Here’s a closer look at the scene we saw each day as we walked over from the condo — right up til a day or two before the closing was scheduled. The smell of oil was thick in the air as we stood in the yard, day after day, peering into the hole where the tank had been.
It was a nail-biter that worked out in the end. By the time we closed, the hole was gone and so was the holey tank. We moved in 16 years ago this week without further incident and quickly settled in.
The house is by no means perfect: Though we’ve invested in a roof, windows, garage door, and furnace; tamed and manicured the yard; upgraded one of the bathrooms; and fixed up Catherine’s room and the den; the rest of the interior needs a magic wand. The spiral staircase that adds an architectural air to the living/dining area presents numerous logistical issues (and Catherine once took a good tumble down it).
Still we can’t imagine calling any other place home.
It seems our little inspector chose wisely when she gave the place her stamp of approval all those years ago. Here she is on her rounds — before the tank removal got underway.