House Hunting

There were two or three hotels in Stillwater, Oklahoma in January, 1999.   We were holed up at the Best Western, which we had been told was the nicest of the lot.  I looked out the window at the lights below, marveling at how in the distance they simply stopped.

Z hadn’t been exactly thrilled at the prospect of moving, but we had played up the idea of living in a place where the winters were mild, where we could go to college football games every weekend, where we would have more money to do fun things, where we finally would have a house with a yard all our own.   He’d loved when we’d landed in Tulsa; it had been so cold in Michigan when we left, neither one of us could hardly fathom anywhere outside of Florida being mild and naked of snow.  R had met us at the airport, him now dividing time between Wisconsin and Oklahoma, in a light jacket.

I personally still felt like I was on a whirlwind; one minute R and I were separated with divorce papers waiting to be signed.  The next, or so it seemed, we were back together again, expecting a baby, and planning out a whole new life together in a whole new place.  I’d put in a request for a leave of absence starting in April at work.  I hated to leave before the end of the school year, but I couldn’t quite imagine moving across the country at seven months pregnant, either.  I consoled myself by saying that my leave was good for two years; if somehow, things didn’t work out in Oklahoma, I’d still have a job to go back to.  I still probably would have a place to go back to as well; rather than go through the hassle of getting my condo ready for sale, I had agreed to sell it to my girlfriend B at a discounted price.  We’d estimated the needed cosmetics would cost at least ten thousand dollars, so I quoted her a price roughly that amount less than the market value.  She’d agreed, wanting to quickly get in and leave the apartment she’d once shared with her now estranged husband.

“I still don’t get why they don’t have basements here,” I said to R, looking up from the stack of house specs that the real estate agent had left us with.  It was hard to remember which house was which, we’d seen so many today.  “I mean, isn’t this tornado alley?”

R nodded.  “I know, it’s strange.  It’s got to do with the soil here.  Did you notice how all the dirt is red?  Like in that subdivision we went to that was new, the dirt was all red?”

I had noticed that.  I’d never seen dirt that color before.  In Michigan it was dark brown.  “Yeah.  What’s the color of the soil got to do with basements?”

“It’s red clay,” R explained.  “The clay holds a lot of water, so it moves around a lot.  Expands, contracts.  Apparently it makes it a lot harder to make a basement that doesn’t leak or cave in.  Which makes basements more expensive.  In a place where houses aren’t very expensive, it adds a lot percentage wise to the cost of a home.  People around here don’t expect basements.”

My eyes were big.  “Where do they go when there’s a tornado?”  Growing up, I always remembered having to go to the basement if we heard the tell tale sirens for an approaching tornado.

“The closet.  Or a bathroom. Anywhere that doesn’t have windows.  Some people build storm cellars.”

“Wow, that seems nuts to not have a safe place to go when they get so many tornadoes here.”

“I guess it’s just a way of life out here.  They know what to do.  Downtown Stillwater has been there for a hundred years or so.  It must not be too terrible.”

I shuffled through the papers in front of me.  “So many choices.  Any of them standing out in your head right now?”

R thought for a moment.  “Well, she’s taking us to a few more in the morning, but I liked the one near the lake.  You?”  There was a big man made lake in town.  It seemed funny, in this landlocked state, to see such a large body of water and know that it had been carved out of the ground rather than naturally formed.  I’d never heard of a man made lake before.

“I liked that one on the other side of town, near the school everyone says is so good.  But it’s only three bedrooms.”  We had discussed having four bedrooms so that we would have room for a nursery and a guest bedroom.   “It had the nicest finishes and the best patio outside.  I mean really, how much would we use a guest room?  A few weeks a year.”

“But, the one near the lake has a pool.”  Z’s eyes had lit up when he’d peered into the backyard of the first house we’d been shown.  An above ground pool with an attached deck was there, all covered neatly and ready for the spring and summer.

“Well, let’s see what we see tomorrow,” I said, yawning.

“Tired?” R asked.

“Yes,” I said, sighing.  “I guess that means everything is OK in there.”

R smiled as wide as he possibly could.

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