The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, November 6, 2017

Our House

Posting was light last week, largely because la Caterina and I were involved in buying the house of which I have been renting the bottom apartment since my career radically shifted three years ago. We still rent in Brooklyn, where her job is, and bounce back and forth between the two. It makes for a peripatetic existence (for me more than her, as I journey back to the City most weeks, though she comes up when she can).

Which is home? You many ask. The short answer is both--we are home for each other and so I'll always be a Brooklynite, even though the home we own is in Albany.

But there is a special pleasure in our having bought this house, as my late landlady, a feisty, retired social worker who devoted her career as a social worker to creating meaningful protections for at-risk children, and dedicated her retirement to preserving the neighborhood in which the house stands, poured a lot of herself into the place. There are stained glass windows and ornaments that she made herself in the basement. These grace notes personalize the redbrick row house, as much as the original wainscoting, the flourishing ivy in the back (must knock some of that off, where it's a bit too intrusive), and the bow window, made for cats to take their leisure and view the world from above. And I am a fan of the baronial claw foot tub.

Bernadette and I became friends in our time together, with her telling me tales of Mayor Erastus Corning while I told her about James Michael Curley and The Last Hurrah, among many other conversations we shared. When I became a deacon, she was delighted for me, and, before she became ill, she would cat-sit for me. She never raised my rent, or charged for the cat-sitting.

At the closing, the executor of Bernadette's estate gave me two versions of the history of the house, as written by Bernadette. They each tell the story of Thomas Williams, who built this house and its two flanking neighbors in 1892. (A Williams family portrait has hung in the hallway since Bernadette found it in the building, and I keep it there, in memory of both her and him.) Williams lived here for 40 years--until about 1931, and was succeeded by another longtime Albany family, who passed it to a young man who did some renovation after a fire in the unit I rented--which retains all its period charm--and sold it to Bernadette in 1979. From 1979 until shortly before I moved in, Bernadette worked on renewing the fabric of the old place, and while there is much we can do to make it the home we want it to be, we have a good foundation to build on.

The folder of history and pictures of the repairs she had effected had one last thing--Bernadette's last charge to her successor in interest, her last message, it turned out, to me: "It's a great little house," she wrote, "take care of it."

So we will.

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