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Finding a New Home Place 

by Margaret Cullison

I felt the softness in the air as soon as I stepped out of the car that first day we arrived in Grants Pass, Oregon, on a rainy Friday afternoon in February. The skies had cleared enough for the late afternoon sun to shine on the community of 22,000 people, nestled in a valley and surrounded by the foothills of the Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges. It was a promising introduction.

That Friday happened to be Valentine's Day. My partner, Richard, had called ahead to make reservations for dinner at a restaurant situated in one of the fine old 19th Century homes on 6th Street, the main road that runs the length of the town. When we arrived, the foyer was crowded with couples waiting for their tables. This was our first clue that Grants Pass residents like to celebrate special occasions and that not having reservations on Valentines Day would have been a huge mistake. As it was, we all had to wait well beyond our reservation times. Patience prevailed though, and some people joked about the delay while others explained the situation to new arrivals as they came through the door. No one complained, threw a noisy tantrum or walked out in disgust. We liked the way these people made us feel part of the group, even though we were strangers.

The next day Rich and I looked at some houses for sale. We'd come from the San Francisco Bay area for the same reasons that many Californians migrate north. We wanted more reasonable home prices, a less burdensome cost of living, relief from traffic congestion, a place that offered a slower life style for our retirement years. After searching for over a year in northern California for an affordable house in a medium-sized community with some cultural amenities, we'd decided to cross the border to southern Oregon.

The rain accompanied us on our home tour, but we liked the way it nurtured the lush green landscape for which Oregon is famous. Our realtor had moved from California ten years before and was an enthusiastic town booster. She explained that the area's economy was depressed due to the decline in the logging industry but that the retirement population was high. She told us that people in Oregon love the outdoors, are enthusiastic gardeners and strong-minded political advocates. She described summer activities such as hot air balloon rides and jet boat races, said the city was proud of its new hospital and supported the oldest community playhouse in Oregon. She urged us to attend the outdoor market held every Saturday from March through November. Rich and I grew up in small towns in the Midwest and we nodded to each other as we saw how much Grants Pass reminded us of our original home places.

Later that afternoon the rain had let up enough so we could walk through "old town," an area of refurbished, century-old buildings now occupied by businesses that depend on the tourist trade. The Rogue River, famous for river rafting, jet boat excursions and salmon fishing, runs through Grants Pass and attracts many visitors in summer. We both needed a caffeine boost and stopped at a coffee shop where we sat for awhile by the window, watching the people pass by. Next door was a bookstore, a valuable presence in any community. I decided to buy Stephen King's recently published book about his writing life to give to my youngest son who, as a semi-delinquent teenager, learned to love literature, which changed the course of his life, as a result of reading King's work. Of course, I planned to read the book first, ever in search of new insight into the mysteries of writing. The cost of the book was $14.95 and that's what the sales clerk asked me to pay. She smiled at my reaction to the novelty of making a purchase without having to pay state sales tax.

The rain had tapered off to a fine mist by Sunday morning. We both were awake early thinking about one of the houses we'd seen the day before. As we talked over our impressions, we realized that the house met all the requirements on our criteria list, plus it was a latchkey house, realtor terminology for a house ready to be moved into without any additional work. It was also fairly priced within our range. Neither of us would be free of our work commitments for another three months, so it was too soon to make a final decision to buy. But we knew that exceptional buys don't last long in a real estate market that favors the seller. I called our realtor, and she got us an appointment for later that morning. Another party wanted a second look too, but we'd be in ahead of them.

The property is situated only a few hundred yards from the Rogue River. Canada geese and ducks flying low over the rooftops and wisps of fog wafting between the houses told us we were close. The air had that same softness I'd noticed on Friday, after a good rain has washed it clean. The neighborhood was quiet, a place of solitude without the remoteness of country. The house is situated on a pie-shaped lot at the apex of two streets, providing more yard space and distance from neighbors. Care had been given in planning the landscaping, which gave the house a park-like setting. We took our time going through the house, knowing this would be our last chance to see it before making our decision. The idea of buying a home after one or two brief visits is like submitting to an arranged marriage. You can't possibly know what you're getting, and so you just jump in with the crazy hope that it'll work out.

But the house felt right to us. At the end of the walk-through, we paused in the kitchen, newly remodeled the year before to open onto the living and dining areas. I imagined myself preparing meals there for the two of us and for family and friends when they'd come to visit. Rich asked me what I thought of the house. I said, "I could live here," thinking as the words came out of my mouth of my four sons and their families who would be a long day's drive away me. We bought the house that day, celebrating over brunch with our realtor and her husband. They took us to the kind of restaurant we've learned to expect in Grants Pass: comfortable, good food, reasonable prices and friendly service.

That first rainy weekend in Oregon we found our new place. We still faced the larger task of making it our home.


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