“I would never sell this place,” my landlord assured me last summer. “Even though I get calls from developers every week.”
His wife agreed, shaking her head at the huge development going in across the street. Two tiny starter homes there transformed into six skinny, modern townhouses.
Our subdivided Ballard brick house has stood the test of time. Cute. Unique. A big corner lot with half-century old rose bushes. When my landlord bought the place as a newlywed, two old women had shared one of the apartments for decades. On sunny afternoons they would sit on a porch swing together, talking and laughing.
“We raised our children here,” the old couple explained, looking at each other with the spark of young parents. “There were so many kids in the neighborhood then.”
We are relieved by their assurances. All around us old Ballard is coming down.
My husband and I put in a raised garden bed this year, and planted twelve tomato varieties, along with cabbage, carrots, beets and onions. Our landlord was fond of us and open to such suggestions. He also loved the free produce. We planned to ask for a duck pond next – a truly Ballard way of dealing with our rampant snail problem.
That’s why I was incredulous when my phone rang with a Berkshire Hathaway agent on the other end of the line. “We need to set up a time for the appraiser to walk through the house. Would Friday work?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You haven’t heard from your landlord?”
The agent paused. Once again he was forced to deliver bad news.
One short phone call and we’ve become squatters, living in a place that is doomed. My husband, my neighbors who share the house, and me – statistics in a rapidly developing city. Seven townhomes will replace us too.
I used to dream that our landlord would leave us the house in his will, a gesture of pleasure at having such great, responsible tenants. It would never happen, but I loved the fantasy. I never wanted to leave. I wanted my own swing on the porch in my golden years. I wanted that duck pond.
The house is full of Ballard, and our history here. Windowsills host seedpods, pinecones, and horse chestnuts picked up on long walks. Under the record player are musty stacks of 1940s classics rescued from the basement of a neighbor. Homemade candles burn in candlesticks discovered at Ballard garage sales.
A week after the fateful call, my landlord arrives to remove his on-site tools and lawn mower. Rather than inviting him in to chat as we normally would, we keep the door closed. We feel betrayed.
But as he pulls out of the driveway and starts up the street in his red pickup truck, he suddenly stops in the middle of the road, and stares at the house.
Maybe he’s remembering his 7-year-old playing hopscotch in the driveway. Dinner on the stove. A chilly January night, drinking wine with his new bride in front of the fireplace.
“We should have let him in,” my husband says. “He should have been able to walk these halls one last time.”
We still live here, but the house feels lost to us too. Soon it will be us pausing in the middle of the street to stare one last time, before builders bring in the demolition equipment.
My husband, then new boyfriend, looking up, hoping to catch a glimpse of me in the window, and me silhouetted, hoping to see him passing by.
I’ll remember lying wide-awake on my couch, unable to sleep the night before our wedding. That first Christmas when we rearranged the entire living room just so our tree could be in the front window. Those 50-year-old pale pink roses that brought two laughing old Ballard women — now long-deceased — into our home.
The small memories are the most vulnerable. Will we forget that we often read in side-by-side chairs, or clicked together jigsaw puzzles on winter nights? Will my memory omit the two crows sitting on power lines outside the kitchen window?
We are renters. That means we have no control over what happens to us. Though we are successful people mid-career, it is all we can afford to be in the city of Seattle. Our loss is the story of many.
We made this our home, but now that home is surrounded by development signs, declaring it will be destroyed. Students from the local high school tag them late at night. Two days ago, a drunken 20-something peed on our porch thinking the house was empty. It is finished.
We don’t rush to clean up carpet stains anymore. We barely wipe down the stove. There is no way to account for the sadness of it, but my landlord tried with one final note:
“We’re sorry this has happened. We never expected to sell and never had it on the market. But the offer was too good to turn down.
All our tenants are especially nice and we’ve enjoyed you all, especially you two. We hope you have a wonderful life together as we have had.”
As I re-read the note, another Ballard-ite stops to read the land-use sign, looks up at the house and shakes her head.
Katy Sewall is a longtime radio producer and host for KUOW and others, and currently produces “The Bittersweet Life” at www.thebittersweetlife.net.