Showing posts with label moving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label moving. Show all posts

16 March 2017

A House is Always Interesting

by Eve Fisher

For a variety of reasons (AVP, amenities, doctors, and the fact that we go down twice a week minimum) my husband and I are moving from our small town to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 50 miles down the road.

Sioux Falls, photo courtesy Wikipedia
Sioux Falls is growing by leaps and bounds.  There are whole villages of suburbs stretching south and west (mainly because our airport is in the northeast, btw).  Condos have grown up around the interstates.  However, we don't like suburbs much, and all the condos we saw were too small, and we wanted to live central Sioux Falls, which is a hot, hot, hot! market.  There were at least 3 houses that we wanted to see but couldn't even get in to view - they were no sooner on the market than bought. We put in offers on three, yes, three different places:  the first one turned our bid down, and upon reconsidering, we didn't rebid.  The second one failed inspection (huge foundation problems).  But the third, hopefully, is the charm!  I am working on the mortgage papers (everything's on-line these days, dammit!) probably as you read this.

House shopping is interesting and exhausting.  I remember back when we first house-shopped in 1991 (we'd rented the place we were living over the phone), and it was an educational experience. One memorable house had a room with bright orange and green plaid vinyl wallpaper, with orange shag carpet, and, in the kitchen, vintage orange appliances.  No, we did not buy it. Another place was beautifully done, until you opened the basement door and the reek of mold and mildew was enough to knock you down.  Another place was obviously the future home of someone who would formally entertain at the drop of a hat.  (We're the pot-luck or pizza types.)

Old houses are fun.  The history, the charm, the leftover stuff.  In our last house, we found an old-fashioned cream-skimmer that dropped behind the kitchen sink in the summer kitchen out back, decades ago.  I remember once I visited a friend in Chicago, who was remodeling an old house into apartments, and found 4 old books tucked away in the attic, including a first edition Harriet Beecher Stowe's "The Mayflower".  He was going to throw them away, so I leaped up and claimed them. They've had a good home ever since. And I remember living in an urban neighborhood in Atlanta, decades ago, with a bunch of roommates (starving artists all), and visiting with the little old lady who lived in the bungalow next door - turned out she'd been born in that house, and had never moved in all her 81 years.  I remember being gob-smacked by that.  I couldn't imagine staying anywhere 81 years.  I still can't.

Roderick Usher,
by Aubrey Beardsley
(note - not creepy enough)
Old houses can also be creepy.  I know of two houses in our small town that have had suicides, and at least one with a murder.  One of the original morticians' houses was bought and transformed into a family dwelling, and the owners put their master bedroom where the viewing room used to be.  There are also a couple of houses that just look WEIRD:  you know, the kind where you get the feeling that Roderick Usher uses it as his summer home.   I remember one house we looked at in Tennessee:  we walked into the back room, I turned to Allan and said, "Redrum", and we walked out. Quickly.

A lot of mysteries and thrillers have been written about what happens after the house is bought and/or inherited.  One of the great disappointments of such novels is Agatha Christie's "Postern of Fate", which is - well, the only way I can put it is that it's a real mess.  The Beresfords are too old, as was, sadly, Ms. Christie.  On the other hand, I love Christie's "Sleeping Murder" - which is NOT Miss Marple's last case by a long shot. The slow reveal of the fact that Gwenda Halliday Reed actually lived, as a child, in the house she bought in case of love at first sight still makes the hair stand up on the back of my head. Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" has the house itself as a central character, and God help all who stay in it.  And, speaking of Roderick Usher, the House of Usher went down with a pretty spectacular crash, didn't it?

"Northanger Abbey" -
1986 BBC production 
But that's often the point.  Gothic fiction, whether classics from the 18th century, like "The Mysteries of Udolpho", "Otranto", "The Monk", etc., all the way down to modern Gothic romances, all revolve around mysterious old houses.  Some are spookier than others:  the whole point of Catherine Morland's joy in being invited to the eponymous "Northanger Abbey" is that, to her eyes, it looked likely to have had a murder or two done in it, and she could hardly wait to find the body.  God knows her reading literature had taught her that if you can't find a dead body, or a hidden tunnel with an instrument of torture or two, or the remains of the missing first wife in an old ruin, where can you find one? Instead, being Jane Austen's creation, she found a husband, and the main mystery turns out to be the laundry bills left behind by Eleanor Tilney's secret love.


In true Gothic fiction there are always dark castles, dungeons, tunnels, empty graves, full graves, murders, rumors of murders, supernatural events, monsters, and sometimes all of the above.  ("Dark Shadows" captured all of these in one magnificently campy afternoon soap opera from my early teen years:  click on the picture above to see Barnabas Collins finally set free from his coffin...)

There is always a young, virginal heroine (even in modern Gothic romances) with a mysterious past, who is often revealed to have been born noble.  The hero is always courageous, although he is often a suspect (at least for a while) in the shenanigans going on around the place.  The villain of the piece is a control freak tyrant who will have things his own way no matter what (calling Mrs. Danvers...).  If the villain is married, his wife is completely under his thumb (Countess Fosco in "The Woman in White").  There is often a crazy relative, usually locked up. There is always a mystery.  And the heroine always feels that there's something seriously wrong, then that something's wrong with her, then that she's under threat, and, at various stages, worries about her own mental health...

How the heroine gets to her location varies.  Sometimes the heroine is a relative (Maud is practically willed by her father to Uncle Silas), sometimes she's the governess ("Jane Eyre", "Nine Coaches Waiting"), sometimes she's an invited guest (Catherine Morland).  But I believe - although I could be wrong - that "Rebecca" is the only one where the heroine marries the owner BEFORE she arrives at the house.  

But it's always about the house.  As Jo Walton says, "The essential moment every gothic must contain is the young protagonist standing alone in a strange house. The gothic is at heart a romance between a girl and a house."

So, the next time you go house-hunting, consider...  you might be looking at your next mystery, your next ghost story, or your next romance.

Will keep you posted on our move.







13 October 2016

More Updates From South Dakota

by Eve Fisher

One of the fun things about having moved around a lot is that you learn that most places look a whole lot alike any more, from the strip malls to gas stations, from fast-food chains to housing developments.  And don't even get me started on the "industrial parks", where large metal sheds are the new factories (no windows, two doors, completely anonymous).  Even Josiah Bounderby would think they were a little too utilitarian.

On the other hand, the other fun thing you learn is that, underneath all that sameness, there are real differences.


Image result for dry corn in fields south dakotaOne thing that puzzled me when I first moved up here, was why there were so many cornfields standing, unharvested, well into November, December, January, February...  I mean, there's brown corn, with cobs, with snow.  So I asked about that:  "Was there some sort of blight?" And was told that the corn was freeze-drying in the fields, to save the cost of corn dryers.  Who knew?  I'd been living in the South for the last 17 years, where they harvest at harvest time, i.e., the fall, because if they leave the corn in the field, it'll rot with all the rain.  Up here...  well, we're colder than that.

Here's another puzzler:

Image result for signs limousin service

There's lots of signs here in South Dakota for "Limousin Service". As a newcomer, I had two questions:

(1) why were there so many limousine services in rural South Dakota?
(2) why didn't they spell it right?

Later I learned that a Limousin (outside of Sioux Falls) is a cow. French origin, from the Limousin, but all over the place up here, along with Angus, Shorthorn, Simmenthal, etc.   And, of course, Limousin Service is about breeding.  (Which sometimes happens in limousines, too, but we won't get into that.)

BTW, this is NOT a misspelling, but deliberate:

Image result for toe service

There are more than one of these signs along I-29 between Sioux Falls and Mitchell.  Dick knows how to make you look.  Betcha he gets a lot of calls, too.
BTW, this is why I regularly put characters asking stupid questions into my stories.  God knows I've done it often enough.
Thankfully, there are other ways to find out what's going on in a new area than running around asking crazy questions.  For one thing, find out who's the biggest gossip in town and park yourself next to him at the Norseman's Bar or her down at the Laskin Cafe.

Another way is to read the local paper.  And not just the local daily paper, but the local weekly paper, which services the whole county.  We have one, called "The Peach".  If you need field irrigation wells, farm & home wells, high capacity pumps; if you want to buy a limousin 2 year old bull or an Angus yearling; if you need retrenching or a ride to Branson to see Daniel O'Donnell; or any sort of job in the healthcare, farming, or hog confinement industry, the Peach is the place to go.

Did I mention barn straightening?  Seed cleaning?  Bean stubble baling?

Also pork loin feeds, and church suppers, all of which are other places where you can go and get fed while catching up on the news/gossip/weather report.

And then there are the Locals, where we find out what to do with our spare time:
  • Dist. 8 Conservatives Luncheon
  • Laskin Duplicate Bridge
  • Arts Council
  • Alcoholics Anonymous 
  • Sr. Citizens Dance (hugely popular; if you're a guy who loves to dance, you will not sit down for longer than it takes to have a cup of coffee or a highball to pep you up for the next dance.)
  • Christian Motorcyclists Association
  • VFW Auxiliary Sunday Brunch - every Sunday, great pancakes, come on down!
  • The Country Swingers (more dancing; get your mind out of the gutter) 
Now granted, it's not the Agony Column that Sherlock Holmes read every day, but things slip in.

Like what happened to the person who posted "Acres of good used hog equipment for sale"?  What happened to THAT hog containment operation?  And why does s/he say, "Save this ad"?

Or why is someone "looking for used mobile homes, 1995 or older, will pay CASH."  Do they breed? Are they refurbished and sold as new?  Or are they being shipped up to the Bakken for the man-camps?

Or the sale of "Positive Rain Gutters".  (Watch out for negative rain gutters, they will leak and you.)

And there are auctions galore, of course.  These are important, not only because you can bid on everything from TOOLS OF ALL KINDS (and they ain't kidding!) to Antiques, Trucks, Household Goods, Implements, Stationary Engines, Parts & Pieces, and the land itself.  Auctions are where people gather.  They last all day; food (or at least coffee) is often served; and people stand around and catch up on everything, from who's there and who isn't.

And speaking of auctions, we had a humdinger back in September.  You remember the Gear Up! scandal, where, early in the morning of September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota.  Our Attorney General Marty Jackley determined that Scott Westerhuis shot his entire family, torched the house, and then shot himself, all because he was about to be caught for embezzling enough funds - and no one still knows how much - to build a $1.3 million rural home, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, etc., etc., etc., on a combined salary of $130,000.

Well, look to your right, folks.  Yes, they auctioned off what stuff survived the fire that night.  For a detailed look at what was on auction, read Cory Heidelberger's blog HERE.

As you might expect, the auction was a major topic of discussion around town.  Many of us agreed that we would not be anxious to have any item from that property because we are almost all superstitious, and feel like the TVs might go on and off by themselves, or perhaps the desk roller chairs might start swiveling around in the middle of the night, like at, say 2:57 AM when someone used the Westerhuis landline to call Nicole Westerhuis' cell phone...

The land itself was sold at auction to the Platte Area Ministerial Association, who plan to open an interdenominational Christian camp there.  Unfortunately, they only had the $37,000 down payment and are trying to raise the rest of the $370,000 bid.  They've set up a GoFundMe page, which hopefully will work.  (Although I can't but wonder if an exorcism might also help...)

And where did the funds that were raised go?  To pay for the funerals; compensation for estate representatives and attorneys; a dozen credit card companies, banks, and workers.  Meanwhile, Gear Up! will not be reimbursed nor, apparently, the State of South Dakota.

And speaking of Gear Up - Mid Central Educational Co-op Director Dan Guericke is accused of backdating contracts to avoid a government audit, plus sighing at least 17 illegally secret contracts on behalf of Mid Central worth $3.8 million. Where, oh, where did the money go? (see all of Angela Kennecke's report HERE.

Speaking of Guericke and Westerhuis, "Guericke spent more than an hour on the phone with Scott Westerhuis the evening before the tragedy and when the board questioned him about what was said, sources tell me that Guericke told them the two really didn't talk about much at all."  Mm-hmm.

Did I mention that they STILL haven't found Scott Westerhuis safe?

Ah, South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 


13 February 2014

Who Are You?

by Eve Fisher

Who is that out there?  In cyber-space?  In the neighborhood?  Do you know who your neighbors are?
Or do you only think you do?  What kind of identification do you really need to survive these days?  Do you need any at all?

Example:  We have, as I have noted in the past, a number of little businesses here in South Dakota that provide South Dakota citizenship, driver's license, voter registration, mail service, etc., to anyone who's willing to pay what I consider a very modest fee - about $50.00 a month.  Used by people who want to RV around the country, or those who live in states with high state income tax (or any state income tax).  And also used by South Dakota citizens who don't want anyone to know their legal address.  So you meet someone, John Doe, and they give you their address, at 555 Main Street, Bwabwa, South Dakota.  Except that there are about 1500 people, at least, with that address.  You don't know where John Doe actually lives, where he was actually born, where he actually does anything at all...

Example:  Have you gone to a retirement center recently?  They all remind me of Miss Marple's disquisition on Chipping Cleghorn in "A Murder Is Announced":  "People just come - and all you know about them is what they say of themselves...  People who've made a little money and can afford to retire.  But nobody knows any more who anyone is.  You can have Benares brassware in your house and talk about tiffin and chota Hazri - and you can have pictures of Taormina and talk about the English church and the library ....  People take you at your own valuation." Sure, that distinguished looking grey-haired lady SAYS she used to be a judge, and she certainly knows her law.  But there's more than one way to gain an extensive knowledge of the law, and it's very hard to prove someone is or is not who they say they are.

Example:  The internet, awash in usernames that can't be traced - PaulZOmega may say he's a Biblical scholar, and hotchatony she's a retired grandmother in Gran Canaria, but you have no proof, and all the information can be gotten on the internet in about two minutes.  You can set up multiple e-mail identities, multiple Facebook identities, multiple anything identities, and never ever surface in your real persona.  How many of us have filled out every internet questionnaire accurately?  No fibbing?  No blanks?  (On Facebook, for example, I put down January 1, 1905 as my birthday.)  And while I know that hackers can find out who you are, who anyone is, and track them through all their more or less interesting internet life - I'm no hacker and I personally don't know any hackers.  I'm stuck - we're almost all stuck - dealing with avatars.

Now granted, someone is keeping track of our hits, our purchases, our likes, dislikes, political viewpoints, advertising preferences, television and movie rentals.  And billions of people are providing a constant stream of photos of themselves and their children in various stages of disarray, sickness, partying, playing, working, fooling around, and general silliness.  Not to mention tweets of their opinions, acid reflux, and shopping.  And yes, the government (every government, by the way, do not be fooled into thinking ours is the only one that does such things) is keeping tabs on the people (and always has been).

And yet, we are very much alone and anonymous.  We are an incredibly mobile people, moving for jobs, love, fear, whim, anger, fun, restlessness, rootlessness, and being fed up with the neighbors.  We live in a world without roots.  To return to Agatha Christie:  "Fifteen years ago one knew who everybody was...  They were people whose fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers, or whose aunts and uncles, had lived there before them.  If somebody new came to live there, they brought letters of introduction, or they'd been in the same regiment...  If anybody new - really new - really a stranger - came, well, they stuck out - everybody wondered about them and didn't rest till they found out....  But it's not like that any more."  No, it isn't.  Not in the 80% of the United States that's urban.  (I live in the 20% rural.)  Nobody stands out because everybody's a stranger:  THAT'S WHY THEY'RE THERE.

So, who are your neighbors?  And who are you?

14 March 2013

New Move/Old Photos

by Eve Fisher

As many of you are aware, we moved the end of February, from a big two-story house with a two car garage and 1000 square foot studio, where we had lived for 22 years, to a one-bedroom apartment in the former kindergarten room of an old school, with a classroom for a studio for my husband and the principal's office now my office.  The reasons why we moved are multiple, including freedom from maintenance and lawn care and the freedom to travel, snowbird, etc.  (Speaking of snowbirding, I'd love to pick anyone's brains out there about how you actually go about finding an apartment to rent for a couple of months every year!) 

The living room; lots of light.
The movers were four strapping young men who would have packed the dustbunnies if we didn't stop them, and who could move anything, anything at all, without seemingly breaking a sweat.  One of them spotted the book I wrote for Guideposts - "The Best is Yet to Be" - and asked if that Eve Fisher was me.  I said yes, and he said "I never met an author live and in person before."  So I gave him a copy.  They worked, they ran, they hustled, they rarely stopped, and they were great.  If we could only have kept them to unpack, it would have been REALLY great. 

But we love the new place.  The apartment is pretty much set up, and we got all the books up in my office, as you can see.  It took a lot of hard work, and a trip to the chiropractor, and there are still odds and ends that need to be done, but we are in, and functioning again, except that Allan's computer died and is in the computer hospital even as we speak.  (More on that later.)

My office, almost fully stocked.
Meanwhile, twenty-two years in the same place - which is longer than I have ever lived anywhere in my entire life - means that you accumulate all kinds of crap.  They range from the understandable (you can never have too many end tables or lamps), to the puzzling (who packed every single coat hanger, including that knot of them from the back closet that I was always meaning to throw out?), to the downright unbelievable (where did that strange Aztec ceramic head come from, anyway?  Answer - I made it, years ago, but it took me a while to remember.  And don't ask me why I did.)  I keep finding stuff to throw out.  Or put on Craig'slist, or E-bay, or SOMEWHERE.

And I find things that I haven't looked at for years.  Including a photograph album full of my father's photos from World War II.   (I'd share some of my father's photos with you, but Allan's computer that died had the scanner.)

My father served in Dutch New Guinea.  There are lots of photos of him posing athletically - he looked like a young Greek Burt Lancaster in those days - either in uniform or in bathing suit or in a towel.  There are lots of photographs of trees and ocean and sand, which, to be honest, since these are all in black and white and are about 2" by 4" max, aren't nearly as beautiful as the actual scenery must have been.  He wrote notes on the back of almost all of them to my mother, ranging from "village" to "always yours, heart and mind, body and soul, your ever-loving Charlie." 

A Google photo, but you get the idea
Since he was a guy, there are also three pages of photographs of native women, ranging from a young, deeply sun-burnt Tondelayo type, who looks REALLY good leaning against a tree wearing nothing but a grass skirt, to two toothless old women holding pigs, with their breasts literally sagging down to their waist.  (I have no idea what my mother thought receiving these pictures.  I also suppose it's true what my godchild's husband said - "we don't really care what they look like, as long as they're showing.")  There's also one photo of him and two buddies, stark naked, taking a bath out of a basin.  Of course all you really see is their white butts, but it was still pretty racy for the 1940's!  And, on the backs of all of them, little notes which in their day were undoubtedly hilarious and today would be considered fairly inappropriate. 

There were also some photos of a Japanese soldier, alone, and also with what apparently is his graduating class from the military academy.  These old, very faded photographs were undoubtedly taken from a dead Japanese soldier, although I doubt if my father killed him.  (My father worked for the catering corps, and while he saw some action, because there was action all over New Guinea at the time, I always got the impression that he was never on the front line as a soldier.)  All that's written on the back of these is a laconic statement, such as "Japanese soldier."  But it makes me wonder who he was; how old he was; if his family ever found out if and where he died... 

Old memories, old wars, old times, new place.