I was 24 years old and engaged. My fiancé was a year older and about to graduate from law school. I had a teaching job, and he had a position promised to him in a large Boston law firm. With terror and hope, we bought our first home. We chose a western suburb with train service (we had one car), and until he officially started his job, I paid the mortgage out of my meager salary.
We were the American dream. I had grown up in a series of apartments in two-family houses. My blue-collar family did not own property. My soon-to-be husband and I felt successful beyond measure. My husband was so proud of our accomplishment that after the wedding he invited one of the partners in the firm and his wife to dinner.
Our dream house was a small Cape with an unfinished attic and basement. We had five rooms. The kitchen was too small for a table, and one bedroom barely held a single bed. The furniture was a mishmash of leftovers from college dorm rooms and a rug that we called the blue beast, because no matter how hard you tried you could not make it look clean.
The sofa, a maple-armed horror my folks had discarded, was flanked by end tables salvaged from my husband’s law school apartment. We covered carved obscenities with mismatched lamps. But it was ours, and we were very proud. It was a tangible sign that we had launched a life.
The partner and his wife arrived for dinner on a Saturday night in the fall. We had a fire in our new fireplace, and I thought the room looked warm and cozy. We sat knee to knee in the tiny dining room. My pot roast was a success, and we moved to the living room, where I sat on the horrible couch and the partner’s wife sat in the rocking chair, a wedding gift from my in-laws. She had been very quiet during the meal, and now she gazed around the space as I handed her coffee and cake.
She leaned into to me as she sipped the coffee and spoke in a conspiratorial voice. “Tell me,’’ she began,“why do you think anyone would build a house this small?’’
Her husband gasped, and then chuckled nervously. I was mute with disbelief, thinking I had not heard her correctly. My husband responded quickly, with just a bit of an edge on his voice. “Well it’s not the Back Bay, but it is a start,’’ he said.
The conversation shifted to their upcoming trip to Martinique and then to Paris. I don’t remember much else that was said, but I have never forgotten how I felt. I wondered whether she was an example of what I would see among the successful folks at this law firm. Luckily, she wasn’t, but it did make me realize the extent of the continuum of success. I had come a very long way up to that unfinished Cape; her life journey was obviously very different.
My castle horrified her, and her arrogance horrified me.
Nancy Schneider is a freelance writer who lives in Needham, where after raising three children, she moved to a larger house in that town. Send comments to Nancehs@comcast.net and a 550-word essay on your first home to Address@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.