My First Home: Big head, small mind

My First Home
. —Stan Fellows for The Boston Globe

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 and a 550-word essay on your first home to Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.