Saturday, September 20, 2008


We've been working hard on an apartment. We've got a woman who wants to rent it. She is elderly, with bad knees, and the first floor apartment appeals to her.
When I moved back to Pennsylvania to start over again, a single mom with three children, working at a local factory trying to make ends meet, I was pretty ashamed. I'd come from a pretty comfortable life in Michigan, with a nice home, and all the trappings of a successful middle class life. I moved my children into a ramshackle rental. It was horrible, and drafty, cold in the winter, stifling hot in the summer. Dylan's bedroom was in the attic, and he could not stand upright in part of it. I was desperately ashamed that I could not provide better for them, but when your ex has been sent to prison, there is no child support. It was up to me, and I did the best that I could. But I remember how badly I felt about that house, that rotten, decaying house with the old carpeting. I remember the landlord, a German woman, who always acted as if I were going to stiff her on the rent, even though I never had, and it would not have entered my mind to. Although I was the same person that I had been in Michigan, when I was the wife of a Dow white collar, I was treated quite differently as a single mother of three children working at the local plastics plant as a janitor. I've never forgotten the shame that goes along with that. I've never forgotten what it is like to have no choice.
We've been told, over and over again, that we're making a big mistake with this apartment. We are 'fixing it up too nicely'. As in, people, awful as they are will just 'trash it'. It always pisses me off a little when I hear it. I could not bear to take money from someone to live in a home I wouldn't live in myself. I want it to be nice for whoever gets it. We're putting in washer and dryer. We are paying attention to the details, period lighting, french doors in the bedroom. New carpeting. New bathroom. New tile. Wallpaper, gleaming woodwork, new ceilings, paint, new furnace, air conditioning. A garage with automatic doors.
I think of the elderly lady who wants to rent the apartment so badly that she stops by regularly to see our progress. We've gotten to know her as she checks up on us, and looks around, and visits with us. She's quiet, with a stammer. She's neat (her car is spotless, and friends tell me that when a prospective tenant comes, you should walk them out to their car. If the car is filled with old food containers and other debris, this is always a bad sign). She's also anxious. I recognize the look in her eyes. She's alone too. Her husband left long ago. She doesn't have a lot of money, but she's careful. She has a good heart. She's disabled, but she volunteers at the senior center. She needs a new place to live by the end of October. She's desperate.
I think this: If you are a person inclined to take advantage of other people's desperate times, you're going to find desperate people taking advantage of you at the first opportunity. Nancy is telling us how she wants the apartment, and we are building it to suit. I believe in the end, our consideration will be repaid, tenfold. It's just a theory. I'll let you know how it works out.


Scotty said...

You've a big heart, Debby.


Debby said...

Um. Not so much a big heart, I think, as a strong memory of what it was not to matter at all. I'd rather make the mistake of treating someone too well than to the opposite. I always, always try to do the kind thing.

Bush Babe (of Granite Glen) said...

Wow. Every time I think I know where you are coming from, I realise I have no freaking idea. You are one tough cookie Deb. A tough cookie with a very soft centre... liquid gold, I'd say. Sounds like a match made in heaven... I wish you well with your 'match up'!

Redlefty said...

Karma, golden rule, reciprocity... goes by a few different names but I think what you're talking about is a universal law that usually plays out well.

Even if you don't get repaid tenfold, you still did something great for somebody, right? :)

Bob said...

Never hurts to assume the best of people or, as I have repeatedly told my children, "I will trust you until you give me a reason not to." I am betting on your theory.

Stuart Peel said...

Like your style. I think you'll find that it's already paid off. If you just make this one little old lady a smidge happier/more comfortable then it must be worth the effort for that alone.

Lavinia said...

I agree with Bush Babe. This is just beautiful. I am a single mom and I rented an apartment for many years. The old German/Polish landlady acted like I was going to stiff her out rent, too, although I never did and never tried to. She lived in the building so she kept it up very nicely..flowerbeds in front, hallways and floors mopped often, everything spic and span. I really appreciated that. Isn't it true how we equate ourselves, in some way, with our surroundings. If you live in a dump, it can have a negative effect. I applaud you for fixing the place up nicely. This lady sounds like she will be a good tenant.

Mikey said...

Aww, that's so good. I bet you want to take her under your wing, and I hope you do. She sounds like a winner in my book. I think you're a good judge of character, and don't listen to the naysayers, you do what you want and you make it nice for her. She sounds like a woman who certainly deserves it. God Bless you, woman. You go.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Debby - I've always lived by two maxims: Treat other people as you'd like people to treat you, and, The more you give out, the more comes back to you. I blogged about it at length earlier in the year because it's paid off for me. I'm now reaping the benefits of helping others both in terms of my arty-farty writer and artist career and in my relationships with friends and family.

Forget 'theory' - it's proven as far as I'm concerned. You're a good woman, Deb! x

steviewren said...

Debby, I applaud you for offering her what you would have appreciated someone offering you...a nice place to live with dignity.

MuseSwings said...

Debby, I think you are right on track with what you are doing. Your renters will appreciate the comfort and beauty of their new HOME and treat it like one. There's nothing like personal experience to guide you in this venture! Bravo!

jeanie said...

I was a renter for many years, and always treated homes well, whether it was reciprocated by landlords or not.

I always found (from the other end) that my karma may rub off for the landlords to become kinder.

I once (pre child) had a landlord who was liquid gold - except for the habit of arriving to fix windows about when I was ready to have a bath - I am sure not deliberately, as he was an elderly greek man - and he lived by the creed of treating his tenants well - some had been with him for upwards of 20 years.

PaintedPromise said...

ex-husband in jail = no child support - wow, how well i know that. i can add to it. ex-husband finally gets out of jail... about a year later, commits suicide. there is absolutely NO collecting back support than :( but i would give up the money cheerfully if i could take the hurt away from my daughter!

as for Nancy, i love her already!!! good for you and Tim :)