At Large in Ballard: the color of change
They moved to Ballard back when co-workers still asked, “Where?” Don had been recruited from Spokane. His wife Cindy hailed from rural Idaho and wanted to be part of community where everyone knew one another. The year was 1987, yet whenever they found a house they liked there were already multiple offers, even in Ballard.
Finally a co-worker said to Don Black, “I don’t think anybody wants to buy my aunt’s house.” They took flashlights and went to peer from the outside by night. Even if Cindy hadn’t been an architect they could see the house had the potential to become what they would consider it for the next 23 years: the prettiest house on the block. So it was that the original family, the Greens, sold the 1903 home to the Blacks.
For a very long time Don and Cindy Black thought they would live there until they died. The street, just a few blocks north of where the Ballard Library and Ballard Commons now sit, provided everything they wanted in a neighborhood. Or perhaps it was partly the Blacks who made it the kind of block where neighbors gathered by their outdoor fireplace on October nights or burned their Christmas trees together on New Year’s Eve.
Over the years the older residents died and new families arrived. Don and Cindy became the “third oldest” on the block, but still considered their house the prettiest. Cindy designed what became their “killer remodel.” Every year she entered the lottery to acquire Zoo Doo, in recent years she hand-quilted her entries to stand out from competition, following in her mother’s quilting tradition.
However much the Blacks loved Ballard, their home, their block, there was something else they loved: travel. Travel to where the sun shines a greater part of the year. So their vacations became partial quests: is this a place we would want to retire?
Perhaps it had been a month without sunshine but Don Black can’t really explain what possessed him to list their house on the on-line real estate Zillow back in 2007. He put what he called, “a silly ass” price on it, in keeping with the real estate market that at the time seemed limitless. It was akin to pricing something that you have no intention of selling, unless of course someone offered you a million dollars. In all the years there had been no legitimate responses. In January 2011 Don looked at the site again, adjusting the price to answer, “What would we move for now?”
Cindy’s mom Doris died almost two years ago now. I wrote about her several times; she made irrepressible look like an understatement. Don and Cindy just installed a suitable gravestone for her in Idaho, replete with sculpture shoes in the act of dancing. Who knows if this was part of looking at a beloved home and simultaneously wondering, shall we go ahead with remodeling the upstairs or leave it all behind?
Cindy won the Zoo Doo lottery again this year, picked it up on a Saturday and was spreading it on her garden beds when something came over her. Even as she lifted the compost material a realization came over her. “I can leave here. I can move – it’ll be okay.” The next morning before church Don woke early and happened to check his email. There was a message forwarded by Zillow which asked, “Are you serious about selling your house?” The message proved to be from a couple who were quite serious about buying.
By Thursday the prospective owners had been inside the home; three days later the couples had met and an offer was pending. The Black’s house was exactly in the location the prospective owners were seeking, with a 98% walkability score and all the charm that comes from crossing a 1903 home with an architect and many, many years of Zoo Doo. What the Blacks had to grasp was that almost at the instant they realized they could move on the universe gave them a push.
There was no ‘For Sale’ sign or indications that so much change was imminent. The neighbors were shocked, “No way, you’re moving,” they said. Friends offered them their house for a year. Neighbors reluctantly helped them pack. Don and Cindy actually managed to pack and move ahead of schedule; just another detail that fell into place but also kept them too busy to have regrets. Now they have a year to plan their next move. Costa Rica? Mexico?
The Blacks have left Ballard. They have passed the house keys to a family whose name is not a color. “It’s really hard,” Don said, even as emotion overtook him for a minute. “We knew everybody around us.” It wasn’t changes in Ballard that prompted them to leave, just a readiness to seek change.
Cindy moved her garden troughs with her. They moved the cat and the dog. They both think they still have too much stuff, but they’re working on it. They are sad about leaving their friends, but excited about future possibilities, with at least a year to combine the two. As for the house, something that was there when they bought the house has stayed where it belongs: the sled used by the original owner to pull the lumber up from the mill. Some things aren’t meant to change.