Sugar(free) Magnolia

I’m not from the South, but I got here as quickly as I could.  

And, the South has been really good to me. My list of blessings would take up a year’s worth of blog posts, so just suffice it to say I know that I’m one lucky man, and I’m grateful for all the South has brought into my life.

Well, almost everything…

The reality is that living in the South doesn’t truly make me a “southerner,” so my allegiance toward certain things “southern” has therefore, in my mind, allowed a high level of subjectivity and flexibility…and I’ve recently identified a line I’m struggling to cross. 

There’s a Magnolia tree that stands some 50’ tall, towering over the front of our home and casting a formidable shadow across a wide section of our yard. 

When we first moved in, I had fashioned an initial sense of admiration for its inherent beauty, its substantial frame, and its “southern charm.” But that was short lived, as I quickly came to realize that it had me sized up even before we finished unpacking. 

You see, I’m one of those guys that likes a manicured yard. I’m not necessarily OCD, but then again most are not self-confessed, so maybe I am. The fact is: a clean, picked-up, edged, mown, trimmed, mulched and vibrantly-green yard makes me happy. And the Magnolia simply has other plans…

In short, this American beauty is more akin to a friend of the devil that’s set about to create a ripple in my otherwise sunshine daydream landscape plan. 

If you’ve had a Magnolia, you know whereof I speak, and this otherwise-heralded species is simply relentless. The volume and consistency of its production of “yard-trash” (as I tend to think of it) is impressive, but it’s really the SIZE of its various output that made me quickly realize I’d been unwittingly and most-unpreparedly thrust into an all out war of epic proportions.

The leaves are its apparent front line of attack. They are massive, leathery, slick, and devilishly aerodynamic. Just when you think the leaf-blower has the upper hand, the strategic curvature of each leaf allows it to stubbornly imbed (or invert) itself in such a way that even a tropical-storm force wind would struggle to whisk it far away from its mother-ship. 

So, for this particular aspect of the battle, I summoned my inner-Mad-Max, and developed a Medieval-like leaf-skewer out of an old mop handle and an assortment of previously-unrelated parts from the neighborhood Lowe’s. Quite ingenious, or so I thought, and it was clear that I was well on my way to victory. 

Ah, but next came the branches, and this I truly didn’t see coming. Quite honestly, when you look up at the tree, it leaves you flabbergasted as to where these branches could have possibly parted way. It’s as if the tree itself produces this unbroken chain of branches not at all for growth, but simply as a matter of strategic and psychological warfare.  

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not easily out-worked, so aside from my astonishment of just how these branches actually appear, I was well-equipped with a strong work-ethic to roll up my sleeves and get to work on the daily pick-up of the mystery branches 

Lastly – and it’s simply my ignorance along with perhaps a healthy dose of naïveté that had me imagining I had established the upper hand in this hard-fought battle – came the seed-pods. It’s no surprise at all that these hearty, heavy, and prickly ammunition take on the uncanny appearance (and shape) of hand-grenades. They practically shake the house as they strike the roof in their apparent attack from above, and their size, composition, and numbers make it an impossibly-long (and seemingly never-ending) chore to affect their removal.

Against this final line of attack, I have no real power or strategy, and I realize, of course, that the victor in this war has long since been scripted and declared. Generations of property owners before me have most assuredly (and likely more swiftly) acknowledged their defeat in this impractical and illogical pursuit. The problem with me is that my nature runs just as deep as the Magnolia’s, and I’m simply too stubborn to quit.

As such, we both keep truckin’, the war ensues, and the Magnolia and I are, perhaps, working diligently (if not passionately) to earn each other’s respect, which is – most certainly – the southern thing to do.

The end.

Sheet(rock) Happens!

It happened on a Tuesday.  Before Closing.  And no one breathed a word about it to me until weeks AFTER Closing.

Real estate, of course, is all about the properties, but then again it’s equally about the people…and, frankly, that’s what makes the business particularly interesting and compelling.  

So, when PEOPLE set out and “break” the rules while on PROPERTY, it gets REALLY interesting.

Such was the story of my dear clients Priscilla and Pete, who are among the nicest and most industrious clients I know.  High energy, can-do-attitude, glass is always half-full kinda people. 

The house they were buying was vacant in preparation for closing, and the seller was long gone.  It was “after hours” on a Tuesday afternoon, and it seemed like a perfectly harmless thing to do.

Why bother ME to gain proper access at such a late hour and for such a simple task, they thought.  They knew the sliding glass door lock wasn’t working anyway, and they would only be a minute or two as they just wanted to check one last time on how their furniture was going to fit in the guest bedroom.  In and out in a flash.  No harm, no foul, right?!

It’s still perfectly unclear to me how the quick furniture measurement mission turned into a full-fledged attic exploration, but that was where an innocent visit turned into a covert operation. 

If you’ve spent any time in attics, you know the value of plywood panelling when it comes to navigating the “floor.” In the absence of plywood, however, you’re left with a precarious tight-rope-style pathway through and around the already-tight space, which is often poorly lit.  

Thus was the pitfall of Pete, who made that pivotal false move that landed him halfway between the attic and the bedroom, encased in broken sheetrock and torn insulation…much to the shock and surprise to Priscilla, who was otherwise patiently awaiting his arrival out of the attic in the more traditional fashion (i.e., the way he got up there in the first place).

Not missing a beat, Pete muscled his way back up the hole, and set about on a plan to make his misgivings disappear before anyone even knew what had happened.  

Several back to back visits to affect a proper and thorough sheetrock repair ensued across the next 48 hours, resulting in a final finish and appearance that only Pete and Priscilla could discern as being different from the pre-episode condition.  

When the dust had settled after closing, and Priscilla and Pete had mustered the gumption to fess up to their misadventure, we all had a hearty laugh as I admired their ability to self-correct in such an inconspicuous manner.  

In the spirit of “all’s well that ends well,” my only disappointment with the whole situation was that they didn’t call me in the first place, as I would have enjoyed the lasting image of the lower half of Pete dangling from the ceiling.  That would have been the icing on the cake of this rare chapter in my growing book of experience. 

The end.

Collector’s Piece… Of Junk?

Yeah, I said it.  

Well, it wasn’t exactly me, and it’s not exactly junk. 

Here’s the thing: Times have changed, and what was once held as a collector’s piece of antique furniture might not have the same value it used to. 

Let me back up a little…by some 20-40 years…so you can see my perspective. 

My wife Carrie and I bought our first home together in 1994. We had no furniture to speak of, other than some select pieces from IKEA, a futon (from my first apartment in DC), two beds, and the usual incidental items. We certainly didn’t own anything “fine” at that time. 

Growing up, I had the privilege of visiting my grandparent’s house in Huntington, West Virginia at least once a year. My three favorite things about each visit were: 1) The present (usually a toy to keep us boys occupied during the visit) dutifully awaiting our arrival on the den’s fireplace hearth; 2) The heavy cream sitting aside freshly cut strawberries AND the Kellogg’s variety pack of cereals (yes, including the sugary ones we never seemed to garner back home) at the breakfast table; and, 3) The truly fine antiques which my grandparents thoughtfully sought out, collected, and positioned just so throughout their formal, Colonial, three-story brick home. 

The bow-front chest, the breakfront, the desk with hidden storage pockets, the sleigh beds, the handsome chests of drawers…all the way down to the oriental rugs, the crystal, and the silver service…everywhere I looked it went on and on, each piece pristinely maintained, polished, and displayed to its full intended extent.  

Fastforward back to circa 1994-95 when the passing of my grandparents initiated the discussion as to the disposition of many of those fine pieces awaiting the next chapter of their fate as they say in a storage facility in West Virginia. 

Having been born and raised in Virginia and Alabama, Carrie had an admiring eye early on for all things traditional and pretty in a home. You can imagine her amazement and delight as the photos of the pieces in West Virginia arrived for our viewing and possible selection. At this point, regardless of which (or how many) items we might have the privilege of inheriting, I suddenly felt confident that our marriage was all the more secure under the newly-possible mantra: We stay together for the sake of the…antiques.

We were honored to receive some very special pieces, and we truly love each and every one of them. Through various moves over our 24 years of marriage, we have always had fun placing them with a certain level of excitement and reverence. After all, we are simply their current caretakers, doing our best to honor them as they bring joy and beauty into our home. They were (and still are), after all, bonafide collector’s pieces, having been hand-selected by my grandparents so many decades ago.

It seems, however, that outside our four walls, at least in the Lowcountry of SC, they don’t hold the same inherent market value they once did. One man’s treasure is another man’s….you know the drill.

The latest furniture market trends in our area show a flood of similar inventory as baby boomers focus on downsizing out of the homes where they also proudly displayed antiques from France and England set upon hand-woven rugs from the Orient. 

Their adult-children, who may have coveted such pieces some twenty years ago now have a house-full of furniture themselves, rendering the once clear and dreamy option of gifting those family heirlooms up the family tree into a disappointing and sometimes heart-wrenching dead end. 
And so, as that reality sinks in, the next chapter for many such pieces becomes the way of (gasp!) consignment stores, thrift stores, and in many cases the unthinkable auction house (PS: Don’t think Sotheby’s…think inland-Georgia, every Thursday night, with such fine pieces sitting aside anything and everything else that the auctioneer can sell for pennies on the dollar).  
So be it, they are just things after all, and life must move on.  

As for us, our love affair continues regardless of any change in their objective value. We’ve never imagined selling any of them to realize “market value” anyway, and so, to us, they remain wholly and completely priceless in every way.  

Maybe some day the girls will want them, or maybe they won’t. Maybe the market will turn around in 20 years, or maybe it won’t. It doesn’t much matter, for to us they are absolute treasures, and we offer our thanks, appreciation, and gratitude to Russell and Edith for these special gifts with the hope that our use and enjoyment of them honors the passion they employed when they first brought them into our family’s collective home.