The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Montgomery Ward Cottage

Saturday, February 16, 1980

The landlady warned us: "That's the fertile cabin." 

"We'll take it," I said.

So in 1973 my wife and I moved into one of the landlady's four rental cottages.  For the next seven years my weekend job was to keep those cabins from collapse.  They were located on an acre next to San Francisquito Creek and the Stanford University Golf Course.  Here's ours:

The joists were sitting directly on the ground.  There was a hole in the bathroom floor covered by a borrowed highway sign (SPEED LIMIT 45) and another by the entry (BEGIN SCENIC ROUTE).  Unrestrained by earthquake straps, the water heater next to the kitchen table would wobble, sloshing whenever you walked nearby while the exhaust vent would fall out of the wall if you slammed the kitchen door.  Periodically you had to scrape mildew off the ceiling.  There were four electric outlets—total.  Mice ran merrily along the baseboards.  Strange insects crawled out of damp walls.  At night you could hear the termites.  There was a constant smell of wet wood.

To us it was paradise.  My wife and I spent seven happy years while creating—the landlady was correct—two children, the most recent of a long line of babies conceived therein.

My daughter was actually born in the back yard of this cottage under a pine tree lit by a full moon (unintentionally, I might add—but that's a story for another day).  I have the fondest memories of this place, though a building inspector would see nothing but disaster.

We childproofed but otherwise left it as is—after all, we didn't own it.  The property was far too valuable to justify maintaining dwellings that had been ordered from a Montgomery Ward catalog.  They had been delivered in pieces and constructed over a few weekends, the 1940's equivalent of single-wides, cheap little rural nests.

Gradually through the years, suburbia had engulfed the little enclave.

Eventually the landlady died and the property was bought by a real estate developer.  In February of 1980, just days after I moved the last of our belongings to our new house in La Honda, here is what happened to that cottage:

That's my son playing in the dirt where he used to share a bedroom with my daughter.  Behind him is the pine tree under which my daughter was born.  Just out of the photo sits a big yellow Caterpillar D9 bulldozer.

On that acre they built seven McMansions.  I wonder if any of them proved to be as fecund as our little cabin.

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