by Henry Lane Hull
Fifty years ago this summer Ellen Lee, whom I later came to call “Auntie,” placed her first ad as a realtor in the Evening Star newspaper in Washington. The ad cost her $2.50. She had listed a small farm in Fleets Bay and by chance my father saw the ad, thus began a correspondence between the two that resulted in my parents driving down to see the property.
They had sold my grandparents’ home in Colonial Beach and were looking for a replacement in the lower Northern Neck. They did not buy the property in Fleets Bay, but in driving through Northumberland County, my mother spotted a dilapidated farmhouse that caught her imagination. Auntie was not available that day and the realtor who was showing them properties in her stead, remarked, “You wouldn’t want that place.”
Well, upon her insistence they pulled into the yard and toured the house. The first floor had been paneled in cheap Luan plywood, with the floors covered in indoor/outdoor carpet. The kitchen was originally an attached dependency that had deteriorated terribly. My mother could see through all of that, including the sagging ceiling in the living room where a partition had been removed without being followed by the installation of proper shoring.
The multitude of limiting factors did not affect my parents. The substitute realtor commented that when showing the property during the previous winter he had been able to see the bay through the trees without their leaves. My father attributed that remark to salesmanship.
Two weeks later my parents made an offer on the farm. It was countered and then re-countered, until an agreeable price was reached. All the haggling revolved around a price difference of $500, but that was 1968, and remember the ad in a Washington newspaper had cost $2.50. Closing was set for September 5 at the law office of W. Garland Clarke, better known as “Buddy” in Lively.
I accompanied my parents that day and as we sat down, Buddy said to my father, “Your name is very familiar to me, but I cannot place why.” I spoke up that my father’s name was hanging on the wall behind his desk as he had admitted Buddy to the bar in his capacity as Clerk of the Federal Court in Washington. We all chuckled.
By contemporary standards the real estate deal was antediluvian. We had no home inspection, no termite inspection, no water test, but only clear title, hence we were on our own to bring the house back to its former luster. What we did have was unlimited enthusiasm and we plunged into the foray.
When winter came we realized that indeed we did have a great view of the bay in the distance, followed by spring in clearing the mangled trees that obstructed our vision. We brought the furniture that had been in storage from Colonial Beach and until we were able to organize the kitchen, we ate our meals at Clegg’s Restaurant in Wicomico Church, a great culinary treat every time.
The saga of living in an old house that began 50 years ago continues as repairs are constant and the yard and gardens do not take care of themselves. The B.E.s are the fifth generation of our family to live in the Northern Neck, but the first to have been born here.
Now they continue the work of making the farm the family home that my mother first envisioned in driving past it.
Auntie’s initial role as realtor faded into the backdrop in comparison to the friends and “second parents” she and her husband, Robert M., became in my life. Before I was born my parents had come to the lower Northern Neck and stayed at the White Stone Beach Hotel, where they dined out over the Rappahannock, enjoying Mrs. Culver’s famous crab cakes, which were still available in my childhood. That visit was the first of numerous ones prior to our family’s ultimate move to the farm.
This coming Wednesday our family will have owned “Mount Pisgah” for 50 years. My Good Wife plans to have a sign made denoting it as a “Half-Century Farm,” a stopgap measure along the way to it becoming a Century Farm.