Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An Oregon money pit becomes home

4/8/09 Chatterbox         
Betty Kaiser

Twenty years ago when my husband and I discovered Cottage Grove, we decided to follow our dream and live by a lake. We impulsively left our hometown in California and moved to rural Oregon. We left behind grown children, a nearly paid for house, a thriving business, the relationships of a lifetime and our security blankets as we crossed the state line into the unknown.

We really didn’t think too much about our new lifestyle would play out on a day-by-day basis. We just had visions of a life in the country with green trees by a lake. We were chasing the outline of a dream and trusting God to fill in the details. Well, a detailed education lay just ahead.

If home is where the heart is, I suppose that deep down, we thought that California would always be home. After all, that’s where our kids live. We knew the lifestyle, the rhythm of the days, the best places to eat and shop. California was comfortable. It was home.

Would Oregon ever truly feel like home? We were about to find out.

We arrived March 3, 1989 and nearly left the next day after we inspected the house. This was back in the time before real estate disclosure laws. We knew that we were buying a fixer-upper but were totally unprepared for how much fixing had to be done.

Many things had been inspected but huge problems had slipped under the radar: Working hot water heater? Nope. Forced air heat working? Nope. Collapsed chimneys? Yep. Intact shower walls? Are you kidding? They were a pile of tiles in a heap on the floor. Dry rot and flies were everywhere.

In short, our potentially charming country home on six acres had turned into a buyer’s nightmare. We contemplated telling the moving van to turn around and drive back to Ventura. But we no longer had a home there. We were stuck — literally.

C.G. had 11-inches of rain that month. The moving van pulled up onto the field in front of the house and sank into the mud before it was unloaded. The next day the poor driver was absolutely humiliated when a lady tow truck driver arrived to pull him out!

Things went downhill from there as more ‘undisclosed’ facts emerged. We began to think that the house needed an exorcism. Contractors, salesmen, insurance agents, everyone had a different experience to share about ‘our’ house: tales of renters, a suicide, beer bottles lining the walls and methamphetamine.

During our initial tours we noticed rifles propped against exterior doors and split door casings. The answer? “Oh, didn’t you know? The police raided this place.”

One evening a couple up the hill invited us to dinner. We came home around midnight, turned out the lights and headed for bed when we noticed car lights coming down the driveway. A drunken driver got out, lurched up the deck and banged on the door. He was there to buy some drugs and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Finally, Honey (our Doberman), had enough. Hackles on end, she rose up in a fury and chased the guy out to his car. We never saw him again.

The neighbors rallied round to encourage us. We joined a dinner group. Still, I became known as “the lady who couldn’t stop crying.” I had left my family behind for an adventure not for a challenge to my sanity.

We quickly put up a “Caution: Money Pit ahead” sign and went to work. The term “24/7” took on new meaning for us. We were soon on a first name basis with local plumbers, electricians and customer service at Witts’ and Jerry’s.  One night building materials were stolen off the property, right under our noses.

In the midst of tearing out walls and literally gutting the house, we purchased Merchant’s Donuts in the BiMart shopping center. Of course, it needed remodeling.

What were we thinking? Well, we were thinking that we were running out of money and needed an income. We knew the restaurant business. How hard could running a donut shop be? We found out.

We were attending Riverside Church at the time when Ken Wilson was pastor. He gathered a work party together for us and we were soon open and turning out hundreds of donuts, cookies and cakes.

In retrospect, it was probably the best move that we could have made. We did not know a soul when we moved to Cottage Grove but at the end of our donut tenure we knew the whole town!

Local residents gave us former city slickers quite an education. We learned to become comfortable with the occasional guy packing a sidearm; who was related to whom and how; and that raising the price of coffee from 45 to 50 cents a cup was unacceptable. Mostly we learned what big hearts our customers had.

And then I was robbed — alone and in broad daylight — the guy cased the place, came back, shoved a weapon in my neck, demanded money and that I lie down on the floor. We put the place up for sale the next day. That was 19 years ago.

God has been good and filled in the substance of our Oregon years in ways that we never imagined. Our horizons expanded as we hosted guests in our (now closed) bed and breakfast; Chuck’s Woodworking skills became well known across the county; we have volunteered in countless places; and through this column I made new friends and fulfilled a lifelong dream.

Now our hearts reside here just as naturally as the deer in the meadow and the Osprey across the creek. Our lives have purpose and our days have a joy and rhythm that we could previously only imagine.

Is Cottage Grove home? You betcha!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail —

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