In1973 a real estate broker and I bought a rental house already leased for the coming year to the previous owner’s friends from Chicago. Before we moved in a good friend helped us to rip up the urine and rain soaked carpeting in the living and dining rooms on the first floor. Then she used a commercial sander to refinish the beautiful oak floors. We replaced the drapes at the three double windows as well. During this very noisy and dusty work the renters, Korean War veterans, shouted at us to cut the noise and made terrible threats. We were afraid of them and called a contractor friend to see if our apartment could be adequately secured. The contractor put rods in the floor behind the French doors at the entry which could be locked in place to secure the doors at night. During the day they could be pushed down into the floor to open the doors for guests. Our friends were horrified that we would take such a risk of sleeping there at night to claim the house as our own, and perhaps they were right, but we were kept safe. In fact the risk was indeed high. One of the young men in the basement repeatedly urged his companions to break down our door and evict us because the house was theirs.
Eventually the men moved out, taking all our rental furniture with them. My realtor friend went to the state’s attorney to ask what could be done to get our furniture back, but she was told that the process would be a long drawn out one. Angrily my friend suggested that it might be quicker and more efficient if she drove around town until she found where they had moved, and knock on their door with a ball bat in hand. Of course, the state’s attorney was appalled and tried to dissuade her.
My friend was serious about having the furniture returned, however. There were four bedrooms and a kitchen upstairs so replacing beds, dressers, kitchen table and chairs, dishes and tableware would be expensive. The men even took our brooms and ironing boards. One evening my friend came home from work tired but pleased that she found where the men had moved and noted that our broom was propped outside their front door. With bravado she knocked on the door the next morning and demanded that all the furnishings be returned by Friday evening. To our delight and relief they brought it all back.
Meantime, I cleaned the house thoroughly. The young men used drugs and smoked marihuana on the weekends, so I found leaves and stems over the doors and on the furnace pipes in the basement to dry. My cat got high when the vets hung blankets over the windows to hold the smoke inside and ran through the house yowling aggressively. He was not declawed so I shut him in the bathroom but he rattled the doorknob and begged earnestly to be let out. Monday mornings were a relief from the mayhem of yowling, rattling doorknobs, and boisterous threats alternating with quiet periods of stoned sleep – the vets’, not mine.
When I finished cleaning I had collected a shoebox full of marihuana plus some little white pills which I threw away before realizing I should have saved those, too. I was substitute teaching at the high school so I mentioned to the students that I had called the police for help when the vets were especially loud and abusive but apparently the police were afraid of the situation and wouldn’t come. I told them I had a shoebox of marihuana that I didn’t know what to do with so one of the boys suggested that I take it to the State Police to get it out of the house. It was foolish for me to tell the class I had the stuff because some of them might like to get a hold of it by breaking into our house.
At lunchtime I took the stuff to the State Police and explained the situation to them. Briefly they showed me how to judge the quality of the weed and commented that what these student-veterans were smoking wasn’t high quality. Back at school after lunch I let the boys know what I had done. I think their concern was as much that their fathers were the city policemen in question as much as they cared about my friend’s and my safety.
In another odd happening, several weeks after the vets had moved out of our house a city policeman knocked on my door and showed me a post card with one of the men’s name with our address. The card was blowing in the wind on the street and the officer wondered if the addressee was a threat to us. It just happened that the man in question was actually one of the saner individuals so I defended him. That chapter of the house’s history seemed to be closed for we heard nothing further from the young men. My realtor friend checked their police records and all were listed for one thing or another. However, when I met the men on campus they all seemed to respect me and greeted me in a friendly manner.
We decided to name our place The Lighthouse so people would know it had changed hands. When girl students stopped to inquire about renting a bedroom we questioned them closely to try to select Christians. We asked them to sign a statement that they knew what the house rules were and were willing to abide by them. I loved being available to the girls for advice, to play with the cat, or just hang out.
University students celebrated weekends by getting stoned and roaring drunk. Sometimes a girl would not be able to walk home and ended up in our yard moaning and vomiting. One night we went out and brought in a girl who begged us to take her to the hospital. Having grown up on the streets, my friend knew that we needed to take her to the university clinic instead. The local hospital would give the girl a mild narcotic shot to quiet her, but the university clinic would have her records and know not to do that. The clinic nurse on duty that night asked us questions we couldn’t answer until we got impatient and walked out. This girl eventually came to rent a room in our house. She was a freshman and we asked if she had permission to rent from us because only upper classmen were permitted to live off campus at that time. Sure enough she had permission.
Later in that first semester another freshman girl asked to rent from us, with university permission. Shelly was more up front with us, telling us that she had a drug problem and apparently the university officials trusted us to be tough but kind. Shelly was skilled at deceit but she had a nice way about her, so we tolerated her lies and foolishness, laughing and holding our ground against her sneaky strategies.
Shelly Rides My Horse
Shelly begged aggressively to go horseback riding with me when she found out I had a horse. She could ride very well, she lied. At last I asked my sister if she was willing to take the risk of letting Shelly come out to their farm to ride my horse. Skipper was old, gentle, but far from decrepit, so I took Shelly out and handed her the bridle with no explanation of how to use it.
“Here is Skipper’s bridle. He’s the horse with brown and black and white. Go get him and bring him back to the house and we’ll ride together. I can ride one of the other horses.”
Then my sis and I followed Shelly at a distance so she wouldn’t see us because we didn’t want something to happen to her without us being nearby. At last we couldn’t see her so we walked out into the open pasture in time to see Shelly’s arms and legs snapping and pumping in the wind as Skipper galloped along. Just a little whoopee in the rear and he dumped her like a ton of bricks. Swallowing laughter I went to bring Skipper back while my sister went to see if Shelly was hurt.
Shelly had no bruises, not even to her pride, and was eager to get back on Skipper. My horse was laughing with unbridled mirth when I caught up with him. Shelly had put both the bit and chin strap in his mouth. I adjusted the bridle and took him back so Shelly could try again and this time Skipper settled down to give her a better ride. To this day I enjoy that memory.
Man in the House
One weekend I decided to visit friends out of town. When I returned Pat showed me a note written by the African renter asking the other girls to come out of their rooms properly dressed because her boyfriend was staying overnight. I immediately met Jessie to ask how things went in the house over the weekend for her. She was noncommittal so I showed her the note and told her that the other students had also received one. Her voice rose as she denied it. We were just trying to force her to move because of racial prejudice. She called one of her African professors who agreed to help her present a case against us and set up an informal meeting to which all of the renters and my realtor friend and I were summoned.
When I showed the professor the agreement all our renters had to sign he was deeply embarrassed. When he asked what our church background was he became very apologetic and told the girl in front of all of us that he held our church in deep respect and would not support her in any way. We all breathed a sigh of relief, and thanked the professor for his integrity.