One Hundred Years of Gifts
Our funky old home on the side of Red Mountain in Birmingham, Alabama, is almost one hundred years old, and November 14th will be our tenth anniversary of taking ownership of what we have dubbed ‘Chez Gainey’. It has seen things I can’t even imagine; a myriad of owners and animals, a Civil Rights movement, hurricanes, tornados, a fire that severely damaged the downstairs, renovations, and, finally, the Gaineys…a couple of tree-hugging yoga-practicing love birds who moved in ten years ago, vowing to bring the old gal back to her original glory…but better. I often wonder about the people who have lived and loved here over those one hundred years, the people who built the old stone walls, laid the foundation.
When I first saw Dan Gainey, time stood still. I would have been the first to laugh at anyone who mentioned ‘love at first sight’. I mean, come ON! However, when I met Dan, that is exactly what happened. I literally felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach, it was such a visceral feeling. I knew immediately that he was my other half, that he was why I had come to Birmingham. Luckily, Dan felt the same way- otherwise I would have been some weird stalker chick, and that’s just not my thing. Now, all gooeyness aside, the two of us coming together meant some big changes.
Dan had just completely renovated his bachelor pad condo in the hip neighborhood of Highland Park, complete with a pool. I had recently bought my wacky old ‘Blue House’ that was my first home post divorce. I was obsessed with rescuing Blue House from the jaws of the Red Mountain slide zone, and had fallen in love with my eclectic Southside neighborhood. What were we to do? The decision was made easier by looking at reality…I had three dogs and Dan had a cat. We weren’t going to fit into his condo- not unless we wanted to end up being featured on some crazy cable show about how to cram as many people into a VW Bug as possible, or something like that.
At first, we discussed how to make Blue House work for us. While it had great views, it needed so much work. I had fixed the foundation, but the remaining list of necessary updates and repairs was long. We started to think outside the box a bit. What if we looked around the neighborhood to see what else was available? We also liked the idea of finding OUR home together. Lo and behold, on the other end of my same street, there was a for sale sign on a cool old house high on the hill. We checked it out…perfect yard for the dogs, a wonderful series of treehouse-like decks, two garages, a guest house, views to die for…Neither of us said anything until we finished the tour. We stood in the master bedroom, held hands and looked into each other’s eyes. This is the one.
The stars aligned, and we were able to sell Dan’s condo and my Blue House in one month to make it all work. We moved into Chez Gainey and began working on improvements, and more improvements, and…you get the idea. It never ends. The house is our hobby, and over the years we have truly made it ours.
So much has happened here…life has happened here. I walk into our bedroom and I can hear the early morning phone call from Mom, telling me my oldest brother had died of a heart attack. In front of the fireplace I see my sweet old dog, Guinness, being euthanized, surrounded by love. I see the place where I slipped and fell, severely breaking my ankle…and the couch that I lived on with my leg up in the air recuperating. I see ten years of happy holidays, gatherings with friends and family, romantic anniversaries, gathering together for strength during challenging times.
I also see the funny things that have happened; Our battles with Mother Nature…squirrels coming down the chimney and into our bedroom (three times!), and scampering around in the attic; the possum that toured our home and ended up comfortably in the towel basket in our bathroom; the Christmas tree that just would not stay up, always choosing to crash to the floor in the middle of the night (that gave me a few gray hairs, let me tell you…); Cooper as a puppy, chewing through the walls of the dining room (well, it’s funny now…at the time, not so much); the crazy neighbors that we have nick-named over the years; my husband and I dancing and being silly as we get ready for work each day.