I’m not that big on rituals. Most any kind of pomp and circumstance makes me uncomfortable. I blame my peasant roots.
But last evening, not only did I carry out a ritual here at home, I actually initiated it. There are moments that simply require them.
In December 1977, I moved into the house where I now sit to write this. It’s a fairly ordinary kind of home you see frequently in inner southeast Portland neighborhoods. Big front porch, hardwood floors downstairs, fir floors upstairs, fireplace, lots of windows, craftsman style details. Nothing fancy, but very well loved. Some rooms need work, but the walls are painted in bright colors and there are beautiful textiles as far as the eye can see. I feel safe here. We are secure here. It’s home for Ric, Blaine, Pippi, Poppi and me.
Next year it will be 100 years old. I’ve lived in it for more than half my life now. 33 years. In 1977, soon after the neighborhood was labeled “a thorn in the city of roses” in the daily newspaper, it cost $37,700. Could barely afford the price. Since then, the neighborhood has transformed and become a highly desirable, trendy part of Portland. (In 1997, Travel and Leisure magazine called it one of the world’s next great neighborhoods.
For those of us who stuck out the neighborhood transition, the houses we bought for less than $50,000 are now worth a lot more. Since 1977, I’ve refinanced the original mortgage twice. Once to add a wheelchair accessible bedroom and bathroom on the first floor for Blaine, once to replace the roof, remove asphalt siding from and paint the original cedar shingle exterior, switch from oil to natural gas heat, and other remodel necessaries.
When I got divorced, I came close to losing this house. My ex-husband hated the house, he didn’t want it, but I had to come up with what for me was a huge pile of money very quickly to pay him his half of the equity. There was no grace period, no payment plan allowed. It was all at once or sell the house. I knew in my heart that it would be a huge mistake to leave this home. First, it was
the only home Blaine had ever known. It was threatening enough for him that his parents were divorcing, at least if we stayed here he would have a sense of stability. And even though it was not wheelchair accessible, I knew that it could be made to be and our inner city neighborhood was considerably more accessible than any place we could afford to move. We were one block away from the most frequent bus service in the city. Blaine could wheel to stores within a few blocks. We knew our neighbors. His school was in the neighborhood.
My dearest and oldest friend is Joyce. We met the first day we both arrived at college, fresh faced and innocent. We lived in adjacent dorm rooms. She was there the first time I drank alcohol. I remember I decided to wash my hair and went to her medicine chest, took out her shampoo and dumped some in my hair. She was the one who ushered me down to the bathroom and washed it out for me. She could probably tell you other embarrassing things I don’t even remember she knows.
Joyce was the one who made it possible for me to stay in my home. No questions asked, she loaned me the pile of money I needed, and then showed more patience than any human should when I lost my job while Blaine was in the hospital for back to back surgeries and endless complications, hence delaying my repayment to her.
This past week, I went to a local branch of the bank that holds the last iteration of the refinanced mortgage and paid the sucker off. That’s right. I owe no more to anyone for this home.
The young man helping me at the bank assured me I had indeed paid every cent, there was nothing left in the balance owed, and the account was closed.
So I said, “Do I get to take the mortgage home so I can burn it?”
He looked at me as if I were speaking Martian. “Noooooooo, ma’am, there is nothing to burn.”
“Well, it happens all the time in the movies. They always burn the mortgage. That’s how you know you’re really done.”
He was flummoxed. “Okay, well, I’ll print out this page here that shows the account is closed, I guess you could burn that.”
“Great,” I said. “That will work just fine.”
So last night, when Joyce and Tom were here to watch the Olympics and eat delicious Canadian type food (they brought Maple Glazed Salmon, Pate Chinois and I made maple elk sausage, bangers, mango salsa, key lime pie and other stuff I’ve already forgotten), I brought out an aluminum bowl, a book of matches, and my paper from the bank, made a little speech, and lit it on fire.
The flame grew quickly enough that Joyce and I rushed the fire out the front door to the porch lest we burn down my fully owned home, and we watched that paper become reduced to ash and used it to fertilize the Acanthus mollis growing just off the porch.
During the ritual mortgage burning, I tried to tell Joyce how much she had helped me, how much her friendship meant to me, but she is from Peoria so she’s not real fond of overt displays of emotion, so I had to kind of let most of it go unsaid.
I think she knows though. I hope she does.
So that’s the story of the ritual that was 33 years in the making. I am so happy. So relieved. And yes, so proud. This has not been easy. But it’s finally done.
I know because we burned the mortgage.