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Stop The Presses

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by Clarissa A. French

As of the end of February, I will have been a homeowner for one whole year.

Frankly, I never thought I'd own a home. Most of the new houses built these days are out of my price range. And my dream house is from another age: a house with high ceilings, tall windows and wood floors; a house with a funky-shaped attic room and a porch framed with white columns.

But I found it in beautiful, old Springfield, just west of downtown in the West Central Neighborhood.

The more I think about it, the more I think it was meant to be. I have always loved old houses and old buildings, and I have been outspoken on the need to restore and preserve our city's older structures. To my delight, I work for a company that shares that vision, as realized in the renovation of the 105-year-old building on Park Central West that now houses SBJ's offices.

The older I get, the more I seem to see if only out of the corner of my eye that there is a destiny that shapes our ends. And mine is tied up with old Springfield.

Right after I looked at the house I would later buy, someone else put it under contract. But I drove by every day anyway, hoping that the deal would fall through.

And the deal fell through.

A few days later, I walked into the mortgage company offices with all my financial information and walked out with a loan approval. Before the month was up, I closed on my house.

My parents had looked over the house with me initially, and their opinion was that it was too old. "A money pit," was Mom's conclusion. Built in 1905, it had just been totally refurbished, with fresh paint, new carpet and ceiling fans throughout. But the wiring is old, there's no central air and my folks don't like the neighborhood, which is working class/poor.

However, it was exactly what I wanted, and at a price I could afford.

I cashed in my life savings for the downpayment. It was the biggest risk I'd ever taken, but I did it unswervingly. It was true love, after all.

Now, a year later, I am still a proud resident of west central Springfield. And I am a true homeowner, with the gray hair to prove it. Just recently, a huge branch fell off the tree in my front yard, taking out the electricity and blocking the front door. The damage turned out to be minimal, but I still had a sleepless night or two. Nonetheless, I wouldn't trade owning my own house, MY house, for anything.

Of course, my parents still complain about the neighborhood. And true enough, you can travel two or three blocks in any direction from my house and encounter at least one poorly maintained, abandoned or boarded-up building.

But also dotted all over my neighborhood are beautiful old homes lovingly restored by house-proud owners. I like to think of each as a shining pebble dropped in still water sending ripples in all directions and, it is hoped, inspiring others to do likewise.

Another great thing about my neighborhood is you only have to go next door, across the street or up the block to meet some of the nicest people in Springfield: my neighbors.

I have the kind of neighbors who'll corral your straying dog and bring her to the door when they catch her outside the fence. The kind of neighbors who show up with candles and an antique hurricane lamp to light the darkness when your electricity goes out.

When I was raking leaves in my yard this fall, here came my neighbors' children with rakes and a wheelbarrow to help. And a number of neighborhood kids whose names I'm still learning stop by now and then to play with my dogs and talk about their animals.

The neighborhood I live in may not be the richest or the nicest. It isn't "gated" or "restricted" or any of those other dubious things that many of our "neighborhoods" have become.

People read about a crime or see a boarded-up building and want to retreat behind walls and gates. Maybe someday we'll even see castellated subdivisions, complete with moats and mandatory body-cavity searches for nonresidents.

But I won't be living there. Not even if they give it away.

Living in an older Springfield neighborhood in the city's urban area is the realization of a dream. Not only the dream of home ownership, but the dream of making a difference being a part of something greater than the sum of its parts; helping to make something better.

I have always believed in preserving and restoring Springfield's historical buildings, and therefore its heritage. Now I own a piece of the action, and I couldn't be happier.

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