When I was 28 years old, I purchased my first home in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The home was tiny, 900 square feet on the main floor, 2 bedrooms, one bath with a one-bedroom, one bathroom, basement apartment complete with outside entrance of about 600 square feet. The purchase price was $27,000, a princely sum at the time for such a tiny piece of real estate. The big draw for me was the basement apartment. I had an executive job which required a lot of travel. I knew I could rent the apartment to airmen at Warren Air force Base. The house was only a couple blocks from the base. In fact over the years I owned Baby Blue, I only rented to two different young men. They obviously liked it and stayed for long periods of time. I never advertised to rent the apartment. I simply called the base and asked them to post a notice. The military personnel are great to rent to. If you have any problems with payment or destruction, you can simply follow-up with the base Commander. I never had any of these issues. Instead, I had a steady roommate, I never saw except to say, “Hello!” The agreement was that the renter would help with snow removal and lawn mowing for reduced rent.
I bought Baby Blue without consulting anyone. My boyfriend at the time broke up with me because he felt it didn’t show that I had a long term commitment to our relationship. My mother spent time explaining to me how difficult housing could be to sell and it could mean I was rooted to Cheyenne and/or singlehood forever. My boyfriend was probably right about my lack of commitment and mother was dead wrong. I think my mother’s real problem was that single women didn’t own homes of their own at that time. I purchased the house because my accountant had suggested it for tax reasons but more importantly I wanted pets. Identifying rentals that allowed pets was extremely difficult. I had a cat. As soon as I had my own place with a fenced yard, I got my first sheltie, Ginger Rogers.
When I bought the house, the outside was yellow and brown. The interior was carpeted in a magenta shag rug. There was flocked wall paper in the main bedroom that proved extremely difficult to remove with plaster beneath. Because the house was small, major changes were relatively inexpensive. I could do some of the work myself or beg others to do it for me. The first thing I did was paint the outside blue with white trim and added black shutters. The color and shutters remain to this day so that choice was obviously a good one. I’m sure it has been repainted many times in the 40 years since I first acquired Baby Blue.
I pulled out the shag carpet and reinstalled it in the basement apartment bedroom. I was lucky to discover beautiful hardwood floors throughout the upstairs. I talked my brother-in-law and a friend of his into installing a fancy European wood stove which remains to this day. I stripped all the wall-paper myself and did all the painting. I remember my mother came over one day only to discover me sitting on my bedroom floor, covered with plaster, glue in my hair, crying because the yellow I had picked out for the room was a horrible mustard shade instead of a bright sunshine yellow. My mom said, “Julie, it’s only paint. You can do it again.” Of course she was right. I learned a major lesson for all the future paint jobs I would do. Test small cans of paint first.
The kitchen was laid out strangely. One winter day when I was snowed in with a beau, he took a chain saw to the lower cabinets to make room for a rolling dishwasher. While the remodeling approach was impetuous and terrifying the end result was not too bad. It did, however, lead to another break-up. The next boyfriend helped me repaint the wood cabinets yellow and white and put on decorative wood molding and new hardware. Steadily moving through boyfriends, the final boyfriend helped me lay new flooring in the basement for the basement apartment. That boyfriend was a keeper. I’ve been married to him for 27 years. But then that is another rather long story. My husband and I dated for 10 years from when we met until we married.
I sold the house for about $40,000 (The County Assessor appraises it today at about $130,000). Obviously, I made a good return on my investment. I moved to another house in Cheyenne by myself. My next house was in a better neighborhood, all brick, larger, with an attached two car garage and a basement apartment. But I never loved it as much as Baby Blue.
I will always have fond memories of Baby Blue. Home ownership allowed me to assert my independence as a professional woman, provided a financial base from which to start investing since owning the home with a rental was cheaper than paying rent, allowed me to have pets who significantly improved my life and in the end allowed me to move up to the next home— following the American dream.
My husband and I talk about downsizing now. Our home is about 3200 square feet and worth a King’s ransom. If we ever downsize, it won’t be to get money out of the house because smaller houses closer to town in Boise are going for more than our house. Downsizing would be about the convenience of living small in walkable communities. Small homes are easier to maintain and not being in the suburbs appeals to my small town upbringing. For now, we are staying put until my daughter graduates from high school and my son finds a job (hopefully my son’s job hunt is successful before my daughter graduates next year).
I feel like I have one more adventure in me. I watch International House Hunters and fantasize about living in a tiny apartment with a balcony on the coast of Spain. Sometimes, I dream of buying an adobe house with land for a tiny horse in Sante Fe. For now Ashtree Way, folds its arms around all of us whenever we walk in the door. I have the same sense of being home as I did when I would walk into “Baby Blue.” Home truly is where your heart is.