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On the Trail of the Adorable Craftsman

Out here where Mount Rainier casts its spooky spell on the landscape, you often hear people use the term “adorable Craftsman.” When my husband and I set out upon our rental house search a few weeks ago, we kept coming across this phrase and after a while I began to wonder, who was this craftsman, and just how adorable was he?

Well, of course, as our explorations of the local architecture expanded I came to understand why people in the Seattle area speak reverently of the adorable Craftsman. The Craftsman is an architectural ideal that embodies the charm, individualism, strength and style of early 20th century America. The style often features lots of custom natural wood trim, leaded windows, curved lines and stonework. Such gems seldom appear on the rental market, a fact which we learned the hard way as we drove from house to house, following a trail of classified bread crumbs like children in some Grimm tale. Our roles in this exercise are clearly defined through years of practice. I play the ever optimistic sunny side up Ma Gullible while my husband holds down the bass line, bringing me back to earth whenever I start to get my hopes up about some lead. His unwavering mantra is always, “There must be something wrong with it.”

Unfortunately, he’s almost always right. So, as we proceeded in our crash refresher course in Realtor-speak, we developed our own personal lexicon. For example: “The nicest house in all of Wallingford” means: well, not exactly. I mean, it did look great in the photos posted on the internet classifieds. The tip-off should have been that they were all interior shots – all clean white rooms glazed with sunlight slanting through the nicely trimmed windows. I suppose if you never looked out the windows you might be ready to agree with the Realtor’s assessment.

But, the thing is, I am a big window-looker-outer-of. I need hours and hours in order to achieve that state of mental clarity and emotional calm that enable a writer to wrestle with dynamic forces of dramatic narrative construction. Or not.
Anyway, it turns out that the windows of this particular “nicest house in all of Wallingford” look out directly upon the fuming freeway, where the streams of bright red tail lights and frequent hooting of horns might strike some people as festive. Sadly, I’m not one of them. All these years of country life have not dulled my preference for the flash of red tailed hawks in flight and the lonesome hoot of an occasional owl.

But I don’t blame the realtors for the knuckleball spin they put on their ads. I respect that they’re trying to emphasize the positive, downplay the negative, and push product. Our own agent has pitched our house, the one we are reluctantly selling back in Virginia, as having “the best view in Bellevue.” And there’s no doubt that it does have a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge. On a clear day it’s a jaw dropper. Sometimes the sunsets leave you standing breathless on the deck while dinner burns on the stove because it’s just too beautiful not to watch. But, to be completely honest, I know of at least three other houses in Bellevue which have even better views of the stunning western vista. And there are probably a couple more of the really high dollar properties higher up on the ridge that can claim yet more dazzling outlooks.

However, real estate agents understand the market value of a view, and they aren’t shy about extending the limits of the definition. In our whirlwind tour of Seattle’s rental house market we came to understand that the term “view,” when it appears in a classified ad, probably doesn’t mean something you’ll want to grab the camera to record for your album. It might be the distant tip of a mountain viewed over the neighbor’s roof, or the sheen of a faraway pond reflected in the chrome of the used car lot next to the property. Viewpoints are as diverse as points of view.

Musing about this over my 100th cup of latte as I juggled the map, cell phone, reading glasses and notebook which outfitted the nerve center of our real estate safari, I began to consider the way words lose meaning over time through misuse, creative or unintentional, like a tattoo of a lover’s name that lasts long after the affection which inspired it has faded. The tattoo, like the experiences we share in our journey, becomes transmuted over time, always referring to a particular point in our passage, but also, in its blurred and shifting edges, revealing how far we have traveled from that point.

Long after my husband and I have finally sold our beautiful Virginia home and moved into someplace very different in Seattle, we will still share a bemused affection for “the nicest house in all of Wallingford” for the bump and splash it gave us as our life raft bounced and swirled through the rapids of this big change in our lives.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the nicest house in all of Wallingford. But who knows? Maybe it’s in the top 50.

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