We all have moments of pride and jubilation we’ll never forget. I’m thinking of those “Red Letter Days” of accomplishment or plain old good fortune when we graduate from high school or college, win an award, become a parent or grandparent, get that new job, or buy our first car or house. This week’s story by my student Yolanda Montufar captures her excitement when she bought her first home and the joy she felt decades later when she finally paid off the mortgage. Some of you may be able to relate to the feelings she so beautifully expresses here. What “Red Letter Day” stories do you need to write?
The Final Payment
by Yolanda Montufar
“I will be right back with the papers you need to sign,” said the loan officer with a big smile. “It will only take me a few minutes to get the paperwork together, so why don’t you just make yourself comfortable and help yourself to some water.”
“Okay,” I replied with a nervous giggle. What was wrong with me? I was fighting to keep down a fit of uncontrollable laughter. My teary eyes and crimson face gave away my embarrassment, as I fought to maintain my composure. What must this young man think? I wiped the palms of my hands on my pant legs. “Sorry, I’m just a little excited.”
“That’s fine! It’s not every day that people achieve such an accomplishment,” he said, trying to put me at ease.
After a few sips of water, I started to relax. I couldn’t believe I had reached my goal. I had doubled up on my mortgage payments and not only paid off my original loan, but also another loan for a room addition to the house.
Where had the years gone? I still remember that day in November 1975 when my mother approached me with the idea of buying a house. “Yolanda, you have to save money so you can buy a home. You know the kids are getting bigger and you need more room. Your brother and I have decided we will help you get started by assisting you with the down payment.
What was she talking about? I could barely make my rent and keep up the expenses related to my five growing kids. “Mom, I could never afford a house. That would take a lot more money than I make.” All the same, the idea that my mom and my brother were willing to do this for me, surprised and humbled me, planting a seed of hope for an impossible dream.
Sensing my insecurities, she said, “Sienta cabeza! Start thinking with your head! You’ve got to plan for the future. When are you going to learn? You can’t live from paycheck to paycheck with nothing to show for your hard work.”
Now, sitting in the mortgage office, I smiled to myself, thinking of that day so long ago. I was hurt that my mother was so insensitive to my feelings. I had always felt that I had not become the woman she would be proud of. Now, as I looked back, I realize that she did know my capabilities, and also my insecurities. By pushing and prodding, she was trying to secure a better place for my kids and me to live in.
I soon learned to my surprise that she had already chosen a house to buy on Cypress Street in Santa Ana. “Tomorrow, Sammy (my mom’s friend), and I are going to take you to see a couple of houses that are for sale. In fact, they are right next to each another. The real estate agent has agreed to meet us there.”
The next day, I sensed my mom’s excitement as Sammy drove down Cypress Street. It was lined on both sides with old Chinese Elm trees, their branches reaching towards the middle of the street, forming an arbor of green calmness in the neighborhood. “This is a quiet neighborhood,” my mother commented. Most of the owners are old retired Americanos. It will be a safe neighborhood for you and the kids.”
We stopped in front of the two houses that were for sale. I looked at each house, praying that one of them would be my dream come true. As we peeked through the windows on the house on the right, I couldn’t believe the similarities between that house and the one that we had lived in when I was a teenager. I instantly knew that if it was at all possible, I wanted this house for my kids.
The real estate agent was happy to see that I was so enthused about the house. Perspiration had formed on his forehead as he slipped off his jacket and placed it on the kitchen counter. He stuck his forefinger around the collar of his shirt to loosen his tie, anxious about the prospect of making a quick sale.
“How much is the house?” my mother asked nonchalantly.
“Twenty-eight thousand, five hundred is what the owner wants for the house,” he responded.
“That’s way too much! My house is a three-bedroom home and so much better than this and I only paid only twenty-three thousand for it. I’ll give you twenty-seven five for the house.”
Feeling the deal slipping through his hands, he told my mom that he would have to do more calculating. I saw my mother huff her discontent, and with that huff went my hopes of getting the house. Through the corner of my eye I saw Sammy’s patient face. He gave me a quick nod and a knowing smile.
After much calculation in his notebook, he told my mother he would take a cut in commission and let it go at twenty-seven thousand, five hundred.
“We’ll take it!” Mom said victoriously, reaching out to shake the agent’s hand.
The moving was a hazy blur of excitement. My girl’s boyfriends were more than willing to help move the heavy furniture, while the girls and my son helped me with the rest. My mother made herself busy nagging Sammy into fixing leaky faucets and connecting the stove
That first night in our new house my kids and I huddled together on the sofa laughing and talking, not quite believing we were actually in our very own home. The house was older and in need of many repairs, but I thought that with time I could get the work done. Nothing seemed impossible now.
I didn’t know it then, but as I look back, Mom had given me the greatest gift by opening my eyes and letting me see that anything was possible if you set your goals and work with pride to get them. She had given me a chance to take responsibility of a home and a new way of life. What I often thought of as rebuke and rejection was probably her impatience with me for not seeing the path she, herself, had taken to survive as a single parent. She often said that my head was in the clouds and I would not progress until I planted my own feet on the ground.
It’s been thirty-six years since this house and I have been together. We have weathered many tears and many more joys as the kids have grown and left to find their own way in life. Many grandchildren have taken their turn living with me in this old house, each finding the comfort that it has to offer.
Wonderful memories are trapped within these walls that we call home, where we gather together as a family and hear the strong words of advice remembered and repeated from grandmother to daughter, to grandchildren, to great-grandchildren, and now to great-great grandchildren.
The time has finally arrived when I can give the house a much-deserved face-lift, from top to bottom. It’s taken me thirty-six years, but I can now say that I have accomplished another goal with the same pride I felt that day I made my final payment.