Gloria has been on my mind lately. I scored a free chair at my neighbor’s yard sale last weekend and it is now placed comfortably in a corner of our living room that needed some love. I am sitting in that chair, which happens to be Gloria’s favorite spot, tucked behind the front window with a nice view of the trees swinging in the breeze.

Gloria was the sole owner of our house before us. She bought it in 1978 and lived in it for about 35 years until her death. During each and every minute that she lived here, she smoked cigarettes. She lived cigarettes. She, for all intents and purposes, was a personified cloud of smoke moving about and doing human things. When she periodically emerged from her back door to walk around the deck, a billowing veil of smog could be observed over the backyard fence.

Prior to her passing, she arranged for ownership of the house to circumvent her adult children. Instead, it went into foreclosure and sat empty for almost five years. The lots in our neighborhood aren’t exactly huge; The empty house needed care — badly — and became the neighborhood eyesore in no time, the proverbial elephant in the room that nobody could do anything about. Neighbors continued about their lives. Walkers took their morning walks, the daycare across the street kept humming away. The house was lonely and ignored.

Then squatters moved in. When I think squatters, I think long-haired hobos you see under bridges. I think of drug addicts and aimless wanderers and thieves. Real squatters, I have learned, often have jobs. These ones had jobs AND cars, and they came and went the way working people tend to do. The sweet Christian woman who lived kitty-corner performed her neighborly duty: she brought food to their door. The occupants were appreciative and, in turn, brought the Christian woman leftovers from Olive Garden after their shifts ended. Nothing was so far amiss that it wasn’t palatable. After all, most folks are friendly and forgiving.

Eventually, suspicious characters frequented the grounds. One man who was believable as a carpenter came and went several times over the course of a few weeks when one day, an occupant shaved his head on the back deck, per his request. “All I know is I need to look completely different than I do now,” he explained to his makeshift hairdresser. Because upstanding members of society say things like that.

What appeared to be normal enough life degraded into drugs and mayhem. A daily neighborhood walker decided he/she was fed up with the activities taking place in plain view and called the sheriff. They cleared out the house with swift determination and slapped a padlock on the door. Leftover food in Tupperware containers was abandoned in the fridge. A cup full of sewing needles was spilled on the orange shag carpet, and left. The bathroom door was home to a hook and bath towel, also abandoned.

Gloria didn’t want her children to have this house. Did she want strangers to have it? Did she know the path the house would take to get normal, quiet, working folks into it? Did she care?

If she hadn’t made that decision, the house likely would have been bought once or a few times, flipped once or a few times, and then flown right out of our price range. It’s a damned miracle we were able to buy something in this neighborhood that’s not a port-a-potty.

So, thank you, Gloria. If you’re still around, I hope you love the sound of our daughter’s footsteps thumping up and down the hallway, the smell of pizza dinners filling the dining room, and the warmth we feel just being here. You gave us the dream. And I love your spot in the living room.

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