Olive Oil and Tea Lights

Nancy Flynn Neighborhood, Stream of Consciousness Archive

Photo by Andrew Fogg


What a whirl life has been of late! It is barely five days since we had an offer accepted on a beautiful home barely two blocks down the street from where we currently live. The way it all unfolded had such an air of the “meant to be” about it; it’s already revelatory in the looking-back at what happened, not to see signs and portents at every step of the way…

We’d seen a house over the weekend that looked promising and were thinking of making a low-ball offer on that. There were issues—punky wooden siding, a 70-year old oil furnace and requisite buried tank, and the whole mystery of who, really, has owned the place since it changed hands last May. Then, on Monday, Jan 7th, another promising house came on the market. I did a drive-by, we got our realtor to take us to tour it, and we decided to put in an offer on that. Again, slightly lower than asking price but we are in, after all, an alleged buyers’ market. Tuesday, January 8th brought acceptance of our offer by the divorcing sellers. All that was needed was the signature of the selling wife. But she was at work and her realtor didn’t want to disturb her? Then our realtor mentioned word of another, higher offer having come in. Hmm. Something fishy. Needless to say, the Is didn’t get dotted and the Ts crossed that night. The next morning, still no word. By that point, I had started to have cold feet. Worrying we’d acted too hastily, worrying I didn’t really want to live in the Wilshire part of town, sad to be leaving behind this neck of the woods I’ve grown quite fond of.

The sun was out so I decided I had to get out on a walk. We needed bulk olive oil so I struck out for the co-op on Alberta Street, an empty Muir Glen pasta sauce jar for the oil in my white string bag. I turned my cell phone’s ringer on in case our realtor would call with an update. I headed down 22nd Ave. A “For Sale” sign—it wasn’t there the day before, I swear—was on a house barely two blocks away. I walked down the driveway (no one appeared to be home) and had my breath taken away by the sight of the gorgeous garden (complete with Buddha) there. There were fussy-looking curtains on many of the windows so I told myself it was probably one of those “old-lady” houses in need of major fixing up. So I walked on.

At the co-op, I also found and bought twenty tea light candles to go in the rainbow-glass votives that sit on the window sill near the dining table. Just a few days before, when I put the last five into the colored glass holders, I’d been wondering where I would get more of them. I came home via Alberta Street. It felt so great to be up there. People at coffee shops, restaurants, all kinds of stores selling hip clothes, plants, office supplies, Mexican food. I think I was feeling even more regret about leaving behind this neck of Northeast Portland.

On 22nd again, across the street from Alberta Park, the phone rang and it was our realtor. Indeed, the sellers had let our offer expire, opened the second one, it was higher and wanted to take that. They’d give us a chance to match their offer. I knew J. wouldn’t go for that and, truth to tell, after my revelatory walk to and from the co-op, I felt relieved. I walked down 22nd and talked on the cell phone, something I rarely do, until I was pretty much across the street from the house-with-for-sale-sign I’d seen earlier. Before the conversation was over, I’d already told our realtor the address of the new listing and asked her to see what she could find out.

When we talked next, we decided to go look at the new house that afternoon. The minute our realtor opened the side door and I saw the 1930s retro kitchen, I was hooked.


John felt the same way when he stepped into the house later that day, at dusk. We decided to make an offer that night. The next day, I went to the cinemas inside Lloyd Center Mall (where there’s a skating rink, the one where Tonya Harding used to practice) to see Atonement at the noon matinee. I figured it would kill time and thus take my mind off the stress of waiting for our realtor to let us know if the sellers had accepted our offer. Just as Vanessa Redgrave is making her speech in the closing moments of the movie, I saw my cell phone light up and heard its vibrating buzz. I chose art over commerce and waited for the movie to end!

It was indeed E. telling us our offer had been accepted. And that two more appointments to show the house were already scheduled for that evening. She was on her way to get me at the mall cinema. She pulled up as I emerged from the mall doors. We jetted over the Burnside Bridge to then meet J. at his office downtown. We signed the acceptance offer in Lorne and Dottie’s coffee shop, forty minutes after the sellers had signed their papers. E. headed back to her office to fax the paperwork to the other realtors. I walked to the light rail stop by J.’s work and rode the train across the river, back to Lloyd Center where I’d left the truck in the outdoor parking lot. The sky was tinted rose; a yellow-and-gray barge made its way down the Willamette, the water in front of its prow parting in a perfect V. I thought, this is where I live, this is my home, my new city. How great is that?

And what if I hadn’t decided to head up to Alberta Street to get $7 worth of bulk olive oil and twenty tea lights? It’s hard not to feel an inevitability about the way the events around us finding our new home unfolded. So now the re-packing up begins…

Nancy Flynn
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