Something real.

September 13, 2012 § 7 Comments

In some of my clearest memories of my father he is seated at a desk, poring over a ledger illuminated by the circle of light from a desk lamp.

In addition to being a chemical engineer, my dad was an investor.

Diligent, conservative, patient. He kept an eye on his investments day after day, year after year.

He didn’t take the gains to buy a fancier house, although he could have. Instead he reinvested, sometimes in his kids–my sister, brother and I all went through college without student loans–but most often he plowed his money right back into the market.

I’m sure, he had some kind of talk with my brother and sister about his will, but it was probably not quite the same as the one he had with me. My career choices have always favored the interesting over the profitable.

I remember him looking at me over his glasses and saying, “Use this to keep yourself safe.” Safe meant, don’t blow this on a fancy car or a world cruise. Use it as a fallback when you’re too old to work. When disaster strikes, it will be there.

He didn’t need to tell me that. I had, after all, been raised by him and my mother, both veterans of the Great Depression. The only cruises I’d ever taken were aboard the boat my husband worked in the Keys when he was a commercial fisherman. I’ve never bought a new car—heck, I’ve rarely owned one built in the current decade.

In perhaps his worst-ever move when it came to market timing, my father died just before the crash. I had put everything he left me in the hands of a financial advisor who had done what those guys do, he’d invested it. The money Dad had left promptly lost a third of its value.

Although our feet were cold, we rode it out. I was particularly adamant about holding fast, because this is the way my father had done it. To keep my trust with him it seemed only right that I do the same. And the investments have gradually recovered and gained ground.

But unlike my father, we have no expertise in investing. All of our investments have been in land and buildings, “real” estate. We have always followed the cardinal rule buy low and sell high. And after buying low, we’ve always moved right into that tangible investment, fixed it up.

We have brewed coffee in our investments and raised a child, and given a succession of dogs a cool linoleum floor to lie down on, and baked a million loaves of bread.

Our investments now took the form of a sheath of paper that arrived once a month, bringing home each time, how little we knew about what our money was up to.

This being an investor in a world that made no sense to us kept us nervous. But even we could tell that the landscape of investing was changing. The thing that really got to my husband was the automated trading that took the human being out of the equation. The investor, head bowed over a ledger, had become as quaint as Bartleby the scrivener.

And so he began the search for something real.

Ray loves looking for property. The last time we bought, it was a ten acre tract in Wakulla County we call Bluebird. The next day he was looking at listings again. I had to remind him, you bought the dream. Now we have to live it.

And now, we’ve purchased the dream again. This time from a realtor who called it “the cheapest property in Appalachicola.” When we sent our daughter the pictures her response was, looks like it needs a lot of work.

Does it ever.

New bathrooms. New floors.

And ain’t it grand.

Ray was ready for a new big project. And when it is habitable we will open the doors for friends and family. The cheapest property in Apalachicola can’t fail to gain in value, especially after we’ve worked on it really hard.

Ultimately, it will benefit Ray’s son and our daughter. And we’ll tell each of them what my dad told me. “Use this to keep yourself safe.”  If we continue to hold tight, what my father left me will go to them, and the property in Apalachicola can be converted once again into cash, or it can give them a place to go where they can walk to the shrimp dock or get a line wet.

Like my dad we invest in safety—and we invest in life. As soon as we put in a working kitchen you are all invited to join us for a potluck with music in the cheapest house in Apalachicola.

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§ 7 Responses to Something real.

  • craig reeder says:

    i love the way you see this house as a link to your dad, and as a means of carrying on his legacy and passing it along to your childrens’ generation. your father may have built his wealth by careful, patient financial investments, but you and ray are the paragons of “sweat equity.” congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!


  • Did you notice the part about a potluck “with music”?

    That’s you. And me. And all the members of that loose confederation known as “the Whole Enchilada.”


  • craig reeder says:

    i’m there!!!


  • Amy Schoch says:

    Hope I can visit sometime with my violin! My parents left me a portion of their carefully tended investments. I’m watching it grow, slowly, quietly, hoping that I may never need to touch it and can instead leave it to my children, to keep them safe.


  • Sheila says:

    It IS beautiful! As is Apalachicola> How could you go wrong? I’m so happy for all of you!. And your grandchildren will always know what the South is really like. I can hardly wait to experience it! Congratulations


  • KM Huber says:

    I love Apalachicola! Frequently, I consider moving there; last week was the most recent. Yes, that is a big smile on my face. I’m looking forward to that potluck. Good for you and Ray for trusting your grip.



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