A Halloween Story
It was no surprise to me that my cousin Helen was thinking about buying a weekend retreat on the North Shore. Whether you are looking for waterfront on the Brule Shore or a rustic old farmhouse with a view of the Cobequids, our quiet rural community is attracting the majority of those contemplating retirement or an escape from the city.
In Helen’s case it was a bit of both. With retirement about 5 years away, her thoughts were that she would buy something that needed a bit of attention and take the next 5 years to put her touch to creating a perfect retirement home. A home that would be suitable for all seasons. High on her list was the chance to finally have her own garden.
Octoberfest was a good a time as any to start looking for a new house, so my cousin made arrangements to meet with several local real estate agents. Using our house as her home base she told the realtors that she would be up for Octoberfest and would contact them that weekend. Octoberfest is a great opportunity to meet everyone at the same time in the same place. Over several steins of a Tata Brew I would point out the realtors as they made their way to the dance floor or to the sausage stand.
Helen was never one to be shy, so in no time she had buttonholed two the North Shore’s leading brokers. Helen told them that she wanted a property with a garden and no immediate neighbors. She made it clear that privacy as well as peace and quiet were important to her. It appeared that while there were several cottages and a few small farms for sale. Unfortunately nothing the realtors had on their books seemed to spark her interests.
On Octoberfest Sunday we invited a small group of friends for lunch hoping that one of them might be able to help Helen identify a potential property. During a walk in our garden one of our friends from Denmark told Helen that a property on the Denmark road, near Earltown had been on the market for years. He believed that the property would be a perfect fit for Helen’s needs. Helen made some inquires with a local realtor and he quickly told her that yes the property had been on the MLS listings for several years. Fantastic location, sound house, wonderful orchard and yes the perfect garden. He went to add that for some strange reason no one had ever made an offer. He told her that every real estate broker tried to sell the property but all had failed to garner an offer.
Helen had to see the property even though others didn’t appear to be interested. Over dinner that night we each came up with a good reason why the Earltown property wasn’t sold. The first thought was that it was priced too high. Helen’s husband George thought that maybe the well water was probably bad. I reminded everyone that some houses have dry rot or bats in the loft. One point that we all agreed on was that times change and sellers quite often reduce their initial asking price. Arrangements were made for Helen to visit the property the following weekend.
I spoke with a number of my Earltown friends and the word was that a MacAllister owned the property and that he now lived in Toronto. For some reason he had not been back to Nova Scotia since 1980. He inherited the small farm from the death of an uncle but found that farming couldn’t provide a living so he moved to Ontario to find employment. What ever kept him from returning to Nova Scotia, nobody knew but he now wanted to sell the property and retire to Sudbury.
The following week I met with the realtor to pick up the keys because he had another showing that day. Helen would visit the property on her own and leave the keys with me. The realtor’s info sheet on the property was that the house was empty and that no one lived or for that matter had lived in the house for 25 years. The house was also dry and clean but completely empty of furniture and fittings. He told Helen to take all the time she needed and return the keys to me. I was busy that Saturday morning so Helen and her husband George with keys in hand drove to Denmark, turned right and headed on down the road towards Earltown. The realtor mentioned that the property was on the left with a gate post with a wooden sign identifying the entrance to the MacAllister property. Helen had no problem finding the property and spent at least 4 hours on her visit. That night a very enthusiastic Helen described her visit to Earltown and how she discovered her perfect garden.
With delight in her voice and a constant smile Helen gave a complete recount of her visit. As was her hope the property was somewhat isolated. The entrance to the property was a meandering drive, slightly uphill with a running brook to the right. Immediately on seeing the farm house one was simply overwhelmed with the view of the Cobequid hills in the distance. The hills were alive with early fall colors, maples and silver birch standing tall still enjoying the mild October weather. The house was a typical two story Colchester farm house with an abundance of climbing roses many of which were still in bloom. George wanted to inspect the house but Helen was eager to see the garden at the back of the house. As she approached the garden her breath was taken away. Helen was speechless. Nowhere had ever she seen such a perfect garden, the delphiniums were still 10 foot high with colors as vivid as postcards from Kew Garden. Rose beds, fall glads, asters of pale blue, dahlias to die for, yes Helen had found her perfect garden.
Helen was unable to move forward, motionless at the garden gate she slowly took in all the beauty. Then she said she saw someone in the garden shed, well she corrected herself and said she saw the back of someone working in the shed. It turned out to be the man who created and maintained the garden. His name was Paul MacAllister. He told her he was the brother of the owner of the property. He went on to explain to her that he spent every day in his garden. They talked for hours about gardening and Paul offered to assist Helen in the garden if she bought the property. His final comment was that he could not imagine ever leaving his garden.
During dinner that evening I reminded Helen that there still had to some reason why no one had ever bought the property. I insisted and that she should ask more questions before moving forward with an offer. I told her that I had managed to get a telephone number for the brother in Toronto and for starters she should call him to discuss the property.
John MacAllister was as bewildered as any one as to why his property hadn’t sold. Helen told him that if she was to make an offer it would be subject to an inspection, in fact several inspections. She told him that she was determined to identify any potential problem up front and if none existed then a sale might be possible. Helen concluded her talk with MacAllister by telling him that she looked forward to having his brother in her perfect garden.
MacAillster was surprised that Helen not being a local knew of his brother. Yes it was very sad tale he told her. His brother Paul had died in accident as a young man. MacAllister’s parents started the garden as a memorable to their son. He loved to garden and they always felt close him when they were near the flowers. My cousin never made an offer on the Earltown property. Currently she is looking at Pugwash as a retirement option.
Edward C Sampson
Quietly Retired on Waugh’s River, this story was circa 2003