by caitlin meredith
In April of 2008 I quit my job at the local health department in Austin and flew to Nigeria to help track and treat a meningitis epidemic with my on again, off again employer Doctors Without Borders. It all happened so quickly that I was barely able to pack my bag for the summer, much less rent out my house. Fortunately I had a couple of pro bono property managers willing to take the case: my parents. From their home in Northern California, they tried to allure a summer tenant through Craigslist. After several flakes and false alarms, they finally found a renter that seemed perfect.
Penny needed a place for her and her college-aged son to stay for the summer while the house she had just bought got work done. She happily agreed to pay the rent, the security deposit and the utilities. Over the course of the summer she and my mom exchanged countless e-mails all with some small business purpose but that more often than not drifted into more personal terrain. She sent a photo when a large branch fell off of one of the pecan trees and broke part of the fence and told of the condo they had found for her son where he would live during his third year at college in Flagstaff. My mom asked her about the rent deposit and sent her detailed instructions about how to retrieve your voicemail when you don’t have your cell phone with you after Penny told her she lost hers. Reading through them you see two empty-nesters sharing tips and observations about this chapter in their lives. There’s a real warmth there – both expressed the desire to meet in person one day. Something about this relationship confirmed all of our best feelings about Austin, reminding us of the kind of kind hippies that used to live in Marin. When it got closer to my return from Africa, Penny even offered to pick me up from the airport. That’s good people.
A few weeks after my return, however, the touchy feelies turned to touch and go. Read the rest of this entry »