The Story of Cinderella’s House

When The Mr. and I signed the closing statement for our house, The name Cinderella was on it. No joke. The previous owner went by Cinderella so widely that it was on a legal document. At the time, I thought that meant that the house was charmed!

Fast forward 4.5 years to a completely gutted 1st floor and structural repairs that never end. I’m grateful that The Mr. is so incredibly handy. He once reinstalled a handrail for my mother one-handed, but only because he had to. I digress…

Cinderella’s House is a 2-unit row house in the most densely populated neighborhood in Pittsburgh. A charming yellow-painted brick with peeling paint and faded brown aluminum trim. She’s definitely seen better days. Not that we helped things by painting the house numbers on the front in purple paint because the pizza delivery guy repeatedly couldn’t find our house. My dad must cringe each and every time he sees those purple numbers.

On the first day of ownership, we came “home,” exploring our purchase and getting ready to throw an open house called Before! We called it Before! because Cinderella’s house was a certified fixer-upper, complete with stained shag, drop ceilings, and faux wood paneling in a multitude of shades. We weren’t planning on moving in for a few weeks so that we could begin the remodeling projects in earnest. My wonderfully supportive maINe-laws sent a balloon bouquet that arrived a few hours after the closing. That cemented our feeling that the house, and we as its owners, were charmed.

People began arriving for the open house, and many of those people were given crowbars to help us pry off the first pieces of paneling. Oh, the photo ops. So many friends and family came to support us and congratulate us on the newest chapter in our lives together. Not one person said, “Gee, this house is in pretty rotten shape,” or “With The Mr. starting his sophomore year of college, will you really have time/money to work on such a monstrosity?” We have such supportive friends and family!

On the second day of home ownership, I couldn’t open the basement door all the way. A rise in the cement floor was keeping the door from opening all the way, which was annoying since we were planning to begin gutting the basement that weekend. Upon further inspection, I noticed what looked like faint handles in the cement, and an outline in the shape of  a large rectangle. I called my love over to check it out, who promptly brought a large crowbar, agreeing that it looked like that piece of concrete was removable. And indeed it was. We discovered a brick-lined hole filled with water, with several pipes ending in it. I’m thinking treasure pit, right? “Could you go flush the toilet?” The Mr. asked me between thin lips. My heart sunk. I flushed the toilet and yelled, “Please tell me it’s not what I think it is!” as I ran back across the basement to the hole. But it was true: The three pipes on two sides of the brick hole dumped all of the waste water from our house into the hole. I watched as the water level rose slightly, and as it did, the smallest trickle of water ran out a lone pipe on another wall of the hole. “Where does that go?” “To the street,” The Mr. replied dejectedly.

Fast forward a few days to when the plumber arrives. He grew up a few houses up, so we figured he’d be the expert on our situation. We pry up the cement hatch, and The Mr. goes into the other room and flushes the toilet. It takes a minute, but the plumber starts laughing. “I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s like an indoor cistern! Do you have a pole or board?” The Mr. obliges with some sort of long thing found around a house under construction. Plumber pokes it into the hole. WAY into the hole. “This hole is filled with years of solid waste. See the water running out? That’s just a fraction of what is dumping into the hole. You’ve got solid waste from probably 80 years in here!” Needless to say, we are thrilled.

The punchline is provided by the plumber, who, looking very sorry for us and trying not to laugh, says, “You mind if I run out to my truck and grab my camera? I work for the Health Department and we have a wall of shame, and this is right up there with the worst I’ve seen.”

Home owning honeymoon–over.


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