I will never forget buying my first house. It was a suburban rancher set in the bucolic splendor of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Bucks County, for those who don’t know, was home to William Penn. It is bordered on the east by the Delaware River, indeed, the famous incident depicted in a painting familiar to all schoolchildren – General George Washington recklessly standing up in a moving boat at winter as he and his intrepid soldiers cross the Delaware – happened there.
Bucks County is also where one finds New Hope (and who among us isn’t looking for New Hope?) a quaint tourist town dating back to colonial days that flourished because the ferry located there facilitated trade. Two centuries later New Hope would gain a different kind of celebrity as the summer residence of New York’s smart artistic set including painters, playwrights, composers, humorists, actors, fops, poseurs, and social butterflies.
My wife and I were able to afford it because it was a disaster area – the real estate agent described it as “tenant abused” – the victim of a “hot divorce”. This was an understatement, like saying that Dresden in 1945 “needed some TLC”. But the setting was remote and lovely. Our next door neighbor was a large dairy farm, our neighbor across the street was a horse farm where racehorses were bred and raised, and our down the street neighbor was a big-time cocaine dealer who lived in a massive geodesic dome and flew everywhere in his private helicopter.
One day as we were peeling off layer after layer of hideously ugly wallpaper, I heard a knock at the door and opened it to discover a woman who reminded me of what Donna Reed’s less attractive sister might have looked like, had such a person existed. From white gloves to glasses, sensible pumps and oversized picnic basket, she cut quite a figure and – sweating like an addict in an alley, wearing shorts and a grubby T-shirt – I felt thoroughly unprepared.
To make a long story short, if indeed, there is still time to accomplish this noble feat, she was from the local Welcome Wagon. (In the driveway was a well-cleaned Wagoneer with imitation wood paneling.) I confessed I was not aware such an organization even existed anymore but she assured me it did and shared a cornucopia of “welcome-to-the-neighborhood” gifts including tasty food tidbits, samples of various locally produced products, and enough coupons to paper our newly bare walls.
My wife and I were dreadful, snake-bit cynics back then but the visit had precisely the desired effect; it made us happy about our decision to move into the neighborhood. It was disarmingly sweet.
Just the other day I was thinking – wouldn’t it be nice if, on the day you were diagnosed with whatever form of mental illness it is that torments you, a woman in a Wagoneer, wearing white gloves, showed up at your house representing The Unwell-Come Welcome – a special service for the newly unwell?
She would carry with her a basket of things to help you on your way. What would they be?