home

We bought our first home in 2008 with an $8 down payment. I was 33 years old and my husband was 37, and after mismanaging our credit through much of our early adulthood and after years spent renting less-than-desirable houses in equally less-than-desirable neighborhoods, we never thought we’d actually own a home. But then suddenly there we were – homeowners and all it had cost us was $8.

We had been living in New York City for a few years prior to buying our first home, and it was during the summer before we moved back to Pittsburgh that we found our down payment. My husband had been selling antiques for years and he would spend his free time and weekends searching local yard sales for things to resell at the flea market. He was very good at this sort of thing. Usually he stuck to antique furniture and knick knacks, but one Saturday he came home with a painting.

The painting was nothing special – an exterior house scene painted on canvas stretched over a simple frame. But my husband thought it might be worth something and so he paid the $8 asking price for it and brought it back to our apartment. He showed it to me, convinced that it was something. I rolled my eyes and went back to watching TV.

It turns out it was something. That $8 painting (by an artist named Paul Strisik) was worth almost $4000. After picking our jaws up off the floor, we quickly listed it on eBay and within a few days we had the down payment for our first home.

I never much cared for that painting, but now I think of it with the kind of reverence reserved for a Picasso or a van Gogh.

That $8 painting did not just help us to buy our first home; that $8 painting set up the next eleven years of lives. It led us back to Pittsburgh. It guided us to the jobs we both still hold today. It put us on the path that would eventually lead us to our four children.

I sometimes wonder, “Who would we be without that painting?”

Today we sign away our first home to its new owners. Before this house, I had never lived in any single home for more than five years. My family moved a lot when I was younger, by the time I was 14 we had lived in six different homes, and as an adult we moved every 2-3 years.

The house on Defoe Street was my first real home. We were married (twice) while living in this house. We brought puppies home to this house. We said goodbye to our beloved dogs Max and Fred in this house. We made a family in this house.

I can still see Chris sleeping in his new room on that first night – the child we never thought we’d have, now home. I remember the first time Elijah called me “Dad” after six months of referring to me as either “Hey you” or “Sean”. I close my eyes and I can still hear Chris, Elijah and A’Sean, on that first night A’Sean stayed with us, talking late into the night as if they had been brothers their whole life. I see Ke’Juan every night before bed lingering on the stairs, hovering over me on the couch, because she hates to go to sleep.

Every room is a memory.

We took that house from mauve carpets and outdated kitchen to hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances. We added a fourth bedroom and a game room and a second bathroom.

We celebrated Christmases and Thanksgivings and birthdays and adoption days. We yelled and we fought and we cried and we loved in that house.

We lived.

We became a family.

And it all started with an $8 painting.


Sean Michael O’Donnell is a 44 year old married gay man. He lives in Pittsburgh with his husband, three sons, and daughter. Sean enjoys Law & Order reruns, Christmas movies in October, and Facebook stalking. He likes donuts and beer. Sometimes he goes to the gym (not really).  He is the author of the best-selling book Which One of You is the Mother?