A Portrait of an Unlikely First-Time Home Buyer
Looking for a bright spot in a slumping housing market? Well, feast your eyes on Sophie Santino, 85 years young today. On Tuesday, July 15, 2008, the Topeka, Kansas native closed on her first home, a Brooklyn cooperative purchased with her savings and the aid of her four children, Sandra, Mark, Gina and lastly Claudia, who brought her by our Lower Manhattan StoryBooth the next day to commemorate the delayed milestone.
Sophie didn’t start out as the most enthusiastic storyteller. As she confessed in the final minutes of their conversation, she gave Claudia “hell” for making the StoryCorps appointment without her knowledge.
I said “How could you do that!” And I was actually mad. I kept my face in the window of the subway.
Once Sophie arrived at the booth and got to reminiscing on her doting parents, two handfuls of siblings, cousins/playmates, big band-leading uncles in Topeka and her own relentless exploits on the dance floor, her disposition brightened. Her parents were immigrants from Mexico, and she couldn’t stop praising the quiet sensitivity of her Dad, in particular.
I’ll never forget when my mother used to bathe us then she would hand us over to our father and he would clip our toe nails. What other father would do that?! And at the time we had an outhouse and when winter time came by, my father would warm a blanket and he would take the three of us girls to the bathroom and he would wait outside. It was cold, it was snowing, but he made sure that we all went to the bathroom and then he would cuddle us, bring us back and sit us near the stove so we could warm up.
A marriage brought Sophie east in her thirties and she immediately took to Brooklyn, but with the hustle and bustle of raising children and changes in her personal and professional life, Sophie never got around to signing a contract on a home. When queried by Claudia as to her immediate reaction to finally attaining that final component of the American dream, she confessed an unexpected emotion.
You ask me, “Aren’t you happy?” …Like I told you, it’s like a bittersweet thing. This should have happened a long time ago and I blame myself for not bringing it up. I wish I had. And I feel that at my age, I pray to God, give me some more years so that I can enjoy my little place. And I know it would make you and all the rest happy if you knew that I was, that I was happy too Claudia. And I want to be happy, I really do, but I’m scared Claudia because I am so old…but being around you girls I know that you’re gonna make a lot of racket when I move in there…It will make me lots happier knowing that we’re all together, Claudie.
This emphasis on family and connectedness evoked in early recollections of a Topeka childhood to final imperatives to her children to “be happy” and “get along” just begin to describe a purposeful and quick-tongued woman who will hopefully celebrate many more birthdays in her spanking new digs. Happy Birthday, Sophie!
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