Tom Clyde: The ancestral Tupperware
More Dogs on Main
Park Record columnist
It seemed so simple. My two sisters inherited the family home on the ranch. My brother and I had already built houses on the ranch before Dad died, so it was reasonable that the girls should have the family house.
For about 25 years, they have shared it as a vacation place. That’s a long time, and their families grew.
Their children became adults, and there are mountains of grandchildren. Now some of the grandchildren are adults. The arrangement that had worked 25 years ago had become unworkable.
The oldest sister’s family has been a lot more interested in spending time here than the younger sister and her family. I don’t know why, but it’s been that way since we were kids. My brother and I were always engrossed in a glorious, free-range boyhood that few kids experience today. The oldest sister was also captivated by the place, or by riding her horse with some hot guy on the hay crew. The younger sister was beset by mosquitoes and deer flies.
The house is 60 years old. Expensive things need to be done. The looming expenses and lukewarm interest in using it finally tipped the balance. One of my nieces said she would like to buy the house, with the intention of moving there full time once her last kid is out of high school. There were a couple of vacant lots connected to it that would provide a place for others in the family who wanted to build places of their own. The numbers all worked. It seemed so simple.
I thought there were some boundary issues, so we got a survey. It turns out my father built the house smack dab on the intersection of three different lots. The kitchen is literally on a different property from the living room. The bedrooms are all upstairs, with the stairway on yet another property.
Some of the original boundaries called to things that aren’t there any more: “Thence easterly along the irrigation ditch to the big cottonwood tree.” So we had to do a plat amendment to clean that up.
The barn, which I thought was the principal problem, turned out to be the only structure that was actually where it was supposed to be. In the process, we discovered three additional scraps of land that qualified as separate lots, and were able to move those into a usable location.
The whole mess was like a final exam in an advanced real property class in law school (been there, done that). There were utilities buried without easements, and easements with nothing in them. Nobody knows where the water line is. There were ghost roads that had never been built, and the roads we all use that had never been formalized. I guess the only good thing is that the railroad that was supposed to go over Wolf Creek Pass went bust in the 1890s, a few years before the homesteaders occupied the land. So while the grade is still there, the easement is not.
The people at the title company took to drinking and quit returning my calls.
But little by little, progress was made. The vacant lots didn’t have utilities to them, so we had to figure that out, which led to a “discussion” about whether they would cross other lots overhead or underground.
We went through the most amazing process to account for, and divide up the 60-year-old, grandchild, mangled, worn out stuff in the house.
A nephew prepared the most complicated Xcel spreadsheet in history to allow multiple rounds of selecting, so there would be an equitable distribution of the ancestral Tupperware, lidless as it is. In the end, nobody wanted much of anything. We already did this years ago, when Mom died. Some of us felt like we should discount the price of the house if my niece would take it with all the crap still in there, so we wouldn’t have to deal with it.
Somewhere along the way, it went all “Game of Thrones” on us, and while never questioning the fundamentals of the deal, there was a three-year jihad over tiny details.
Patience is not a trait normally associated with my family, and the delays to survey, amend the plat, clean up the title, and so on didn’t help.
On Thursday, they recorded the deed to the house. No shots were fired. It’s the first of several transactions, but the hardest one. The rest will fall into place. And somewhere, pigs are learning to fly.
In the rest of Utah, this weekend is a Pioneer Day. In Park City, it is another random closure of the liquor store. But it’s worth pausing for a moment to remember the brave pioneers who came across the plains to build Salt Lake, so there would be an airport for people coming to Sundance.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.