Squatting for education

Everybody’s got a story to tell. Some moved 10 times before they got to high school, some were an only child, some were the star athlete of the school and some got pregnant before they graduated. This doesn’t make anyone bad or wrong, but merely contributed to the type of person they are today with what we take away from these experiences. I like to consider my stories fairly different from most.


High school can be a difficult time for a lot of kids. You get thrown into this new world that’s unlike middle school in so many ways. There are typically new people, a new location, and even new customs. It’s a good change from middle school since it’s more like the real world.

The high school my older brothers attended and I was supposed to go to was going downhill in many ways. The education system was not the best, many of the people were terrible in my opinion and the sports were, well, the ones I did were failing miserably. By the time I graduated, the programs weren’t even there. So we decided to attend a different school.

My dad had just gotten a coaching job at a high school in the same town where one of his offices was. This formed one of his ideas that would affect the future of our family greatly.

As my 8th grade year approached, we began to think about moving to be able to go to the high school he coached at. The sports were promising and the academics were pretty good. So we started looking for places in that region.

After a few months of searching, we finally found a vacant house – which burned down because kids were doing what kids do in abandoned houses that no one cares about.

We lived about half an hour away from the one near the high school so he would drive down the same road every other day. On this road was a house. Shocking, I know. This house was on the market for years and years, and my dad had never noticed it. It was overgrown and clearly abandoned if you looked for more than a couple seconds.

Despite numerous calls to the previous owners and several different banks, we weren’t able to buy the house. My dad recommended that we just clean up the house and the yard and move in before school started. So that’s what we did. We spent pretty much every day during the summer cleaning and clearing the house. These people seemed to have just up and left, leaving behind pictures, furniture, clothes, and much to our disappointment, an unplugged fridge with meat in it.

The words to describe the smell in that fridge are non-existent. We chucked it outside, turned it upside down with the door open and ran away from it, hoping the stench didn’t catch us.

His plan was really to get someone’s attention so we could buy or rent the house. Unfortunately, the only attention we got was from neighbors who thought we moved in and were happy that we cleaned it up, even though we painted the house with a dreadful color: mauve. Yes. mauve. Or as my dad calls it “a mixture of all the paint I had.”

The official term for what we were doing is called squatting. It was more common a century or two ago, but it’s still around today. If we had proof of squatting in the house for 15 years, we would be able to own it by Squatters’ Rights. It wasn’t illegal, per se, but if someone found out, we might have to leave. It was just another loophole my dad had found.

So my dad and I finally moved in in August. He managed to get the power turned on his name so we had electricity. My siblings were finishing middle school back home with our mom. It was and still is a confusing situation to explain to people.

A birds-eye photo of the roof of the house

We threw everything we didn’t deem salvageable into the backyard. Once the inside was cleaned out, we started moving some of our stuff in. We made it homey. Kind of. There were plenty of flaws. For the first few months, we had no water. Showers were done via a sponge bath at his office a few minutes away. Water was gathered from the brook near the house.

But here’s the kicker: we had no heat. And this was the winter of 2014, a fairly nasty winter and you needed heat. So we had to do something irregular. My dad and I shared a room for three years. It was a decent sized room, capable of fitting three beds, a desk and a dresser fairly easily. We used a grill-sized propane tank and attached a dual head heater to it. We would light it every night to warm the room up and turn it off before bed. It got pretty cold. We put food in the fridge to keep it from freezing.

During this time, we tried not to stay there a lot. Limited resources and all around boredom made it unbearable sometimes. We’d visit some of my dad’s friends that he hadn’t seen in a while, go to trivia nights every Tuesday (we still do that), and a bunch of other stuff as long as it wasn’t in our house.

Note: no buses came to this house. I’d have to take a bus to an elementary school in this city and then walk to the office, and wait for him to pick me up or walk home. I did a lot of walking since his office had other people in it and I wasn’t a big fan of some of them. I quickly learned to hitchhike since I got home about two hours sooner than when I walked.

After the third year, the house was livable for most normal human beings, I think. We had heat in the whole house, water, pipes that didn’t freeze in the winter and nothing in the backyard except grass and trees. It was great.

Unfortunately, (well, for my siblings), this victory was short lived, as someone bought the house during my freshman year of college. After talking, we came up with a deal and they would pay us $6,500 to leave in a month. With the money they gave us, we rented a beautiful house on the lake for the remainder of the year. It came with heat, electricity and hot water. You think I wouldn’t need to say that.

I don’t know if there are any morals to this story. One could be that you have to be willing to make sacrifices to do better. Attending this high school was a much better decision than attending the one I would have. It was more complicated and there were struggles, but in the end, I’m glad we did it. Also, my dad is crazy. That should be obvious by now.

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