Our apartment complex was owned by a rather large corporation and the maintenance was woeful. The sidewalks were never shoveled, the laundry room had sporadic breakdowns of machines, the roof leaked and it was impossible to get any action from management. It was obvious that the corporation took advantage of the residents believing that students were powerless. I decided to take a class action law suit to small claims court and began to photo the building’s issues, and to ta…ke testimony from other residents. The corporation was represented by a licensed attorney and I did a Perry mason imitation and represented the residents. Elaine was pregnant with our second child and she and eight of the other tenants came to the courtroom. I requested that she look sad and woeful at the distress this ordeal had caused. Our position was straight forward. We had refused to pay rent, and were demanding our full safety deposits back as well as remedying the complaints..
Fortunately the judge was very sympathetic to our plight and lit into the defendant’s lawyer after the evidence was presented. It was more than a moral victory ,and allowed us to break our lease and seek a home in the Northampton area. After weeks of searching we found a nineteenth century house on the commons in Florence, Massachusetts. It was a charming house but needed a great deal of love and attention. The street had been part of the underground railroad and though it was sealed there was a tunnel in our basement that ran underground to our neighbors home. Northampton was one of the centers of the Underground Railroad and at one point Sojourner Truth lived on the street. Slaves would be hidden and at night would go to the next home and then get into canoes and take the Mill River to Deerfield. There they would literally walk for days until they arrived in Canada.
By now John was a trooper as far as the cold, and was used to sleeping with his hat on. The house was so drafty when we bought it that you could not light a candle in the dining room without the wind blowing it out. Despite the limitations it was a wonderful home and for months we began the process of restoring it. Elaine was insistent that even though she was pregnant we had to have the house in good shape by the christening of the new baby. The chestnut staircase had about fifteen coats of oil based paint on it and we were using heavy solvents to get to the base wood. Like all the Murray women Elaine could work well beyond when “the cows came home” One night after a full day’s work and hours on the staircase I went to bed at midnight but Elaine kept right on trucking. Sound asleep I was felt a hand on my shoulder and Elaine said ‘the staircase is on fire. What had happened was that there was a chemical reaction between the chemicals and the paint. Fortunately we were able to put out the smoke and finally both of us went to bed.