A hundred dollars and a well-written essay could win you a house complete with raised flower beds, birdhouses and a small orchard of fruit trees.
Sound like something from the movie “The Spitfire Grill”? Absolutely. That’s where Gail, who will keep her last name to herself until after the contest, got the idea.
A woman in the movie holds an essay contest with her house as the prize. She awards it to a young, single mother.
“When I saw the movie, it sent chills down my back,” says Gail, a gracious divorcee with a passion for gardening. “I knew that was what I was supposed to be doing. It was great.”
Gail, who’s just a shade past 40, decided two years ago to let the wind blow her somewhere else. Since she left the Army in 1992 after 17 years of service, her free spirit emerged.
“I had this fantasy that 40 acres would be a piece of cake,” she says. “I wanted enough land that an artillery round could be dropped and no one would complain.”
She drove through Coeur d’Alene 15 years earlier and promised herself she’d return one day.
The area pleased her as much in 1992. Her savings and pension afforded her a dilapidated, century-old house on 2-1/2 acres on the prairie west of Post Falls. A dog was part of her dream, but a cat came with the house.
The cat attracted three more.
For a solid year, she renovated, modernizing the kitchen and bathroom, repairing windows, replacing carpet and adding a sunken master bedroom.
She built raised flower beds in the garden and added plum, peach and pear saplings to the apple and cherry trees on the property.
The finished product included cheery bay windows that Gail filled with tiny yellow narcissus and a towering amaryllis.
Gail lived and gardened happily with her cats as company for three years, then began to feel hemmed in. Housing developments were sprouting on the farmland around her.
She listed her house for sale, hoping someone would fall in love with the grounds. When no one showed interest by winter, she took it off the market. Then, she saw “The Spitfire Grill” and launched her contest.
Idaho considers Gail’s essay contest a game of skill and places no restrictions on it. She’s on her honor to pay up, says Brett DeLange of Idaho’s consumer protection office.
He’s seen a few similar contests throughout the state, but says most return the money they collect because they don’t attract enough entries. Gail doesn’t think she’ll have that problem, though she has asked entrants to include a self-addressed stamped envelope.
In 1994, the North Idaho College Foundation began raffling off a new house built by its carpentry department. Each chance on the house cost $100. The foundation promised to return money if it didn’t sell at least 2,500 chances.
Each of the last four years, the raffle has sold out at 4,000 tickets. The foundation has collected $1.6 million from ticket sales and netted a total of $581,000.
Those figures encourage Gail.
Her property was appraised at $115,000. She says she’ll pay any outstanding taxes or liens before presenting the property to the winner.
She needs 1,000 contest entries at $100 each to pay her debts and enable her to move on. She’s thinking New Mexico may be less crowded and more conducive to gardening.
Gail’s romantic side hopes the contest will transform someone’s life. But she also wants a new owner with dreams and plans for the grounds. Essays should address both areas and explain why contestants want a country home.
Gail wants essays under 250 words in English and checks made out to Your Country Home. Deadline to enter is May 15. Gail and three friends will judge the entries June 1 and run the winning essay in The Spokesman-Review on June 15.
If she doesn’t receive 1,000 entries by May 23, she says she’ll return essays and checks.
“I won’t think about it not turning out,” she says.
Send for contest rules and details to Your Country Home, Essay Contest, P.O. Box 2307, Post Falls, ID, 83877-2307. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo