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A Moving Idea

Sometimes an idea will simmer in your mind for a long time before you get the details worked out. Or even begin to take it seriously. Then some sort of trigger gets pulled and you feel compelled to act. Even obsessed with bringing this idea to fruition.

When I was a child my father’s employer transferred his job to another city. Another state. He loved his job, so he was going. And so were we. He was moving from the sprawl of Northern New Jersey to a manufacturing town in Pennsylvania. Not far from the Amish Country. He wanted to live in a rural area.

He and my mother looked at houses to make their new home. One of them was a farmhouse on a large hunk of acreage. In the middle of nowhere as farmhouses with vast expanses of land tend to be. He liked it. My mom, not so much. She was afraid that she would be isolated from the rest of humanity. And that her two young children would be stranded far from friends. Eventually they built a house in an upcoming new subdivision. Close to town, and shopping. The best schools in the state. A one-quarter acre lot.

This particular area was still considered to be in the country, and there were vast cornfields behind the house. And across the street, in the still undeveloped portion of the neighborhood, there were open fields. Up the road was the farmhouse and red barn to which all of this land had once belonged. So my father got a little of what he wanted, and my mother got everything she wanted.

That’s where I grew up. From age five until I graduated from high school. The day after I graduated, my parents moved out. They had bought my father’s dream home. An old stone farmhouse on ten acres of land. With a barn. They lived there for the next thirty-eight years and although I had grown up in suburbia, I have ever since considered this second home, Shadowlawn Farm, to be my real home. Like my father, I too loved the country life.

Fast forward to twenty years ago. My life takes many turns similar to my fathers. My wife and I had started a family and were living in an urban subdivision. The schools were failing and we wanted more for our children. We started to look in the neighboring county. Which happened to have the best schools in the state.

We looked at existing subdivision homes. We looked in the country. Every Sunday we would drive out to the country and ride around looking. One neighborhood had particular appeal to my wife. Best one in the county. We had always heard that you should buy the worst house in the best neighborhood you could afford. That was her plan. I was still holding out for the farm.

Finally it was my father-in-law who caused me to take action. He shamed me into it. What he said to me one day was that my kids needed to move. They needed to be near other kids. And I should get off my wallet and do right by my family. Of course I was going to take care of my family, but I didn’t have to do it at the expense of my life. But I did.

Time was passing and a new school year was approaching. If we bought a new house, or piece of property in the next county we could enroll the girls in the best schools available. There was a vacant lot for sale in that best neighborhood. So I bought it. And my wife and I got together with a builder and proceeded to construct a new house. It was exciting, but a story for another time and blog post.

Fast forward once again. This time to 2016. For the past twenty years I have been poring over real estate books looking at houses. Moving has never been a consideration. The kids were still in school. Then college. My wife was content. I was antsy. Then my back failed. Two surgeries later and I was having real difficulty with the stairs in our three story house. And walking. Moving suddenly became a consideration. But where?

To be continued…

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

www.personalhistorywriter.com

 

 

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The Sign

Signs make a difference. They identify things to make our lives easier. Enter and exit. Men and women. Price tags. They tell you where to go, how much things cost, what you are looking at and in general allow us to understand without thinking so much.

The other day I was at the art museum and while I’m pretty good at figuring out what I’m looking at, reading the sign put up by the show’s curator sometimes brings me new insights. Who might have thought that a blank white canvas titled “Empty” was really a deep and penetrating examination of the loss of interaction and communication between individuals dwelling in our urban areas? That is a better, or at least more intellectually satisfying explanation of the blank canvass than would be scam artist trying to pull a fast one and expose the snobbery of art aficionados looking for a deeper meaning in a blank canvas slapped up on the wall as a joke. Jokes on you sucker!

Of course the same sign can have very different meanings for different people. That octagonal red sign so often seen on our streets means to some people “stop!” To others it means slow down a little, look both ways and speed on. And to still others it means nothing. Yesterday a sign was put in my front yard. It says “for sale.”

Twenty years ago I bought this piece of property and built a nice house. I’ve lived here with my family ever since. My two daughters grew up here and I’ve experienced all the joys and sadness of raising children here. I’ve painted the inside of the house and decorated it to reflect my style, taste and personality. I’ve planted trees and shrubs and flowers to make the outdoors satisfying to me. I’ve done many things here, all tucked away in my mind, some further back than others.

We have been talking of selling the house for sometime now. Ok, lets get it ready. And I’ve cleaned and scrubbed and painted and planted and beautified to make it appeal to another family. I’ve told myself that it’s a building with four walls and a roof. No emotional attachment. After all, I lived in my last house for seven years and never thought of it as mine. Selling the house will be like selling an empty picture frame at a yard sale.

My wife on the other hand talks about how emotional it all is. Our children grew up here. It’s been twenty years of our lives. I remind her that her family moved three times before she graduated from high school. And that my parents moved from the house where I lived for thirteen years the day after I graduated from high school. It’s just a house. Home is where the heart is. All that. The kids seem ok with the whole thing, but they do say that this is where they grew up.

And then the sign went up in the yard and I signed the deal with the real estate agent. I could feel my heart sink. This is my home. I’ve been here for twenty years. So many memories. Even the ones in deep storage came flooding back.

And now I look at selling the house as a matter of personal pride. This is the greatest house ever built and if you, Mr. and Mrs. Buyer, can’t see that then there is something dreadfully wrong with you. I’m waiting to be insulted with low ball offers. And I’m waiting for the perfect buyer to come along.

To a buyer, the sign says “this house is for sale, check it out.” For me, the sign says that a huge part of my life is about to change.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.com

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The Two Thousand Yard Stare

Mom was standing by the backdoor looking out over the patio and the yard. Her back was to me, but I could see the look on her face plain as day. It was just something I could feel in the air. And I know it well because I had inherited that look form her myself. It was a two thousand yard stare.

In 1944 artist Tom Lea was working for Life magazine as a war correspondent. One of his most famous portraits came out after his experience with the Peleliu campaign in the Pacific Theater. This battle seemed to have a dramatic impact on Lea as his style was significantly different afterwards. No doubt because of what he saw during the fierce fighting, hand to hand, cave by cave, to vanquish an enemy battling to the death.

2000YardStare

The image is a combat hardened Marine whose appearance belies his young age. With eyes staring, wide open, you can tell he is in another place in his mind. Bill Mauldin, a war correspondent who showed America the war through the eyes of his famous “dogfaces” Willie and Joe, put it like this: “Look at an infantryman’s eyes and you can tell how much war he has seen.”

Mom isn’t a combat hardened Marine, but it was the same look. She was staring out that door, deep in thought. This was the house that was, until recently, her home. It had been her home for thirty-eight years. Now it was for sale, and she had moved to a much smaller place. An apartment in a retirement community.

I’m not sure what she was seeing out that door. Can only guess. The vegetable and flower garden she tended for many years. The apple orchard, now almost vanished as the trees aged and succumbed to rot and the burden of snowfall and high winds. My sister’s wedding reception was in that backyard with its tent and horse carriage and festivity. Grandchildren played there. Workers, including her husband and sons, renovating various parts of the house. Many memories.

Lost in time and place. She was reminiscing. And with a sudden turn, her eyes once again filled with impishness, she walked back into the kitchen and was ready to face her new world. To make new memories. To build a life in her new home.

Sometimes we need to go to our own places. Physically or mentally. And there regroup, rejuvenate, and prepare for the next step in our journey. That’s part of my story. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.com

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It’s Official

Well, after months of preparation, the day has finally come. Bittersweet. My parent’s home is officially on the market. I don’t know if there is a for sale sign in the yard. I would think so. But I found the MLS listing on the Internet today.

It’s a nice write up. Very descriptive. And I’m sure it will entice a good family to buy the house. But there is nothing the realtor could say that would begin to describe or explain the real history of the house. Or what has made it our family’s home for thirty-eight years. It can’t say anything of the family gatherings at Thanksgiving or Christmas. My sister’s wedding reception on the lawn. The horses in the barn in the early years. Nor can it recreate the experience of making the house, as it was in 1975, into what it is today. Ripping out walls. Rebuilding walls. Painting. Patching. Wallpapering. All of the custom carpentry work that went into the dining room, living room, kitchen and master study. There is nothing about replacing the slate roof. Rebuilding the barn when a blizzard caved in the roof. Or my dad’s ritual with the coal burning stove in the kitchen. Every night he would put it to bed. And wake the flame in the morning.

Thirty-eight years is a long tome. A lot of things happened in that home. Good things. Memories I will always treasure. But now my folks have moved and the house is for sale. My dad says it will be nice to sell it, and move on with life. But I know he will miss it. As will my mother. As will I.

The house is one hundred forty years old. The first one hundred were unknown to us. It was a working farm. It fell into some disrepair as the farm family aged, moved on, and sold it. We bought it and revived the place. Not to a working farm but to a comfortable home. And made many memories. Our stamp will always be upon the place. But it is the people inside the house who make the home, not the building itself. Now it’s time for a new family to make their mark. I can only hope they will love it as we have.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.com

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The Wine Corks

A fine example.  If you’ve ever wondered about the magnitude of sifting through the memorabilia of thirty-eight years of home ownership, consider this.  A basement.  Nearly 1000 square feet jam packed with this, that and the other thing.  And there, on a shelf under the stairs, next to a collection of dusty old wine bottles waiting for consumption, were three coffee cans full of old wine bottle corks!  He got rid of the bottles, but saved the corks.

My mother and father are moving.  After thirty-eight years in this old house, they are downsizing.  They have to go through the 2600 square feet of the house, plus the basement, attic and barn.  And yes, each of these areas is packed with things like wine corks!  I know my dad had a plan for the corks.  He told me.  He just never got around to it.  Just like every nut, bolt, nail or screw that ever passed through his hand.  All stuffed in coffee cans.

Don’t get me wrong.  They have a lot of really cool stuff.  I mean really cool.  And some of it is indeed stuffed in coffee cans.  But there is some other stuff too.  Stuff they will need to part with.  They can’t even take all the good stuff with them let alone the things like wine corks.  I know it must be hard.

Judging by the speed at which they are sorting through all of this, they should be finished by about…NEVER!  They have been contemplating this move for five years.  It’s been a reality for the past several months.  And, whoa! Did I mention it’s gonna happen in January?!  They don’t have to get it all done in January though.  There is a window of opportunity.  But they might want to pick up the pace a little.

Watching them in their daily routine, breakfast, coffee, the newspaper etc., I realize that they are in no hurry.  And I wonder, do they really want to move?  No, I think not.  They are not young anymore and it’s hard work.  Physically and mentally.  They have been there a long time.  Because they love it there.  But there are compelling reasons to move. At this point in their lives.  They know that.  And as the time finally arrives, I’m sure it will happen.  But first, they will re-examine the wine corks.  And so many other memories.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?  www.personalhistorywriter.com

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Moving Mess

I have absolutely no idea how this is going to work.  In the end, it’s going to be the way it needs to be.  Or close to it anyway.  But in the mean time, between now and then, the way it unfolds will be an ordeal.  Or maybe to put a more positive spin on it I should say an adventure.  Yes, an adventurous ordeal.

The nuts and bolts of the process are already registering with my planning.  It’s just the sheer overwhelmingness of it that bugs me.  At my age, and in my superhuman physical condition, there are days when I get out of bed and don’t feel much like moving any further.  So, imagine what this is going to be like as my eighty something year old parents begin to gather up the contents of the home they have lived in for the past thirty eight years and move to a new home.

They have lived in this house for nearly half of their lives.  More than two thirds of mine.  And over the years they have gathered more and more and more souvenirs of their lives.  The house, with its basement and attic, is packed to the rafters.  As is the barn.  My dad calls my mother a pack rat, but he does a pretty good job of it himself.

They have a plan.  Or so they say.  Three piles.  One for taking straight to the new place.  One for taking to the new place later.  One for disposal, one way or another.  It’s not junk.  No rotten food, no old soda cans.  Nothing like that.  And they are not hoarders.  They have just collected, and stored neatly, a lot of stuff.  Over the years you accumulate stuff.

I’m going to visit this week for six days.  All of it devoted to sorting.  The dispose of pile will be my realm.  What do I want for me?  What can I sell in my shop?  Are there things that need to be auctioned?  Donated?  Trashed?  There may even be room for another pile which will be leave it in the barn and let the new owner figure out what to do with it.  That’s how the house came to them thirty-eight years ago.  And some of the stuff that was there then is still in the same place now.

What I’m a little afraid of is that when I planned this trip they had no firm plans as to when they were moving.  Could be a month or a year my dad would say.  Now, it’s a little more defined.  By the end of December.  This December.  Right.  So, there is a little more urgency in the project.  And that limits the time we can spend reminiscing over each and every item.  Even the trash pile will have wondrous treasures.  Stuff there is just no longer any room for.

The one nice thing about all this is that my parents will both be there.  In mind and body.  And I’ll get to hear the stories about all the things we reminisce over.  One chapter ends, and another begins.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?  www.personalhistorywriter.com

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Call Me Noah!

Call me Noah.  Yes, Noah of flood and ark fame.  I can’t escape the rain!  I went to England and the rain followed me there.  Rain almost every day.  Not unusual for England you say, but when I left, the rain went with me.  As a matter of fact, little baby Prince George was recently born in London.  On the hottest and driest day of the year.

At home it’s been raining.   Thirteen inches so far this month.  That seems like it’s about half a years worth for us.  A lot of rain.  I suppose that during the summer the farmers like to see the rain.  Big harvest ahead.  But with all of this rain I hear that crops are rotting in the ground.  Like the flowers in my garden.

I may have previously mentioned my fall.  Looking for a hole in the wall where the rain comes in, stops my mind from wandering.  Fell off the wall.  Broke my shoulder.  Every time it rains we have to vacuum water out of the basement.  Still looking for a fix.

My daughter is moving into a new apartment today.  We’ve driven three and a half hours to get there.  Through the rain.  Rain so heavy I could barely see the road in front of me at times. 

After a while it stops raining and the sun comes out.  Maybe the rain can’t find me here.  Or maybe the rain likes my young daughter and doesn’t want to make her move all her possessions into a new home during a rainstorm.  Or maybe it’s not really me.

Two days in a row with no rain.  Wow.  My daughter is moved in and happy.  I’m glad to know she is settled.  Time for me to go home.  After three and a half hours of driving I’m nearing the house.  The sky is getting dark.  I’m a mile from the house.  It’s raining.  I go into the house and damn if the basement isn’t full of water again.

Is it me?  That’s ridiculous.  It’s raining all over town.  And why would the rain soak everyone else if it’s just upset with me?  If it were angry with everyone in the human race, the world would flood.  Maybe it’s my town.  Like Lot’s Sodom and Gomorrah.  We are a liberal bastion in a sea of red.  No.

It’s the weather!  I have no control over that.  No say in how it works.  It doesn’t know me from Adam.  Climate.  I just happen to be here.  It just seems sometimes like it’s out to get me in particular.  That’s so funny because I live my life constantly reminding myself that it’s NOT all about me.  I’m a giver.  Just the weather.  Better find that hole now, I see a cloud coming.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?  www.personalhistorywriter.com

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