Extending the question of self-reflection from our last post, I wonder aloud if I’m still in the right place.
Putting down roots has been fairly clear and straightforward for me. It took two years of weekends to find the place I now call home. As soon as I stepped out of the car I was drawn to a nearby deer path that led down to the stream. Before I set foot in the house, I knew this was where I wanted to live. This was the place where I would grow old with my wife. It was to be the place where family and friends visited often and stayed long. It was the place to joyfully integrate with nature until my dying day. And, despite an unexpected divorce, it remains a sanctuary for me as well as a retreat for friends and family and pets.
For nearly twenty-one years I have enjoyed this space. It has healed me when I needed healing, provided joyful celebration when I wanted to celebrate, and has given me nurturance each and every day. But with every choice for the many things that matter, comes an acceptance of not having all that matters. And, it seems to me, as I move into this last season of my life that it may be time to exchange this space for one that gives me more access to those other things/people that matter – my children.
As I seriously consider whether I still want to live out my days here or consider pulling up stakes and moving closer to my family I am both energized and anxious. Do I leave what I know so well and what has given me so much, in search of being a more integral part of my children and grandchildren’s lives? Leaving the comfort of what I know and starting over with a new home, new friends, and all the people and services associated with daily living is scary. Being able to regularly spend time with family, meeting new people, and blazing new trails, is exciting!
I’m a firm believer that given careful thought and ample time, whichever decision one makes, will work. How well and for how long it works depends on keeping an open mind and trusting that we have the power to find happiness and fulfillment in all choices. So, for now, I’ll explore my options by looking at the proverbial pros and cons, consult with family and close friends, and then decide. I love where I live and I would love to be closer to my family. Whichever I decide will be good.
Leaps of Faith
Often major life changes are accompanied by tremendous leaps of faith. As we go through life sometimes such changes are brought on through careful deliberation with the hope of improving our lives and sometimes they are thrust upon us. Significant life changes like marriage, divorce, death in the family, moving, retirement and many other things- seen and unseen, can be very traumatic or wonderful and we strive to make the best of them. In my life, perhaps the biggest life change occurred at the crossroads of several altering events. I was in a new relationship, my kids had moved out and I was living alone in the big house, I was retiring at the end of the school year after 35 years in the classroom. Retirement hung heavily around my neck as I pondered what I would do with the rest of my life. Anyone of these events was stressful enough and combined it was overwhelming. One day my partner asked if I would like to join him in following one of his dreams. Since I had none of my own, I took that leap of faith and agreed to take on his dream as my own. He had always wanted to own an inn! I listed pros and cons, read up on innkeeping, It would give us freedom to travel, visit our families, and be productive professionals. After 35 years of teaching I defined myself as “teacher.” It was as much a part of me as my name was. After much deliberation and conversations I jumped in. I put my house on the market, we contacted realtors who specialized in hospitality and for a year before my retirement we visited 30 or 40 properties all over the East Coast.
I had purchased 4 houses throughout my life and each time I knew the minute I walked into a place whether that was my new home. Just a feeling I got, a sense of comfort and safety, and yes – style. Every weekend during my last year of teaching we went looking at real estate. My house sold quickly and I moved temporarily into an apartment. One weekend we went to New Hampshire, the next to upstate, NY, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and in the first week of January we spent the weekend in Vermont. We were pretty discouraged because the places we looked at were lacking mostly a nice place for the innkeepers to live. We didn’t want to just live in a spare room that wasn’t rented out. This particular Saturday, we had almost decided that we would give ourselves a break until spring if nothing materialized. Our realtor took us to the beautiful community of Woodstock, Vermont and brought us to an old farmhouses, built in 1820. It had been a 300 acre dairy farm but over the years the land was sold off and a small development off the main road was made into a nice neighborhood for about 10 families. The farm house sat right on the main road across from a babbling brook they called a river. We met the innkeepers who were selling the place and they toured us through the building. Great place, they had build an addition in 1985 for themselves, finally a place with owners’ quarters and each bedroom had a private bath This was definitely a possibility. As they were walking us up the stairs to the guest rooms I was struck by a familiar smell. I didn’t recognize it at first but then I was thrust back in time to my grandfather’s house in Pennsylvania. It was a sweet, country air kind of smell and that was it! I knew this place was to be our inn. We made an offer, it was accepted only after we stayed for dinner and met the entire family because they wanted to be sure we were the right buyers for their baby! We all hit it off, they loved us, we loved them and sometime that night it sunk in… What the (expletive deleted)….am I doing? And here is where the biggest leap of faith I ever had to take kicked in. What the hell did I know about running an inn? I depended on my partner for knowing about the business end of it. Are there reasons for people to stay here? what kind of rates would we charge? how do we handle unhappy guests……. that was his jurisdiction. SO the remaining months of the school year dragged slowly by until closing over Memorial Day weekend.
Things were hectic for my last month of school ever. I raced to Vermont every weekend, back to NY every Sunday. We were learning the trade from the previous innkeepers. She taught us her recipes, how to clean a bathroom, haw to take a reservation. It was un while she was still in charge.. The next leap of faith came after the closing and we were doing stuff to freshen up the place and put our touches on it. We worked all day and well into the night painting the living room and hallway and staircase one Saturday. It was a long day, and as it got dark we turned all the lights on in all the rooms so we could see what we were doing. Just before midnight we were done. We sighed with relief and went from room to room shutting off the lights and turning down the heat. We collapsed into bed as I had to return to NY the next day for the last 2 weeks of school. The next morning we got up and decided to go upstairs to see what the paint looked like in the daylight. In Room 3, every light was on in the room and the heat was blasting. I asked my partner if he had gone up during the night.. He hadn’t and I hadn’t. Odd, yes but these things happen. I returned home, finished the school year, had my retirement party and moved into the inn full time the next day. We had a few guests and were learning the ropes. David did the cooking, I did the cleaning, we both greeted and schmoozed with the guests. I was cleaning Room 3 one day after a lovely couple left. I Vacuumed, changed the linens and cleaned the bathroom. I placed a nice wrapped bar of soap on the sink and a fragrant boxed soap in the shower, finished up and moved onto Room 4.. I had to go back to Room 3 to get the vacuum and noticed that the nice boxed soap was on the sink and the wrapped soap was in the shower. Was it me? Was I crazy? The previous owner was also our Fed EX guy and he dropped off a package that afternoon. I asked him if anything strange like that had ever happened to them. He said, “OH, you mean the presence?” The presence? And you are just telling us now? He assured me the guy was friendly and mischievous. By this point I was playing leap frog with my leap of faith. To make a very long story short I grew to like Mr Kole (it had been the Kole Farm) as we were able to identify who he was. Everyday when I cleaned his room I would talk to him. He continued to switch soap bars for 15 years, Occasionally gave the guests foot massages in the middle of the night which led to great breakfast conversation, and became a part of the lure of our inn. People came requesting that particular room. The point is we took several leaps of faith and became very successful and had a wonderful span of 15 years. I discovered that being an elementary school teacher and an innkeeper used pretty much the same skill set. We were selected innkeepers of the Year in 2010 for the State of Vermont and I loved my life there. Leaps of faith can be wonderful things if you believe in them. Changes can be exciting life experiences.
Fast forward to Covid 19 and a major life change would be an exciting adventure. Henry has some exciting times ahead. Right now the most exciting thing to happen to me is when the dog and I run to the window to see who is passing the house!
A Grand Adventure
Hen is not alone in contemplating a move and starting a new chapter in life. What a grand adventure! If you believe that ‘where you sit determines what you see’, then it’s a good practice to change your seat from time-to-time, if only to gain a new perspective.
In practice, it’s not easy to walk away from an environment that you’ve worked hard to create – and all the memories that are linked to the bricks and mortar you touch every day. In my case, we’ve spent almost fifty years in our home – it was a starter home we never left. In truth, I have a love-hate relationship with my abode. I know we should have shifted gears long ago and left it behind. I guess grad school and work left me distracted… and even a five year stretch of commuting 200 miles a day should have been enough impetus to address a decision to move. But we didn’t and now the starter house fits us again, even as it ages along with us.
The house has a story which is only partially ours. We bought this place from Mr. K. who was 92 at that time. Quite a character. Mr. K. built the house while he was in his sixties for Caroline, whom he then married. A bit of a scoundrel, folklore has it that Mr. K. went afoul of the law for some type of fraud. I know that Mr. K. blackmailed his neighbors into buying some of his property – basically a drainage ditch – by telling them that he was allowing the fire company to install a siren there. People talk about him with a scowl which gradually turns into grudging admiration for his scheming ways. A character you love to hate.
He made his living as an itinerant carpenter and his houses were simple, but overbuilt. If you needed 10 nails to attach a board, Mr. K. used 20. Of course, if you didn’t have a board the right size, well any two pieces might work, even if one had been used as a cement form. He milled his own walnut wood to use as door trim, but left it plain and poorly joined. Not one with an eye for detail, Mr. K.
However, the main point is that I believe that Caroline saved Mr. K. She had long passed by the time we bought the house. He still grieved. Mr. K. cried when he showed us the bedroom where his wife died. Her touches around the house were evident by the old fashioned plantings around the property: bleeding heart, mock orange, honey suckle and lilacs were well established. I think her spirit still imbues the place. He picked up her deep faith and joined a fundamentalist church (many “Jesus Saves” reminders were pinned throughout the house and workshop). Of course, Mr. K. also enjoyed the attention from the church ladies who knew Caroline.
Caroline’s bedroom is now the kitchen. Walls have been removed to provide a sense of more space in this small building. The structure is a one-and-a half storey cape: balloon construction. The downstairs is plaster over lath, but the second floor was done quickly with knotty pine and beaver board. And yes, Mr. K. actually rented the second floor as an apartment: a unit with kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bath accessible by a separate entrance. A very strange floor plan for a cape cod design.
I’ve spent years reworking the house: every window has changed, siding, decking, enlarged entry porch – all the services. You name it. Woodshed, chicken coops and dog house have bit the dust. The fieldstone barbeque Mr. K. built in the front yard is demolished – he’d be very unhappy about that, since he gathered all the river stone from the trout streams he fished.
Unfortunately, all of those changes now need a version 3 renewal. Yikes, there are times when I feel like I’m yoked to Mr. K. toiling fruitlessly to further the project he started – and probably with the same limited skill set. Those are the times when I’d like to join Hen and look for a totally new experience! But Hen is a man of action – he will act on the decision that makes most sense. Me, I just like to dream!