It might have been Serendipity – we happened to be driving by, just Eric and I on our brief solo trip. Or it might have been the survey ribbons that went up across the road a few weeks ago – the suggestion that our neighbors who have been building a 5000 square foot house with a special dog-washing bathroom (no, I’m not kidding) are going to help finance that by selling off the plot of open land right across the street. Or it might have been the fact that our property tax assessment went up by nearly 2000 dollars this year – to almost 6K! Or it could be the fact that despite the face we’re peripheral to a flood plain that hasn’t flooded in 100 years, when our bank sold our mortgage last time, they forced us to up our flood coverage by another thousand bucks. But me, Miss “Someone has to stay and make right the places that aren’t perfect” is having thoughts about moving.
I don’t move because I do think you actually have to stay in place, and because I love my home, but I also don’t move because Eric would rather chew his own arm off, frankly. But this time, Eric is actually making the call to the realtor to go see the place. I’m not sure whether the increasing bills for house expenses or those survey ribbons drove him over the edge, but something did.
We were meandering through a small town not to far from us – we have friends nearby that we’d stopped to visit. Because we visit friends there regularly, we’ve been watching the local economy in this town evolve for some years – New York has a growing Amish community, and this town now has about 60 Amish families and is still growing. We’ve always driven throught he town and loved it and talked about how much fun it would be to live there. And across from a beautiful farm, was a for sale sign on an old house, one that looks not totally unlike ours, with 11 acres. Unlike our place, though, it has an enormous old dairy barn and the land is flat and fairly fertile.
We stopped, just for a laugh. It wasn’t serious, but we got out and walked around (the house is empty) and looked in the windows and the barn. And we laughed and drove away. And then we came home and a few days later looked again at the survey ribbons and received the flood insurance bill, and we started talking about it.
Today we drove up with the three younger kids to walk around – Simon had overheard us talking about moving, and it was upsetting him to think of a change. We figured that he’d be less upset if he could see the property and imagine what we are talking about, if he knew how far it was from synagogue (actually about the same distance) and most of our friends. And it did – he’s calmed right down. Isaiah and Asher were ready to move in the minute they saw the hayloft of the barn and the climbable maple tree in the front yard. It is Eric and I who are freaking out. It turns out that I like to look at houses, and to speculate with no intention of actually doing things. I don’t, so much, like the actual work of doing all this, of figuring out what the best thing is.
I don’t want to move. I really, really don’t want to move. I don’t want to do the enormous work of sorting out and moving our stuff. I don’t want to give up the fruit trees that are finally producing and the garden beds that we’ve spent all summer building. I don’t want to give up this place we know and the neighbors and community here. I don’t want to spend time on offers and counteroffers, estimates and budgets, insulation and moving vans – I’ve done all that. I bought a house. I built an addition. I did that stuff, and I’m done now.
But – and there’s always a but – I’m also thinking about it seriously. There are those 6K in property taxes – and our worries about New York’s budget and the possibilities of furlough or job loss. That’s a lot of money in taxes every year, and it is likely to get worse as our district struggles to cover things. There’s the flood insurance – we’d be out of the flood plain on this property, even though there is a creek. The cost of living here would be substantively lower.
Then there’s the neighborhood – slowly, gradually, the tight ties our neighborhood had when all the younger mothers in the community were home with their kids have decayed a bit as parents went back to work full time. Our long history of bartering and sharing with our neighbors has fallen apart – not because we don’t want to offer, but because they feel they can’t pay us back anymore. We are still friends, still share things – but we’ve started to feel more scattered, less integrated into each other’s lives – once we might not have been able to leave, now I think we could.
There’s the land across the road – in the nine years we’ve been here, three more houses have gone up on our road, and many more in the development across. They are nice people, but the rural character of our town is changing into something more suburban. We can live with more neighbors – but the privacy that we’ve had here is more a part of what we long for than I knew. That can happen anywhere, of course, but it is happening where we are, and agricultural neighbors, the kind that are building up our neighborhood, are rather different than suburban McMansions with dog-washing bathrooms. Or maybe they aren’t – people are people. But it seems that way sometimes.
The house we own is too big – even with one housemate, it is simply too large for six people, two of whom don’t want to spend any more time cleaning than they have to. It was right when Eric’s grandparents were living with us, but they are gone. We could take in more housemates, but it is difficult enough to live happily with friends – we could do it with strangers, but we’re a little reluctant – we worry about the dynamics in our happy home. Phil has been a delight and a blessing – but it took us nearly two years to find him.
The place isn’t perfect – it would need work – and so does our house if we are going to sell it. I shudder at the thought. All of a sudden, my whole life would be selling and packing and moving and making things pretty – I don’t want to do that, I have other things to do And how can I leave my garden, the trees just starting to fruit, the pets buried in the front yard, the memories of Eric’s grandparents? How can my kids who have known no other place move? The very thought is depressing.
But the thing that draws us most is the fact that because of the large Amish community, there’s an emerging walkability and bikeability that my area lacks – by necessity, the community is being rebuilt to a horse scale. I chatted with a neighbor, out mowing his lawn across the road. He greeted me with a broad smile. I asked about the house – he told me he’d been born there, and that his father had lived there until his death. He told me about sliding down the banister, and about the inside, which we haven’t seen except through windows.
I asked about the community – was it friendly? Oh, yes, he said, and listed off activities and things they did. Were there children? Yes indeed. How are the neighbors – excellent, and his new Amish ones, he said, were the best and kindest neighbors he’d ever had. Everyone knows each other, and they all lend a hand when someone gets sick, as his neighbor down the road did. As I headed back to the car, he waved and said he hoped he’d be seeing me again.
The house is old and underinsulated. The barn needs work, and setting it up for the goats and making it safe for the kids to roam will take more than a little time and money. The place isn’t perfect. And it comes with the painful necessity of moving. But the mortgage would be even smaller than this one, and the property taxes and insurance halved. It is less land but more fertile land, flatter. Less wooded, but older woods, with more hardwood.
I do not want to move. Part of me wants to cry at the thought of devoting so much of my time and energy to that project, and even more of me wants to cry at the thought of leaving our creek, our land, our soil, my lovingly tended gardens – even if there is new soil and gardens and a creek where we go. This has been home, and that place is strange. And yet, there’s a tipping point, a point when new possibilities start to seem possible.
I’ve got shelves now in my kitchen for my jams and jellies and bulk foods – it took six years to get them. I’ve got shelves in my dining room for my enormous collection of gardening and cookbooks – they were a birthday present when I turned 35. I’ve got my garden beds – and they are fertile. We’ve got a fence around the yard so that Eli can run. We have a cistern and a well pump. We have our pastures and our barns. We even have a sign. The sign could go with us, and so could the pump, but it feels like losing ground – we are just, finally making this what we wanted. The only problem is that things we can’t build or repair or mend or improve seem not to be working around us. We’ve got our fingers on everything in our control – but what’s out of it has an increasingly large say. But maybe that’s how it always is, maybe that’s how it would become if we were to move.
Most of all, I want to be home. And I wonder – how much do I believe in staying if I allow the cost of living here and the limitations of a neighborhood I did choose to drive me away? Is this a moment for courage of convictions or to make a change? Is our home, our farm this place, its land and its building or can our home, our farm move with us, and our sense of comfort come too? How do we tell? I have, frankly, no clue.
I really don’t. We’re seeing the inside of the house on Thursday afternoon, and in the meantime, Eric and I have been snapping at each other. We’re both in a panic – because we’re sort of serious. And we both have no idea what that means.
Here’s a picture of the house we’re going to look at, btw – you can’t see the enormous dairy barn:
Further updates as events warrant.