“Beyond myself, somewhere, I wait for my arrival”
The Balcony, Octavio Paz
Holderness, New Hampshire
Driving up the mountain to meet the moving van I wonder what have I done? Despite the cold incessant rain nothing dampens my spirit. I take a deep breath and look out at woods and fields no longer illuminated by the foliage season’s gold, red, and orange sugar maples. Now those trees stand bare-naked and only the army of evergreen firs, arranged like soldiers up the mountainside, offer color till spring. As I pull into the dirt driveway of my new home a thrill races through me displacing any doubts I might have.
My new home is a converted barn, built in 1845. It originally belonged to the small farmhouse sitting across the road, part of the farm owned by the Morgan family for close to a hundred years. The property sat empty for many years, perhaps due to its gothic history. In the dead of a particularly cold January night early in the nineteen sixties, old man Morgan followed his wife into the woodshed and killed her with an ax. The town gossips allowed they could not think of what that poor woman did to drive her husband to commit such a horrendous act. He was, by all accounts, a quiet man.
The farm sat abandoned until the early 70’s when it was purchased and subdivided into house lots running up the mountainside. The barn, with a roof “you could throw a cat through”, was purchased by young couple, who I am told, were delighted with the challenge of renovating it into a home.
I first see the partially renovated barn on one of my exploratory drives around Holderness, dreaming of a future that includes moving up to New Hampshire when my divorce is final. I stop my car and look at the place, its lovely gardens filled with flowers, vegetables and herbs. It is love at first sight, even though the place is not for sale. A year later a realtor phones telling me the barn is now on the market and would I like to see it? I make plans to drive up the next day.
The realtor is waiting when I arrive. She begins her pitch outside the house with some basic information. The structures footprint is forty-two feet by forty feet and it is three stories high. The sharply pitched roof is newly shingled. A plus I think, remembering the “cat through the roof” story.
The siding is weathered wood planks of some age Old reclaimed wood must have been used for repairs. Drab, I think, but easily fixed with a coat or two of paint. Inside, I am told, the space is divided into three apartments with storage and garage space in the connected shed.
“ Shall we go in , the realtor says?”
I follow her up at ramp at the second floor level and enter the barn through a Dutch door leading directly into the first apartment, a large space divided into a kitchen, dining and living room open to the roofline. Eight large windows, two on each wall, bring the outdoors in.
The bathroom is in a small room off the kitchen. Next to the bathroom door is a ladder leading up to what I learn is a loft above the kitchen used as the master bedroom. Climbing the ladder I wonder about using the bathroom, in the middle of the night, quickly dismiss the idea of a chamber pot. and know replacing this lovely ladder with some stairs is in my the future.
Now, standing in the bedroom I see the a wall of windows used to replace wooden doors that once welcomed hay bales. These windows offer views over the fields and up the mountain framed by the sky. The wall opposite the windows is planked horizontally with dark wood where a large wagon wheel hoop framing an intricate macramé of the Tree of Life hangs. The sides of the room are half walls, fashioned as open bookcases, barely tall enough to stop anyone from catapulting into the rooms below.
Retracing my steps through this first apartment I note the exposed rough hewn beams, some twelve inches square, with X’s and V’s marking holes where wooden pegs are affixed to connect the beams and form the skeletal frame of the building.
A handmade wooden door at the far end of the living room opens onto a landing and another door leading into the second apartment. Like Alice though the looking glass, I step over the threshold and once again find myself in a light filled living room. This ceiling too is open to the roofline. Stairs leads up to bedrooms lit by skylights. Behind the living room is a full bath and a second set of stairs leads down to a brick floored kitchen/dining area.
A third apartment, a studio, with its own entrance, shares space with a laundry room and is located on the first floor at the rear of the garage.
By the end of the tour this eccentric and charming home has captured my heart and imagination. With its multi-level design and different layouts in each apartment, its skylights and multitude of windows, and the organic beauty of the natural maple board counters, bark still forming their edges, varnished to the color of dark honey, in kitchens and bathrooms, it reminds me of a giant tree house!
Spurred by my passion for the house, and ignorance about negotiating, I offer the asking price, bypass having the house inspected, and sign the purchase and sale agreement. The offer is accepted with the caveat I cannot take possession until mid-October, no little inconvenience as I have kids to get started at schools in September. But, even to this, I acquiesce. Only later will I learn the wisdom of a house inspection as I write out checks for a new furnace, a septic system, a roof, and a deep water well.
After camp I tell the kids we are now living in New Hampshire, and drive them to see the house and new school. They greet this event with uncharacteristic silences. But the deed is done and anyhow, what can they do?
The first day of school comes and goes. The kids sign up for sports, begin to meet other kids, and I breathe a little easier, although all that month we are commuting from our trailer, twenty miles up north, living in limbo ,until October fifteenth. When that day arrives, I drive the kids to school reminding them when I pick them up we will be going home to our new house.
“Ya, see ya, bye Mum” comes their reply.
I drive to the bank, and in a blur sign the legal documents. In less than a half hour it is over. The house is mine. All mine. The bank officer hands me a small white box holding a brass door plaque engraved with Midge Gordon on it, and the lawyer representing the seller hands me the keys to my new life. As I slip into my car I feel like I have been holding my breath for hours. When I finally exhale, my body goes limp. As I drive up the mountain to wait for the moving van the old familiar surge of energy, my secret weapon for survival, races through me
I enter what is now a barren, icy cold house. Thankfully, the electricity is on. I push up every thermostats I can find, praying warmth will quickly flood the rooms. I am shivering and wonder if it the cold, or the return of that nagging inner voice, my conscience, reminding me of how profoundly I have altered all our realities.
These thoughts disappear with the sound of a loud engine groaning its way up the mountain. The movers have arrived! I lean out over the deck assuring the men I am their destination. I watch them unbolt the van’s back doors, fling them wide open, and swiftly begin unloading its cargo.
Like a circus ringmaster I direct the men as to the placement of furniture and boxes in every room of each apartment. The men are perpetually confused by the set up of the apartments. It is the first indication of how people will see the set-up of this house, confusing, but what the Hell, I know where everything goes.
It has been decided my16 year old daughter, Jamie, gets the studio apartment, the kids, Liz, 14, and Max,12, will live in the brownstone set-up, and me, the loft with the ladder! Finally, a room of my own!
Within a few hours the movers are done and the paperwork is signed. The van’s engine grinds into first, then second, before disappearing down the hill. I am left amidst unopened boxes everywhere beckoning me to ‘do something’, yet unable to begin. The reality of moving us away from everything and everyone familiar, once again, hits me. I take courage thinking of my grandfather’s decision to flee his home, in the ‘old country’, where the pogroms visited by the Russian army on the Jewish ‘schetl’s” threatened the lives of every man ,woman and child. As if this wasn’t enough, next came the conscription men over sixteen into their armies, but the truth was the men were sent to labor camps and almost a certain death. It was these events that forced my grandfather to run for his life, leaving behind everything familiar, and o embark on a journey to the unknown, a new life in America.
I too am fleeing, although not from religious or political persecution, rather from a life defined by the emotionally troubling and controlling relationships born of being ‘his’ wife and ‘her’ daughter, a life years of therapy have proved impotent to quell. It is only with the appearance of a new man in my life I find the courage to leave them both, along with the old life, running towards a romantic dream of a new and perfect life, only to learn the journey is the challenge to discovering who I am.