My family and I have just celebrated the tenth anniverysary of living in our farmhouse. We moved here on May 21st, 1999. I remember the day precisely. It was a beautiful day – sunny, clear, and not too hot. Julia was ten months old. The Farmer and I had bought this place is May of 1998 – a few months before our child was to be born. We found our place through our friend Will, who happened to be a realtor. His family has been a friend of The Farmer’s family for many decades.
The Farmer is from “here” – that is western Massachusetts. He grew up on a dairy farm in a town on the northern Massachusetts line, just south of Vermont. That farm has been in his family since the early 1900’s. Me? I had always been a visitor “here” – not really belonging – but always wanting to. I first came to this area in 1979 on a trip back from college in Oregon. I immediately fell in love with the place, the hills, the farms, the vistas, nature. It was so different than from where I grew up in the suburbs of northern New Jersey.
In February of 1998 when I was five months pregnant with our only child, I got a phone call at work from The Farmer. He said that our friend Will had called and told him that “The Britton Place” was for sale. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. All I knew was that he was telling me that we had to place an offer on this place and immediately - right then, over the telephone.
My Farmer has been known to buy a truck in about ten minutes. If he knows what he is looking for, he doesn’t waste time hemming and hawing about whether the decision is right or not. He just goes for it and deals with the consequences later. This trait of his is admirable but can be a wee bit frustrating to live with – especially when dealing with big ticket items like real estate. In the back of my mind though, I know he is almost always right, whether it is an instinct thing, or not.
And so, when he called me at work, pregnant and stressed, I took the call in the warehouse of the yarn company I worked in. He sounded determined and I asked him if perhaps I might be able to look at the place he wanted me to buy and live in eventually. Within a few minutes, he called me back. We were to see the place the next day in the early afternoon.
When I got home, I asked him what there was about the place that made him want to buy it. The Farmer said that his mom, Betty, too had wanted to buy the place one of the few times this place was for sale. It was the late 1960’s and her husband had just died. She was left with three boys ages 12, 8 and 4. This place, "The Britton Place" as it is still referred to by long-time locals, was for sale and she thought it would be a fresh start for the four of them. The three boys didn’t agree – they wanted to stay at the farm they had always known, a place that had been in their father’s French Canadian family since the early 1900’s . And so Betty, my mother-in-law, had bowed to the wishes of her kids and didn’t buy “The Britton Place.”
And so now it was our turn. We made an appointment for the next day and I skipped out of work early, not mentioning a word about where I was going nor what I was thinking about. We drove on the winding back roads from eastern Massachusetts, through southern New Hampshire and then back into western Massachusetts. The ground was thawing and “frost heaves” were appearing. For anyone who isn’t from “here,” frost heaves are giant bumps in the road, any road. They are similar to asphalt speed bumps, only they are made by Mother Nature. The frost heaves climb out of the road haphazardly… making riding in a car for any pregnant woman totally uncomfortable. As you drive your car along, you may find yourself flying over a jump at any time. I’ll never forget that ride – anticipation and frost heaves.
We made our way to western Massachusetts and then met up with our realtor friend Will. We followed him up and down the winding dirt roads of the hills. I was excited, as I always am when I am visiting a home – any home – whether I am thinking of living in it or not. It seemed a lifetime until we arrived. We climbed up a twisty, windy road, through a farmyard and then down the other side, past some ramshackle barns and past an old house with a driveway full of trucks, past a field dotted with decomposing farm vehicles... As I looked out the window, I could see forever – all the way down to Springfield, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Slowly, we crawled lower into the valley….. Soon, we pulled up in front of a grey painted cape style house. I looked at the house and quickly dismissed it. It was like so many I had seen in New England – small and compact, set sturdily into the hillside. There was nothing grand about it – it just looked snug and neat and safe. And then I looked at the landscape – it was breath-taking.
I was captivated with the idea of living on the side of that hill. I sat there for a minute – looking at the hills, sensing the peace and quiet. I looked at my husband and said, “Oh, I see what you mean…. We can buy it.”
The rest of the afternoon was a blur. We went into the house with Will and we looked around. The house was definitely solid and sturdy. Will said it dated to 1751 although deeds from those days are so unspecific that it’s difficult to know when a particular house was built. There was a giant fireplace in the living room made of brick. To the right was a domed “bread oven.” Jersey girl that I was, I had never quite been in a house like this, except for house museums. It all seemed fine to me – nothing exceptional – but a place I might be able to make into OUR home.
It was the setting that was “it” for me. It was isolated, but not too isolated as to feel cut off from the world. The dirt road was curvy, steep and rugged, unlike any place I had ever lived before. And the view when you stepped from the door of the little cape was beyond beautiful. I could feel the wildlife stirring even if it was all hidden in the abandoned apple orchard that edged the overgrown pastures outside the front door.
We went back to Will’s house and I called my dad. I told him about the place and asked him what to do. He asked me “Well, Kris, do you like it?” (My parents and my sisters are the only ones I allow to call me "Kris"! I can still hear my dad saying it, even five years after he is gone.) I said “Oh yeah. It is just what we are looking for.” I asked him what we should offer. He told me not to quibble. If we liked it, give them what they wanted and be done with it. My Dad always gave me the best advice and for that day’s, I am very thankful. I hung up the phone and The Farmer and I put together a full-price offer with Will.
We drove back home to Pepperell, Massachusetts where we were living. When we got back home we had a phone call from Will that our offer had been accepted. I went to bed that night not knowing what the future held. I was just a couple months short of 40 years old, pregnant with my first child, and totally ensconsed in a creative job I loved. I doubt I slept a wink. You never know what the future holds, but that night it seemed all the more uncertain.
Now it has been eleven years since we bought our place and ten years since we moved here to live. I’ve grown to love our farm and our area more than any place I ever have. I’m glad we took the plunge and decided to change our lives. Change isn’t always easy but it is good. For us, we have found ourselves living amongst wonderful people, interesting community and beautiful nature. I’ve had a lot of people write to me over the years I have had this blog, asking me how we ever made the decision to move to the country and how difficult it was. Did we have any kind of plan? All I can say to all of you is, sometimes it’s not planning that shapes your life. Little decisions can end up being big moments. Things happen that you have no control over and you have to go with them – see where they take you.
Our move to the country was partly a financial decision – we had two homes and couldn’t afford both of them. We had a new daughter born with a disability (hydrocephalus) and I wasn’t able to go back to my full-time job because someone had to stay in the hospital with her frequently, take her to myriads of doctor appointments, care for her. We didn’t intend to move here as quickly as we did. We thought we would save some money and move here when Julia was about five.
Sometimes when things present themselves in certain ways in your life, you just have to go with your instincts and follow them where they lead you. Our instincts led us here, to this farm and what we are doing now. It’s been a great adventure.
So nice to have you all along for the ride…. Thank you all, my loyal blog readers, for reading and sharing our life on this farm for all these years.