I don’t belong out here in the country, six miles to the closest village, eight miles to a village with a supermarket. Everywhere I look its farms: produce and cows. I’m from the suburbs of Long Island where it’s a ten minute trip to the mall, and one that has a Macy’s. My home was a two block walk to Broadway and it was a ten minute drive to the beach. There’s nothing like the serenity of the ocean.
I would proudly say I raised my kids on the beach. As a SAHM, I use to pack them up, four kids, pails and shovels, drink boxes and sandwiches, and spend a good part of the day sitting on a blanket watching them jump the waves and build sandcastles by the shoreline, several days a week. This never got old.
Now, here I am, on land that once was surrounded by water, long ago irrigated for farming, many miles and bridges away from my ocean. I’m a transplant from Long Island to Pine Island. When water is in the fields it means trouble, specifically: flooding.
I traded the house on the island for one double the size two years before nearby, in the village. I traded the beach for a built-in pool in the backyard, I traded a cape for a colonial, and traded the mall for an easier lifestyle. We weren’t up here a year before the broken marriage crumbled and the home was ordered to be sold in the divorce. Then, there I was a renter, throwing my money to the winds each month, something I hadn’t done since my twenty’s. I had to do something. Signing the lease I gave myself a year to make a plan.
My friends from Long Island were surprised I didn’t pack it in and return, but they didn’t know just how empty my wallet was. I told myself and I even told them, I’d never go back to living where parkways were parking lots, that I hated the congestion, the pollution, and the pace I’d left behind. Although I was going through withdrawal from swimming, pool then gone, and the days spent on the beach, the life the children and I were accustomed to was already traded away. I knew to survive as a single parent I had to buy a small house in the country. Long Island was beyond my reach.
When we first relocated up north, with the youngest of four starting school full day I did find myself a job, part-time, fifteen hours a week with the school district, summer’s off. It was good hourly pay, no benefits, pocket-money that I didn’t spend. It was cash in a shoebox. As it turned out, it was my survival money before child support kicked in. I had a lousy lawyer. I didn’t receive alimony and each year my child support decreased as his earnings were less. My thinking wasn’t quite clear at the time. I had become quite depressed. Those little pills were just enough to keep me from killing myself, as those thoughts grew more frequent between being served papers and him actually moving from our home.
While living in the rental, without health insurance, I gave up the antidepressants and focused on finding a home. I focused on survival. I took on another part-time gig with the school district. I had a small amount of cash from the sale of the village house. I was going to make it work. The rent on the apartment was fifteen hundred a month and I knew if I were to stay more than one year I wouldn’t have the money to buy a house. I looked as far as an hours drive, then realizing the further I went the greater the likelihood of having to find a new job and the further I’d be from my brother’s family.
Then I found this little farmhouse, what a horror it was, all 840 square feet of it! It was so bad I didn’t allow cameras. When I entered the house, straight ahead from the doorway was the furnace, right there in the middle of the kitchen. The only bathroom, no more than 20 years old, was so small you’d need to sit sideways on the toilet to close the door in front of you and there was no bathtub, (talk about giving up water) only a standup shower if I say it was 3×3, I’m exaggerating. I’m guessing their thinking was “It was better than the outhouse.” I had my friend Randy, an engineer from NYC come up to look at the house. I asked him “Tell me, is it standing by more than the grace of God?” And after checking things out and jumping up and down without falling through to the crawl space beneath, understanding my circumstances he said “It’s okay, buy it.”
The hundred year old farmhouse in the ‘blackdirt’ it’s original listing price was $86,000 reduce to $69,000 when I found it. It had one offer and I second with an offer of $54,000, which was too little until the other deal fell through, and the old blind widow said to me “A thousand dollars more, honey, and it’s yours.” She then, once again reminded me her late husband’s bicycle was not included in the sale. I didn’t haggle. With what remained from half the equity awarded me from the village home I paid all my debits, had 5% left to put down, and applied for a mortgage.
I’ve been restoring the old farmhouse these past eight and a half years. The first month the oil burner was moved, tucked away under the stairwell where it belonged and the bathroom was torn down and expanded. I’ve laid a lot of tile and replaced lots of crumbled dry wall. I added a pellet stove for efficiency and comfort. I had damn near the whole house rewired. The mortgage and taxes here are affordable, a little over $500 a month with a fixed 15 year mortgage, the house is now more than half paid for. It’s not much this little farmhouse but it is everything: it’s how I survived. The farm, raising crops has become my sanctuary which was once the beach.
Each year we take our summer vacations usually camping on Cape Cod, sometime Delaware, sometimes Maryland and even Florida, always to the water. In better years we have stayed at a resort and last year I rented us a beach house on the Cape for one of our weeks away, with the kids all grown up now; it maybe our last year away together, our last hoorah, so I splurged.
I did, some years ago, find myself a kind man, a local, who so lovingly refers to me as “his little city girl.” even though I repeatedly correct him, telling him I’m from the suburbs. He also enjoys making fun of my accent; one that for some reason sounds more like Queens than Long Island. Having him here has been a great part of turning this old farmhouse into a home: his laughter, more than his muscle. There may not be much, but when I stop bitching about the lack of space and start counting my blessings I find: love and happiness here on the farm.
What more can this city girl ask for? Unemployed: week fifty-two and I can still pay the mortgage.