May 2013 through May 2014 was… well, I don’t really know how to describe it. An adventure? A blur? Absolute insanity?
As much as I adored my little gray house, it had its quirks. We’d leased it with the intention of buying it once we’d financially recovered from the accident, but enough had gone wrong during our first year to give us pause. And then, it happened. I don’t remember where the leak started, but there must have been water somewhere there shouldn’t have been because I called our landlord. He came out a couple of days later to try to help find the source of the leak. He, honest to goodness, tried to find the source of the leak with a dowsing rod. When he couldn’t, he asked me to try. I remember feeling bad for him as I noticed his hands trembling. He suspected what I did, I’m sure—the problem was not a small one.
When our landlord finally admitted he couldn’t find the leak, he called in someone to do the work. Eventually, a trench was dug in the yard to get to the pipes. As it turned out, whomever built the house had put it on a concrete slab instead of a foundation, and the drought the year before had caused the slab to shift, knocking pipes loose. Getting to the pipes was a time consuming and costly endeavor. Our leak was eventually fixed, but I’d made my mind up that I would not be buying the little gray house when the time came.
Apparently, about the time I was realizing I did not want to inherit the costly repairs I knew the house would need, our landlord’s wife was deciding she wanted out from under the house that had just cost them a small fortune.
It was my neighbor who broke the news. She lived in a matching house across the field from ours, owned by the same person. She flagged me down one morning to ask if I’d heard the news that our landlords wanted to sell both properties. She was upset and already fretting over where they would go. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was reeling nonetheless. No, I didn’t want to buy the gray house, but I didn’t want to leave it, either. I loved the lay of the land, my pond, my flowers, and my creek. We’d worked like dogs to finish fencing it. I loved that stinking house.
After I excused myself, I remember walking down to my favorite field and just sobbing. I mean heart-wrenching, belly-hurting, ugly cry. For the second time in a year, I was losing my home. Only now I had horses and goats and ducks and chickens in the mix. I’d told two separate friends I could take in their alpacas. (Before the accident, I’d been seriously alpaca shopping. When the accident happened, that dream died. Then the alpaca market crashed and I inherited a few.)
I’d pulled myself together by the time the landlord’s wife called me to give me the news herself. Not only did she want me to buy the house, but for almost double what I knew it was worth. We were already paying more in rent than any other house in the area. And still she was genuinely surprised when I declined the offer.
After a bit of scrambling and with some help from friends, we found a place to rent—right across the street. The driveway was so long and windy, we’d lived in the gray house for months before we’d even realized there was something back there. It was a small trailer with more land but less pasture. The entire property needed a lot, and I mean a lot, of cleaning and love. But we could keep our animals and the boys could stay close to their friends, so we agreed to a month-to-month rental.
About the time the deal was made, our landlord had called in a panic to tell us we didn’t need to move; they were willing to keep renting. I decided to pass, rather than risk the same conversation the next time our lease was due to renew. It’s been four years and they’re on their fourth tenant. So, yeah, we’d have been having an annual conversation.
Our new home wasn’t the farm I dreamed of—though it was better after I got rid of the raccoon who’d taken up residence while it sat empty—but the woods were lovely and there was much about the property I loved.
When we were in the gray house, we’d become good friends with the neighbors who had kiddos the same age as our younger boys. We’d even taken down a stretch of the fence between us so our horses and their steer could graze both properties at will. When we moved, the horses kept breaking out of their new, shabby pasture to go graze at the neighbor’s. Eventually, we just offered the horses to them with the caveat that they let us know if they ever wanted rid of them.
There were good memories to be had in our new home. I think I’ve worked harder there than I ever have in my life—it was a round-the-clock effort, cleaning up the property, building fences, and cleaning the home and outbuildings. As hard as I worked and as much loss as we suffered there, I still look back on it fondly. I took what I’d been given and made a home and found contentment.
That summer, my parents made the move from St. Louis to their own little patch of land in the Springfield area. Their new home was about an hour further south of us. It was gorgeous; I had to admit that I struggled not to be even the teensiest bit jealous. I don’t think the kids or I are particularly materialistic, but sometimes we do wish for the things other people take for granted. Still, they are things. We’ve lost everything more than once and still we walk on. As long as we have each other and we have God, it’s all good. But, back to my parents… The boys and I met my sisters and their kids in St. Louis to help them move. My mom has a lot of stuff; it was an all-hands-on-deck kind of thing.
One of the things she had was two wrought-iron end pieces for a bench. I don’t know where the rest of the bench was. I imagine the wood had rotted out at some point and she couldn’t bring herself to get rid of the iron, so it was left leaning against the wall outside. Somehow, I managed to knock those pieces of iron over as I fought to back a recliner out the door. They landed on my right shin. The pain was immediate and it was intense.
I didn’t want to hinder the move with a trip to urgent care, so I told everyone I’d be fine with a pack of ice. I was fairly useless the rest of the day. It hurts even now, just thinking about it. Crushing medical debt has defined most of my adult years, so I tend to avoid going to the doctor unless I absolutely have to go. You’d be surprised what you can heal with a bit of tea tree oil mixed in coconut oil. What that doesn’t fix, peppermint oil usually can.
But this, this was beyond the scope of my tea tree oil. Still, I hobbled around for a very long time, telling myself it would eventually get better. It wasn’t until the lymph nodes in my legs started swelling and the pain got to be too much to grit my teeth and bear that I finally caved and went to the walk-in clinic. They referred me to the ER because they suspected a blood clot had formed. The ER made me wait around for about a million years, talked to me like I was an idiot for coming in the first place, released me after giving me no help whatsoever, and sent me a $3,000 bill for the pleasure. More crushing medical debt.
So I lived with it. Whatever I’d done to my leg that day, it took over a year for it to stop hurting and two years for the bruise to heal. You can still see the dent in my leg if you look closely. I have a talent for injuring myself.
Football season rolled around, and I have to admit I was excited about Dylan’s 8th grade year. I enjoyed feeding the team before games and yelling myself hoarse at the game. We didn’t win much, but Dylan was a beast on the field and I was proud of him. Although I was starting to worry about him. He was exhausted all of the time, between football and homework. I was getting frustrated because he’d spend much of his day tutoring other kids and then he’d be up until midnight on his own homework after practice. We live so far out that the bus arrived at 6:30 in the morning to pick them up.
Perhaps it was being tired, but he seemed to get injured more from the onset of the season. And then came the game when he stretched out to make an amazing tackle that had everyone on their feet cheering. He held his arm funny afterward, but insisted on staying in the game. After the game, he mentioned his arm was still hurting from the tackle. I fretted over him for the next couple of days, and he assured me he was fine. By the end of practice the second day, he admitted his arm was still really hurting so I took him to the doctor. His “hurt” arm was broken. Dylan inherited my talent for injuring himself.
The broken arm ended his football season. If he’d been struggling before, he really was with his dominant hand injured. My child who had tested well past grade level heading into seventh grade—at Masters level in some subjects—was growing ever-more unhappy in school. After many conversations and much deliberation, he and I decided home school would be the better option for him.
The next upheaval came at the end of October, when our landlord decided not to rent to us any longer. Turns out she goes through more tenants that the first landlord did. That revolving door ended when one of her tenants got so angry at her that he burned the place to the ground. Apparently I have a knack for picking landlords, too.
Regardless, we were rapidly heading into winter and we were once again homeless with a farm full of animals in tow.
I can’t exactly say what thought process led to my next decision, but I was tired of being ousted from my home on the whim of another. I also had no desire (or ability) to be beholden to a bank for my home, either.
It just so happened that the piece of property adjoining ours was breathtakingly beautiful and happened to be owned by one of our church deacons. It wasn’t improved (read: no well, electric, or septic) but I had in my head that it was better to have a piece of land that nobody could take from me, even if it meant I had to build my home with my own two hands.
We made arrangements to buy this little piece of land and I got us one of the ready-built cabins that are increasingly popular in this neck of the woods. I still remember our deacon’s wife looking me in the eye. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Positive. I can see my children playing in that field. I want to make this our home.”
She knew how hard it would be to carve a home out of nothing. All I knew was that when we’d heard we had to move yet again, I’d been ready to give up. I’d asked my boys what they wanted to do. Did they want to pack up and move to the beach? Head west? I was game for pretty much anything since it felt like the universe did not want me here.
But my kids wanted to be here. They chose, hands down, to stay. What’s more, they wanted to stay on their farm. So we bought the land and tried desperately to get moved in before winter set in. We didn’t quite make it.
To be continued...
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.