February 2, 2010 dawned a cloudy, cold day. The snow that had fallen the weekend before was threatening to challenge our success in completing the final step of acquiring the old farm house and the ten acres upon which she rested. In anticipation of this closing event, to be held in the attorney's office in town, less than five miles from the snowed in pond house, we had been busy with shovels (not snow shovels, since I did not own such a thing) clearing the 400+ foot driveway. Of course, even with two, very long, neatly cleared ruts to the end of my driveway, I had no guarantee of making it out of the little subdivision, another 3/4 mile of dirt road, privately maintained and without luxury of snow plow services. Only then would we be able to discover whether the snow plows had cleared the BIG subdivision paved road, another 3/4 mile stretch required to travel before getting to "civilization" of the county two-lane, double-yellow-lined road. After that, it would be an easy couple of miles into town....
The acquisition of the old farm house had begun as a necessity -- a necessity to obtain separate living quarters, living quarters that could serve as a "safe house" from my then-estranged husband, who, although living separately in South Carolina for nearly two years at that point, continued his threats of burning down the pond house, with me in it, -- threats I took seriously. The details of the eleven-year "marriage" to this substance abuser/wife abuser are well left as a closed book today, but on that day, 2/2/2010, the anxiety level was high and I was determined to make that closing.
Our snow shoveling, my front-wheel drive car with my friend Joe at the wheel, and fingers tightly crossed, worked together to get us out to the main highway. Once at the main highway, we could see the county had, indeed, cleared the main arteries for easy travel. Before making our way to the closing, we had to do the final "walk-through" of the old farm house, so at the main highway, we turned left heading away from town.
The old farm house looked quiet and serene, if a bit lonely, blanketed with snow. Only twelve miles from the pond house, and closer to the water, the snow was not as deep as what we'd shoveled, but there were still several inches of the white stuff. We met the Realtor there and she walked us through the old place -- nothing had changed since our last visit, except, perhaps, a greater sense of abandonment. With the snow on the ground and the systems "winterized," the former owners having left under not-so-happy circumstances, the old farm house appeared sad. For 125 years she had been "home" to people. Under her gigantic sycamore tree, summers of oyster roasts and family gatherings were captured in the memories of the families who called her "home." And the swing set, now sitting idle in the yard, attested to the life that must once have made this place thrive. As we looked over the place, my last chance before signing the documents, I was fully aware that an incredible amount of work would be required to bring this place back to life, but I was compelled to create that living, thriving farmette.
After our final walk-through, we had just enough time to make the drive back into town and to the attorney's office. The closing took only about an hour. Disclaimers were produced and signed, explanations of documents were provided by the closing attorney and, despite the fact that this was the fifth home I'd purchased in my life, and the fourth home in Virginia, I listened as he explained each document. What with the snow side-lining most of the county, nobody seemed in a big hurry, and we had fun, sharing little stories and jokes, etc. And when the papers were all signed, Joe took a picture of the attorney, the Realtor and me.
With that closing began the next chapter... Though the winter of 2010 was nearly over, we spent many, many freezing, wet hours with shovels in hand, digging hundreds of feet of trenches throughout the property to divert water away from the old farm house and the much newer garage. We performed septic repairs and gray water diversions. And by the time Spring had sprung, we were able to move into the apartment over the garage.
Our "bringing her back to life" project was, of course, limited by available funds, work schedules, and legal battles etc. Our major Spring accomplishments were getting the beginnings of roads created, building fences, acquiring a couple of goats to help tame the incredible undergrowth in the wooded part of the property, and the sunflowers. With the intent of a morale boost during this rather awful period of time, Joe planted a couple of dollars worth of sunflower seeds. In his imagination, sunflowers would line the long driveway on both sides when summer arrived. While he was planting, I was laughing. He put so much effort into it. Each plant, carefully started in small pots was transplanted into its own little circular "garden." When he'd finished, I believe he'd dug more than 60 of these little garden spots for the sunflowers.
As anyone who has lived more than 50 years knows, life has way of changing our plans, throwing us curve balls. I received just such a curve ball on June 15, just days before I was due in court for another of the many "required attendance" dates in the process of a Commonwealth of Virginia divorce. It turns out my husband, whose attorney had been portraying him as "too sick to work" and demanding I pay him half my salary, had continued further down the road that had led to the dissolution of our marriage.... he had passed away from a drug overdose.
The rest of the summer is somewhat of a blur to me. I had surgery on my bum elbow, we proceeded with more "stabilization" projects at the old farm house, we prepared the pond house for sale, we tended to goats and gardens, and dealt with the legal fall-out of a husband passing away in another state. In fits and starts, progress was made, though nothing fell into place easily. Everything took longer and cost more than we'd planned. Still, we made progress.
Fall brought lots of travel for work for me, and torrential rain for Joe to deal with on the home front, pushing his renovation schedules back while he dealt with mother nature. And yet, he was successful, before we left for an extended cross-country trip, managing to get the floor torn out of the old farm house, the ancient chimney knocked out and removed, the deck/carport built onto the garage apartment, the eBay trailer wired and finished inside, ready to accept my merchandise, the semi trailer in place and ready to serve as a storage facility and office space, three additional carports erected to protect farm equipment and vehicles, and several roads made with road dirt/compaction dirt and gravel.
Our trip to CA was work related, but we took the opportunity to rent a truck and bring more of Joe's belongings back to Virginia from his place in California. True to form, the drive across the U.S. was filled with weather related challenges. We arrived back at the old farm house, four weeks after departing, with little time remaining to prepare for winter.
Cutting down dead trees, cutting and splitting the wood, making neat piles of firewood and getting wood stoves installed in both the old farm house and the garage became our primary focus. Along the way we managed to find some great deals on Craigslist, and we met some interesting people in the process. By the time the first snow fell, we were able to keep warm inside, enjoying the relative slow-down in work, playing games and jamming on our guitar and accordion in front of the wood stove.
Of course, there continues to be MUCH work around here. We have managed to get some interior work completed in the garage,and hope to soon be progressing on the raising of the farm house to restore the foundation and level the floors... but weather and such continue to keep us moving towards our goals...two steps forward, one step back.....
And here it is, Groundhog Day, 2011. Much has changed in a year. The pond house is still not sold...not a good market for really nice properties.... Unless the house is being foreclosed, it seems, nobody is interested in even taking a look. So we live between two houses, maintaining both and working toward the day when the focus can be completely on the old farm house. At least, for today, there is no snow on the ground... yes, we are soggy wet with rain, but no snow this time.
In retrospect, I have to laugh at life's little jokes. On April 1, 2002 I closed on the pond house..... though a lovely house, the April Fool's Day joke was on me. And, though we were supposed to close on the old farm house on January 31, our closing was pushed back to February 2-- Groundhog Day... Remember the movie? The main character was sort of "stuck" in the day..... Nah, I'm optimistic. The pond house will sell, or I will rent her out, the farm house renovations will move forward, and this time next year, we will be farming.... for real!