Friday, June 29, 2018

Part 3, Florida

We pulled into the pretty gated neighborhood with our convoy of vehicles. Even though I wasn't sitting on a quilt covered wooden settee beside Elly May Clampett on the back of the truck like Granny arriving in Beverly Hills, I wondered if the neighbors were thinking, "Oh no, there goes the neighborhood."

But it was a beautiful April day in Florida with low humidity and a breeze blowing from the Atlantic Ocean only a few miles away. And there was the excitement of unloading our furniture in a 5,000 sq. ft. house that would be our home for maybe a year while we looked for a two-bedroom house that I pictured something like the one below, with old Florida style and lots of character...

and with a small yard and unusual landscape, something with the uniqueness I saw below during one of our many house huntings.

Much later on I realized I was only dreaming but at the time I felt hopeful.

For three weeks I unpacked and rearranged. What woman doesn't enjoy nesting? I fell into bed exhausted each night.

After RH took the last empty box to the second floor, I thought I would at last have time to get back to blogging and to writing my stories. 

I had the perfect "writing room" to work in, even if the two windows looked right into our neighbor's garage wall. 

Our red leather sofa went in the room and an extra television, and I'm ashamed to admit that the sofa and the television were used more than my desk and computer. 

The muse rarely visited me.

But the laundry room was close to it and a powder room. Towards the end of the hot summer I spent most of my time there, discovering a channel with Law & Order reruns, a show I had never before watched. [A strange thing is that the only time I've watched it since moving back to Tennessee is when we lost Milo & Otis last fall, when it helped pass the time of being lost in grief.]

I carried my breakfast and lunch to my writing room and sometimes my supper too.

I did spend a lot of time in the kitchen simply because we had to eat.

It had everything a cook could want including all Thermador appliances, a large gas range that I was terrified of, separate convection wall oven, dishwasher, refrigerator. 

It had a walk in pantry, miles of granite countertops, cherry cabinets and the same Brazilian cherry flooring as the rest of the house.

I tried everything to make it look cozier, friendlier, but it never did.

Still, I cooked and cooked and cooked and took hundreds of pictures for blog posts I never wrote...

and set tables that no one saw or ate at but me.

But at least the kitchen was used daily. I think we used the dining room twice, when visiting family was in town. If you think that our furniture didn't quite live up to the style of the room, you'd be right.

The foyer became only a place to walk through, our foyer furniture nonexistent, gleaned from other rooms.

My goal of a window spot for a girlfriends' place for a tête-à-tête never actually being needed.

I chose the large master suite in the west wing for my bedroom, mine and Otis & Milo's...

thinking it would be nice for once to have all that space, much more than my small bedroom at Valley View. 

I ignored the fact that I had been used to RH's bedroom being right beside mine at home, our headboards pushed against the wall between us where all I had to do was reach up and knock if I needed him.

I could even hear him snoring faintly at home but here he wouldn't have heard me if I had yelled my head off, or I him.

My bathroom here was larger than my bedroom at home, with massive vanities on opposite sides of the room, separate water closet, huge stone walk in shower, humongous jetted bathtub, and two walk in closets. I carried a chair into the bathroom in case I felt faint and needed a place to sit down quickly. I could have easily put a sofa in there.

RH chose a bedroom in the east wing that got the morning sun with a bathroom and a window in the shower and a glass door that led to the outdoor shower. 

There was a small office for RH that he spent days organizing and then never used once.

Beside it was our guest room with another full bathroom. I began to consider moving to it but that seemed like far too much trouble, and I had wanted the big bedroom, after all. 

Six months later I spent all day moving all my things to it, and closed the door on the master suite.

Upstairs, I think RH told me, there were two more large bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. I kept meaning to go up there and look but never did.

I spent a lot of my mornings when it was cooler on the back porch...

tending a few pots of herbs and flower baskets while Otis and Milo did their business in the small fenced in grass area off the terrace. Sunday mornings were usually spent out here after our big breakfast of the week, the only one eaten together. RH finally had time to relax. He didn't have to worry about any yard care as an army of professionals came through regularly. I soon learned not to walk around the house in front of the big windows in my nightgown.

A grove of tall pines offered landing pads for unusual birds and I watched them and counted new hibiscus flowers that opened every day. I must not have made a full picture of this one but it bloomed magnificently all summer.

And every evening at 6 sharp there were carillon bells from a Methodist church nearby that played beautiful old hymns. I timed feeding Otis and Milo their supper early so we'd be outside for that.

The living room was large and was RH's television room, our big German corner sofa one of the few pieces of furniture we owned that actually suited the house, along with the large coffee table my father had made from Ponderosa pine water barrels.

Between it and the kitchen was the breakfast nook in front of a large window. You needed sunglasses there. We finally resorted to temporary paper shades. I'm sure the neighbors loved them.

For the first three weeks I was in nesting nirvana and the heat was bearable and there was a Mother's Day lunch with our daughter, son-in-law and his sweet parents at the beach, an ocean breeze cooling us off from what everyone kept assuring me was not a normal summer. That it was usually much cooler on the First Coast.

By Memorial Day weekend I was pacing from room to room, tears flowing, not sobbing, these strange tears that just seeped from my eyes as I whispered, "Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God."

I numbly wandered through the vast rooms, ceilings soaring above me, walls so far apart. I remembered my friendly walls at home that held me up as I sleepily moved from my bed to my bathroom in the middle of the night, in 8 steps, not 18.

I thought of the hills that surrounded my farmhouse on all sides and my daily habit of lifting my eyes to them. I thought about the three huge sugar maples that were a green umbrella over my backyard and about having missed the blooming of the huge Kousa dogwood outside my bedroom windows that in May became a bridal bouquet of loveliness.

[I know you may be wondering about all these "my's", thinking they should be "ours." Suffice it to say that at the time I was experiencing this, and writing it in my journal, I felt that RH had walked away from it all and so they were mine. And when RH read the rough draft for this post, as he does all of them, he was very emotional and I think understood for the first time the complete upheaval this was for me and why I had never before posted about it, but needed to. It brought about our first really good conversation about it. So all is good, okay? He understands.]

I thought of a son, our firstborn, who was also my neighbor, coming down the hill for coffee every morning, and many times for breakfast. Of another son who popped in often, and our youngest son, only 3 hours away from us back in Tennessee who used to bring his family to stay with us five or six times a year.

I thought of the days when RH would pop back home during the work day, as many as three times a day, and who now was gone before I got up in the morning and didn't return until at least 7 in the evening, often later, eat supper too exhausted to talk, then would shower and go to bed right after, six days a week and sometimes on Sunday.

I don't know what I would have done during the long days if it hadn't been for Otis and Milo. 

I didn't drive alone there once, too afraid of the heavy traffic and confusing new roads. Most Saturdays I was lucky if RH picked me up to rush to Publix and then back home again before returning to work. Otherwise we did that on Sundays.

On a rare free Saturday or on Sunday afternoons, we drove up the coast to three other local beach towns, me turning from side to side taking in the small towns that were quaint and funky...

unlike the town we lived in that was staid and stuffy with gates and luxury cars and office buildings, where I always felt I was a stranger in a strange land.

[I have to tell you here that this viewpoint is probably unique to me. My sisters and brothers-in-law who live in central Florida absolutely love visiting Ponte Vedra Beach. And our adult sons love to visit their sister there. I used to love to visit there.]

I lived for family times when my sisters or our children came to visit.

But when the time came for them to gather their belongings at the front door I was bereft again.

There never was time to explore other towns. I never once got to visit St. Augustine, the oldest city in America, full of history, that was less than 30 minutes down the coast. 

I never got to visit Fernadina Beach or Amelia Island, in the opposite direction, all destinations I had felt sure we would see. 

Twice we got on the interstate for Orlando a few hours away to visit my mother in a nursing home. [I won't count here our evacuation across the panhandle of Florida getting out of the way of a hurricane that year.]

There just was not time.

There wasn't even much time, for me anyway, with our daughter and son-in-law. Not their fault at all as Christy worked at her desk in Jacksonville from 7 until 7, and our son-in-law building luxury homes, a job that was pretty much 24/7, dealing with clients and subs. The one below near the beach, in progress, was one of RH's favorites and he became close to the nice homeowners.

The times we were able to spend with our daughter and son-in-law were wonderful and I'll always treasure those memories. [Perhaps I was spoiled by them coming up to Tennessee so often to see us previously? And we're very lucky that they still do.]

I enjoyed the Sundays when RH and I would get in the car and he would drive me across the Intracoastal Waterway. I felt something come alive in me when I saw the marshy grasses waving in the wind, the golden color that changed to pinks and greens. 

Whenever we crossed the bridge and turned into old neighborhoods, searching for that perfect two-bedroom old Florida bungalow with lots of charm, and wound around streets of older houses where it was like driving through shady green tunnels instead of down sunny wide boulevards lined with palm tree after palm tree, there were neighborhoods backed up to the marshes that I felt I could have lived in, with their small communities, if I could never see my Tennessee hills again.

It soon became clear that marshland neighborhoods were almost as expensive as beach town property. It began to look as if the only house we could afford would be an hour away from our daughter and from RH's job.

Elizabeth Buchan writes in The Good Wife Strikes Back, "My situation was hardly intolerable--I was neither oppressed nor abused--but my spirit was dented."

For nine months I lived in a house and town that people dream of retiring to, especially if they golf or fish. 

I was neither abused or oppressed but my spirit was dented.

As the months went on and on, I lost myself.

John O'Donohue writes that "Home is where you belong." I didn't belong here and I felt more and more invisible and completely alone except for my dachshunds. 

Those of you who have followed me for a long time and knew our home called Valley View, understood why I was not home here. I was as lost as our bits and pieces were in this large house.

When I end this series with Part 4, Home Hill, by telling you why and how we made our way home to Tennessee, I think you will see what a miracle it was.

And when you see our new home I think you will understand why we love it so much. Even if it is not your own "style," and it probably won't be, I believe that you will better understand now that it is mine.

And everyone should feel at home at home, shouldn't they?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Part 2, Valley View

On a September afternoon in 1990, RH and I drove down the long driveway leading to what we would name Valley View.

We were immediately smitten with the 1920 white clapboard farmhouse...

with the two barns...

the smokehouse...

 and the cow/chicken shed...

and the 24 acres of hills that hugged them, and the creek that ran through it, fed by a waterfall at the back of the property.

Everything made sense then, contracts falling through due to failed inspections on two other houses, fruitless weeks of searching to no avail, our mortgage money set to expire in one week.

Valley View was waiting for us.

For over 25 years we loved this secluded place, building on a second bathroom and dressing room...

gutting the first bathroom and rebuilding it, adding on a brand new kitchen...

and laundry room in a five-month renovation.

Making a picnic shelter out of an old cow/chicken shed that became the family celebration spot...

We replaced roofs and numerous other projects over the years, but one of the first things we did was make a dooryard cottage garden with a picket fence.

Our two younger children were only 9 and 11 when we moved to Valley View and these hills were their playground. They roamed it and so did our four grandsons, and later on two granddaughters loved to visit.

There were large cookouts back in the valley around a bonfire, with sometimes as many as 30 present, the brave ones trying out the big rope swing that flew out over the creek by the waterfall.

And of course there were 25 years of Thanksgivings, Christmases and birthdays there.

Our life took place at Valley View.

Once RH and I were in our 70s though, it all became too much for us. The large house too much for me and the land for RH. I prayed for someone young and full of energy to buy it and take care of it, not let it fall to wrack and ruin.

Maybe it was time to leave.

RH wanted to move away from the cold, from shoveling snow and from keeping light bulbs burning under the house and in the well house in winter.

He wanted to move to a beach town in Florida where our daughter and her husband live.

I wanted to stay in Nashville and find a sweet little cottage. I wanted nothing to do with the idea of moving to Florida again after the three years we lived there about three decades before.

This woman needs hills to rest her eyes on and four distinct seasons to accompany her throughout the year.

I flat out said no for a week but then gave in when it became clear that one of us was going to be very very unhappy if I didn't.

It always hurts to be transplanted but sometimes it's necessary.

A quote I wrote down years ago from one of Sarah Ban Breathnach's books led me to the books of Louise Townsend Nicholl. I said these lines to my house at Valley View many times over the years, not knowing that it would happen long before I ever imagined it would.

I will give my love to the house forever.

I will come till I cannot come, I said.

And the house said, I will know.

Louise Townsend Nicholl.

These lines broke my heart when I went down the steps with Otis and Milo...

and through my cottage garden on moving day.

I turned around 360 degrees, trying to remember it all, my house...

my gardens...

to the surrounding hills, and to our big Brown Eyes...

who would stay there with our son who had bought our house and who was driving one of our vehicles to Florida, and last of all to my firstborn son who was also my neighbor, standing there waving to me as I got in the car and we all pulled out of the driveway.

Before we had travelled 15 minutes, my brother-in-law in the large moving truck signaled to pull over, that the tires seemed wobbly or something like that. For a few minutes hope sprang in my heart. Was this a sign that we shouldn't go?

But on we went, the moving truck, RH's pickup truck pulling a trailer and my car.

It would be exciting, I told myself. A new beginning, a chance for RH to hand over to sons the stress of running a family business, and me from years of bookkeeping and answering the telephone, a job I would not miss.

Instead I would retire and RH would work for our son-in-law as a project manager. 

RH would have the beach time that he loved and we would explore quaint little Florida towns around us, something I looked forward to.

It would be an adventure, but would it be home?