This is the story of the day we bought our land … the day that our lives changed forever and we became homesteaders … the trip that started the journey. Written in 2008, I decided not to change a word (other than adding this first paragraph) because to do that would compromise its integrity and authenticity. Even the photographs are the unedited, and back then, I had no idea how to use a camera. So here it is, in its complete and unchanged form. Do you remember your closing day?
A more beautiful summer day, I had not seen in a long time. I don’t think the weather could have cooperated any more than this. Not too hot, not too humid — the air clean and crisp and seemingly washed by the morning dew and then dipped in the sweet smell of freshly mowed grass. It made us both feel alive, and it heightened the already existing excitement of the day. It was time to go to the closing and take ownership.
I had to tease him a bit before we left. I said, “Sweetie, is that what you are wearing to the closing?” Knowing that we were headed straight to the races afterward he had adorned himself with a pair of cut offs, a tee-shirt with some rude saying I will not repeat here, and what looked like hiking boots with no visible socks. “You may give the lender second thoughts about whether it is wise to go through with this thing.” He cocked his head and squinted with one eye brow up and said “The lender won’t be there. ” He hesitated a moment and added in a playful whisper, “You think they would question whether to lend all that money to a long-haired ex-hippy in cutoffs?”
“Well, that thought had crossed my mind,” I said, trying not to be authoritative. I decided to ignore it because I am sure he knows what he is doing. Besides, this is the kind of guy who is going to be who he is no matter what and he is not out to impress anyone. I can’t help but respect that. We loaded the truck, let the dogs out one last time making sure the instructions for the dog sitter where clearly written on the counter, and headed out towards Mount Vernon where the title officer awaited his arrival.
The road was wide for a two lane road, well paved, and freshly painted with bright yellow and white stripes letting you know when you could pass an Amish buggy or tractor and when you couldn’t. The sun was incredibly bright and a stiff breeze blew the little white pedals off the willow trees and, for a nanosecond, tricked you into thinking it might be snowing. On the left side of the road, meticulously manicured and landscaped lawns were showcased by lavish five and six bedroom dream houses with three car garages and stained glass windows mounted above two story foyers. Certain that these homes all looked perfectly picturesque on a winter greeting card with two feet of snow reflecting the colors from Christmas lights, I wondered if there was anyone in those houses making homemade blueberry pancakes. I don’t know why that thought crossed my mind. Just wondered what these people valued more than the house itself … maybe the breakfast they were having with their children in that house on that particular morning?
On the right side of the road was the occasional dilapidated old barn with planks missing from the walls exposing an empty loft, faded tin roofs, and rusty tractors parked forever close by and overgrown by weeds. Between the old barns, farmhouses with crooked porches and unidentified stationary objects (up to an including pink flamingos and spittoons) sat patiently waiting for some developer to make an offer.
He stretched his hand out flat over the gear shift that wasn’t there because it was an automatic and not a manual and showed me how shaky he was. A bundle of nerves, he said, “This is either the smartest thing I have ever done, or the stupidest.”
“Neither,” I said confidently, “It’s the bravest thing you have ever done.”
We fell quiet again, me wondering if he saw the admiration in my response and whether it made him feel any better if only for the moment, and him wondering still whether this was the right thing to do while, at the same time, realizing that it didn’t matter whether it was the right thing to do because it was simply too late to back out now … it was all but done, and if he stopped now and chickened out, he would lose self-respect and that meant even more than the respect of all his friends and family combined. So no matter how nervous or how apprehensive, he had to do this thing. Now. This morning. There was no more time left to think about it.
Deep down, he knew that it was the right thing to do, and he knew it was what he wanted for himself and what he needed to protect our future, but that didn’t make him any less nervous at the moment.
An hour or so later, we pulled into Mount Vernon. This small, quaint farming community — classic example of mid-west charm — was awake and active, people mindlessly tending to their morning routines like worker bees in the hive. We passed through the town square not quite sure where this title office was, and we passed it the first time. Going around the block, on quaint little streets with that down-home feel to them, we came back around the town square a second time and pulled into a spot right in front of the big-old-farm-house-turned-title-office.
We walked in the large wooden front door and were led toward the back room office by a wide hallway of old but beautiful hardwood floors with a long colorful runner. To the left was a large conference room that was clearly once an old woman’s dining room where all her children and grandchildren came for Thanksgiving dinner. The lady in the back office directed us to that room. We doubled back and went through the large wooden French doors to the once-dining-now-conference room. On the far wall hung a large framed poster with the history of the old house encapsulated in five photos and 500 words or less. On the long wall was an old fireplace long covered by sheet metal and painted over. In the middle of the room was a 12 foot long solid walnut table at which we were directed to sit and wait for the title agent.
We sat there alone for a few moments, nervously chatting about nothing important and occasionally chuckling at something the other said.
An attractive middle aged blond with soft curly hair came into the room. She was petite and classy and mild mannered. Her warm blue eyes smiled as she shook his hand, introduced herself, and sat to his left at one end of the table with the large picture window behind her. I was on his right, nervously chewing the spearment gum that I found in a basket in the middle of the table clearly intended for folk’s to help themselves. She opened a large, thick folder and began to explain to him what he was about to sign. He was about to sign away his life to guarantee our future in the most radical and unconventional way imaginable. That is what he was about to sign. She translated the legalese into English as she flipped through each piece of paper in the package, but the bottom line remained the same … he was signing away his life as each page required a signature or his initials acknowledging receipt. This was a good time for me to be very, very quiet.
No one particular page mattered, really. Expect maybe, the deed itself where his mineral rights were laid out. That was critical, of course, and on review, he saw that it said what it needed to say. What really mattered was that when she was done explaining and he was done signing his name at least 35 times that I counted, he was a land owner. Not just another homeowner. There was something more surreal about that. There were no keys to hand him. She could give him only the knowledge that the next time he laid eyes on his beaver dams or his waterfall, he could honestly say, “That’s mine.”
As we walked out of the building, I wondered whether to say anything. I thought, “No, let in sink in. Not now. Let him be the first to speak.” But I could not help it. When we got into the truck, I leaned over and kissed him and said “Congratulations, honey. I am so happy for you.”
We headed north, silent for a long, long time … headed to some other place in Ohio where we would met a friend and celebrate. As usual, there was not much that needed to be said. What mattered is that we were together and we both knew what had just happened. A sense of contentment over took us. It was time to relax. It was time to not worry for a while.
It was time to see the races and get on with this wonderful life. Together.