My daughter found her farm today. Actually, a farmette for sale midway down the dirt (yikes! in winter) Plank Road a few miles outside of our wanna-be city (riding lawn mowers aren’t supposed to be urban accoutrements). Because my daughter has been unrelenting these past few days in chattering on and on about the farm vision, and because Christopher and I ourselves have similar pastoral inklings (our home on Grove Street, we agreed, was only temporary because of the postage stamp backyard, the busy city-ish street, the dogs who want to play Frisbee in the yard, the kids who want to climb trees and run around without worrying they might get run over at any moment by speeding traffic), I meandered around Meadville’s Realtor.com yesterday and came across the newly posted listing:
14.8 Acre Farmette. Beautiful country farmette includes charming house with hardwood floors, beautiful woodwork, 5-6 bedrooms and two full baths. Spacious kitchen features lots of cabinetry. 14.8 acres with large barn, two ponds and garage. Many fruit trees, flowers, and beautiful views! Many upgrades.
What the hell, we said. It’s Sunday, designated Family Day, and in decent weather, that usually involves a drive, bumping along the back roads in search of woodchucks, deer, and, on the off chance, some rural estate (aka Pottery Barn farm) for sale. No dilapidated fixer-up—Christopher can fix up an arugula and egg pizza, and I can fix up a fancy fruit tart, but termite-ridden support beams, sagging bay windows, and foundation repairs? So we drive and drive and drive, up and down hills and around curves, jouncing over the ruts (though also in hope that our two children will Please Be Quiet and drift off into some Family Day nap).
We drove out to see the farmette today and my daughter immediately spied the For Sale sign. “Is this our farm?” she asked, hysteria creeping in. “I want it! I want it!”
Of course, we hadn’t made any arrangements with a realtor to take a tour, but Christopher pulled up into the drive anyway.
“It can’t hurt to ask if we could see the place,” I said. My daughter, son, and I waited as Christopher knocked on the front door (no answer), then the back door (no answer—ah, yes, Sunday, Noon, church supper somewhere), and then finally, after ascertaining there was no chained-up dog or rabid cow on the premises, ushered us out.
I can say with surety, that from a distance, the farmette looked perfect. A big white farmhouse with a decorated gabled roof and front porch; a sweet row of pink and purple hyacinth in early, full bloom; a kitschy-cute, red chicken house (our own eggs!); and acres and acres of green fields.
“Oh, Daddy,” my daughter squealed as she ran over to an enormous tree stump, “this would be just perfect for tea parties.” My son followed her, jumped on top of the stump, and brandished his arm like a sword. “I’m king of the farm,” he announced. Down the hill, were the advertised two ponds and several apple and pear trees just putting on their blossoms. “Daphne and Athena could swim down there,” my daughter pointed, “and we could climb the trees.”
Christopher and I exchanged glances and then went to peek into the windows.
Oh, the horrors! Okay, maybe not that bad. But when your comparison model is a 120 year old giant stone house that you’ve now lived in for 10 years, which is generally orderly and clean, which has been decorated with some (hopefully) sense of aesthetic principles, which is beautiful with its original woodwork and generous rooms?
To see the farmhouse’s rooms clogged with stacked Tupperware bins, creepy Mother Goose wallpaper, and chintzy molding? Where were the hardwood floors? Where was all that cabinetry? The ponds, on closer inspection, were riddled with garbage and some weird, green run-off muck. The chicken house? We opened the door and found a strange house within a house, and in the inner house? Taped along the back wall, a calendar page with a sunset photo of a beach, and in the middle of the stall, a weird jerry rigged seat wrapped in a white sheet.
“Hey,” I said to Christopher, “that’s where you can put me when Momma Goes Mad.” I don't think he found it very funny.
It was at that moment that I felt a perplexing, low-grade panic and dread. You see, despite the farmettes drawbacks, I had already imagined myself living there—in part, because my daughter was hypnotizing us with her already-settled-upon moving plans (Where will we put the cat when we move? We’ll need a trailer. It would be okay if we moved by May but no later!). So as I was standing on the lawn, looking down at the road, all I kept thinking was: dirt road, dirt road, your friends would never make the journey in winter and winter lasts 8 months so you’d be stuck out here in the sticks alone and who the heck are you kidding? You’re a suburban girl from Long Island who grew up in a planned development. Chickens? Ponds to dredge? Acre-age? And what happens when the bat-shit-crazy moments descend? Will you (literally) run for the hills and take another wintery dip in a pond like you once did long ago in college? What about when darkness descends? And it will descend out here, every night, on schedule.
We buckled ourselves back into the car and drove off. From the backseat, as expected, my daughter, buoyant and energized, said, “I’ll make a For Sale sign for our house when we get home. I bet twenty people will want to buy it. And then we can move to our farm.”
“Why do you want to move so badly?” Christopher asked.
Reminder: my daughter is seven. She said, “I’m ready to begin the next part of my life. We can all start the next part of our life together.”
So I wonder what she wants to leave behind. I wonder what we all want to leave behind in contemplating a move away from the old—old house, old patterns, old behaviors, old craziness—to the new, the charm of the farm, verdant fields, strawberry patch, lambs on the hill, and Momma at home, knitting woolen socks, stitching kitchen curtains, not locked up in a hospital or chicken coop.