The Good-bye Gaze

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love well that which thou must leave ere long. (Shakespeare Sonnet 73)

The primary reason I’ve remained in Maryland for the past thirty-plus years is that I’m admitted to the practice of law only in Maryland. I’ve never sat for any other bars, never had a need to. But I also know that I tend to attach to places rather than to people. My mom had to move around a lot growing up during the Depression. She and my dad raised all seven children without once changing our address. I raised my daughter a mere four-hour drive from where I grew up, and she too, knew only one childhood home.

That daughter, though, has fallen in love with Oregon. As luck would have it, Baby Brother is tired of Montana winters, and thinking of moving to Oregon. He’s a master carpenter and sometimes general contractor, and we got to talking about my house. Every major system in this house–plumbing, heating, electric, windows–needs attention, despite regular maintenance over the years.

So I took pictures to try to explain to my brother some of the projects I’m facing here, and a funny thing happened when I saw my house in photographs. Yes, the floor needs refinishing, but that is the original tongue-and-groove yellow pine floor laid down by somebody who was probably born when King George III was still on the throne. That wall of exposed logs is American Chestnut, and we aren’t making any more of those since the Chestnut Blight came through a hundred years ago and wiped out the species.

I started scrolling back through my pictures, and instead of a tired little homestead, I saw beauty. I even saw splendor, and peace. I saw thousands of flowers down through the years, some dear old horses, and more cats than I can count. I saw a little girl who was mostly happy here, and a Mom was mostly happy too.

My brother’s advice was to move on. To leave the fixer-upper phase to somebody with the skills to tackle it.  But how can I leave this home that has sheltered me through so much? This little house where I’ve written so many books, where I’ve retreated from a hard, tiring world to the one place that is mine to make as I please? This has been the very best home for me, for these thirty years.

I’m going to fix the house up, both because I want a decent place to live for the foreseeable future, but also because when the time comes that it’s no longer the best home for me, I want to hand this property on to somebody who will fall in love with it as I have.

When you’ve faced a major transition, a move, a job change, a marital upheaval, what steps do you take to keep your balance amid the change and amid the emotions change engenders? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed quartet of the Windham Brides books.

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36 comments on “The Good-bye Gaze

  1. This post strikes home with me. Deteriorating health has made it difficult to continue to live in my home of over 40 years. One day I’m thinking I really would like to live in a much smaller apartment where plumbing and other household problems would be taken care of by someone other than me. Other days the thought of leaving my house just seems impossible – I love it too much.

    Well, I’m going to have to “pi** or get off the pot” pretty soon before it becomes someone else’s decision.

    No need to put me in the drawing. I already have all four of the Windham Brides books.

    • I wobble between, “Stay here as long as you can because every place will need maintenance and you’re happy here,” on the one hand, and, “For cripes sakes this is not the only place you can be happy, and it’s a needy house. Why must you always be in relationships that make these sorts of caretaker demands on you?”
      I’m trying to be patient, to wait for clarity, because whatever decision I make will be better for being sorted out. Meanwhile, I can work on the most urgent projects.

  2. Ahh…. We have lived in our for almost 30 years and the projects that need to be done can be at times pretty overwhelming. I have suggested moving and the husband says no– he likes his house and his land.

    We decided to make a list and prioritize what needs to be done. Last year we replaced the wooden stairs leading up to the back yard with stone stairs and a retaining wall. This year we need Windows replaced 7 or 9 depending on who’s counting. And the driveway….lets hope that gets done soon.

    When I get overwhelmed by the housework or the yard work, I look outside and remember watching my daughter swinging on the swing set, playing tag on the front lawn and sledding down the hill. Happy memories. I love to sit on the deck and listen to the birds in the morning with the dogs. We’ve celebrated a lot of holidays with our family and friends around the kitchen and dining roomtables Thinking of moving and actually packing up and leaving are two different things. I am happy if we can move forward and keep the house maintained. It’s a good compromise for our family.

    Am gearing up for this year’s work — need to make a plan…knowing it might change…and remember to take deep breaths because nothing goes as planned.

    • I think, “Nothing goes as planned” element is why my brother says to move on. This is an OLD house, by American standards, and much of the last renovation was done by an owner/shop teacher, who probably fudged the codes just enough to get the house through the closing. Who knows what I’ll find when the nice plumber/electrician/carpenter rips off the drywall?
      But I have to live somewhere, and I have the same sorts of memories you do. Oddly enough, my daughter hasn’t felt any need to come home. In thirteen years, I think she’s been back here twice. That ought to tell me something.

      • Dear Grace, my two cents in a tough situation involving something you have loved well. Sometimes, often times, there comes a moment in life when the reality becomes clear that it will be beyond your means to stay in your current home. A door opens and your divine guardian (whoever that may be, because we know too many strange things have happened in life that give evidence that there was “divine intervention”) helps you release your tight grip on what no longer serves you, so that you can go on to a new place, a better place for this point of your life (Oregon is a beautiful place and there may be G-babies). There you can find new ways of serving, writing, and creating a new home. I’ve been at this crossroad. I never thought I would have to do what I did. But things I had not foreseen happened to me physically, around me in my neighborhood, taxes going up more than 10% a year on properties, repairs, HOA fees increasing at 5% every year from her forward, political pressures to change residential areas by levying new fees/taxes, and much more. Only a few of these could have been foreseen. Guess what, it worked out much better than I thought it possibly could, and my finances improved as well. It has happened to many others around me. I think you are due for one of those years of change and leaps of faith. Let this beloved place fall into the hands of someone who loves it enough to realize that when you work on a historic house, three things break while you fix one thing, and for a few years that keeps happening, until one day, the place is up to code and where it should be, and a lot of money has flowed away, but they are young enough to recover financially from the project. That is probably not you. Oregon is calling you .. and the land is a lot like the place you currently love, remarkably beautiful. Listen to your brother, listen to your logical heart and follow your daughter, and make the leap. You will be rewarded, I guarantee it. The reward will unfold in ways you cannot possibly have imagined. It takes at least two years in a new place to make a home … you are at the perfect age to make this change. I wish you many, many blessings. (no need to put me in the drawing).

  3. I don’t own, I’m a renter. Have lived in 2 apartments in the last 30 years. So I made the move and downsized but always have my favorite possessions that keep me grounded in the unfamiliar.

  4. During the first 13 years of our marriage, we moved five times. The first time was out of our first apartment to med school, then it was on to residency about five years later–hubby got an MD and an MS–then to fellowship, then to a first house (a rental) and finally to this house. I learned to not get too sentimental about any place (the people, I did) and move on.

    In my mind, it was the people who were important, not the place. I loved the university town and during residency, we lived in my Mom’s hometown (and my grandma live six blocks from us and THAT was a real treat!). I HATED where we lived for his fellowship and was so happy it was only 16 months.

    Each time, I knew how long we would be there and was always prepared for it psychologically when we moved. Each step, each place meant we were closer to where we would ultimately finish. I think it helps to know where you are going and where you want to be for transitions to be smooth. Each move was part of a plan–and those plans were not always what we had planned to begin with–and that helped make the transitions make sense.

    We moved each time with small children–the last time we moved, our youngest son was in fourth grade–so making it as stress-free and calm and hopeful was important for THEM to have a good transition.

    • There’s a reason moving gets the number two slot on the list of life stressors (death of a loved on gets top honors). I can’t imagine having to up stakes with small children that often, but military families do it routinely. I am in awe of that kind of courage.
      The odd thing is, I’m not close to my neighbors here, I don’t have a lot of co-workers to socialize with. It’s the place itself, the natural beauty, the sound of the stream, the tons and tons of flowers I’ve put in.
      But then, I can plant flowers anywhere.

  5. Hi Grace. I wish I had a brilliant discourse to knock your socks off. But when I have a real problem about changes or unknowns I stay up stressing most nights. My blood pressure gets sky high and I can’t eat. Finally, after much stewing, I make a decision about what to do and how to solve my dilemmas.
    Are there actually people who make decisions easily!!??

    • I think there are people who have good decisionmaking skills. My process tends to be slow, and my transitions are baby-steps over a long period of time. I also avoid decisions by “doing both.” I’ll get two degrees rather than choose a major. I’ll work full time and go to school five nights a week. I’ll write and practice law. But I don’t have the means to maintain several households, so my usual dodge isn’t going to work this time.

  6. When my Dad died 10 years ago I inherited my childhood home. It’s not as interesting a home as yours, just a 1960’s ranch, but I’m comfortable in the location and had no other particular place to relocate to without being to far from family. It had the original small kitchen so for comfort in living & for the future sale it needed to be redone. It was amazing how much that would cost, even in the small footprint, so I ended up doing a bumpout addition as I had envisioned for years. It took me about a year and a half to start that process, and time to recover to get each additional smaller project done. Now I’m thinking about moving to someplace I don’t have to deal with much maintenance so am trying to go thru & get rid of things that have been here for 50 years. Getting rid of things can be emotional, so I have to be in the right mood to actually accomplish anything.

    • My whole family is indebted to my mother, who refused to accumulate stuff. When she moved in her mid-fifties from East Coast to West, that was the end of letting junk pile up. From that point forward, anything brought into the house had to be consumable, or replacing something that taken out of the house.
      I don’t have a lot stuff, but I’ve been here so long, that getting the place ready for sale will be headache. House beautiful, this is not, and that’s another factor that weighs in my decision in terms of next steps.

      • Clean it and sell it as it is. That’s what my gifted realtor has suggested to many of his clients (not me because mine was simply needing some superficial work). Ask for more than you really want – $10K to $15K more than you need, then use that as the buffer for requested repairs. The buyer can be given money after closing for requested repairs from this “overage.” This is exactly the same advice I was taught by Oriental, Jewish, and Czech friends — and it has worked every time!! Who knew? Probably you, because you are legally trained.

  7. There was a questionnaire that came out about the time I got married measuring the stress of different life events. My husband and I laughed over that as we had both been through enough that year to both be dead. Then things got worse.

    We’re both still kicking, laughing when we can, reading HEA when we can’t. Pinterest, HGTV and Imgur are great places to spend loads of unproductive time finding a few laughs between books.

    I like Oregon, too, but you know, wherever you go, there you are.

  8. Almost one year ago we left our Yorktown home of 26 years, our dear neighbors, friends and church. We moved 100 miles to Chesterfield at the invitation of our youngest son, his wife and children. Our home sold at full asking price in 2 days. Now, here’s the response to the question. We made a list of items that would require attention in 2008. The process began in 2009 with the roof. All areas that would make our home very marketable were completed by 2014. So, make a list and begin small completing one task at a time. Additionally twice annually I went through the house with a black plastic bag and a white one. In the white one went items that weren’t worn, used or looked at in the last year or longer. These items were for donation. The black bag was for anything that could not be donated but needed to be gone (in the trash). Finally, just do it. Just make a beginning. Some people struggle with decluttering not me. Our move went smoothly because I live for organization. Well, except for the 6 months we spent in an apartment while our new home was being built. Elephants lived on the floor above us.

    • That advice has the ring of “do-able-ness.” Get started, do something, wade in. There’s no downside to fixing the place up, and there’s a big downside to wandering around in my head doing nothing. Thanks!

    • Yeah… nothing like home improvement to liven things up and get rid of that pesky savings account. In a house this old, I could spend what it’s worth just making it cute. Let’s hope I don’t fall into that rabbit hole.

  9. Your home is very impressive! I would love to own a place with all that history!

    I cope with major changes the same way I cope with pretty much everything. I read. I do catch myself eating more comfort foods and re-reading comfort reads more often than new books.

  10. From scanning the photos in my laptop folder I apparently clean, sort, then rearrange the living room and dining room space; or repaint the bathrooms. Some sort of control and improvement of my sanctuary, with feline supervision. I’m in one of those clean, sort, then rearrange phases now.

    One friend with a Victorian home calls it her “until the pine box” . She will leave it for good only in a pine box.

    And that resonates, a deep love of place, a long term conscious act of creating a welcoming rejuvenating space.

    • For me, the house has been a retreat. There was never a partner here, I was the queen of the place, and it is organized (or not) according to my needs and dictates. I’m fortunate that I have tolerant/indifferent neighbors, and no applicable HOA baloney. This has been the one place where I truly, absolutely, have been the boss, at a phase of life where control otherwise eluded me.

  11. Staying seems like a wise decision. Such a wealth of memories and history you have there. I still miss my first home and the land there, and the first house that my husband and I bought. I’ve never grown too fond of my newest home. It just doesn’t have the memories.

    • There is that–I made my stand as a mom, a lawyer, a tadpole author, here, but I also had parents who were retired longer than they worked (they lived into their 90s). I’m not as healthy as they were at my present age, but I also didn’t smoke for thirty years (they both did). I’m trying to weight, “What if i live another forty years, thirty of them fairly functional?” and “What if I drop over tomorrow?” That is a dilemma that probably won’t ever go entirely away, until I do drop over.

  12. My favorite place I ever lived was the house I grew up in. I lived there for 15 years. It is quite expensive, I could not live there now. I live in a little house in the country. It is dirty and disorganized with white walls. But we can afford it. I live there with my husband and two very spoiled cats. I guess for me it is more the people and cats than the place itself.

    • Don’t get me started on the cats. When I moved in here, the farm across the road was still dairying, and there was a feral cat population. The farmers quit dairying and eventually sold the property, but the cats are still here. It’s complicated.

  13. Hi Grace, I’m in the process of reading your “Rogue of her own”… on chapter 15, and thought”I want to tell you how much I love it”, haha. So looked up your website & found this box, LOL. LOVE your style of writing and yes, love old houses too. Looking forward to more of your books.

  14. Hi Grace I’ve been away for 2 weeks so I have been catching up with your blogs.I am so happy to be home in my own comfy flat that I can be me and do or not do the chores that come with living in a house/home.The downside is that when I put the central heating on it didn’t start up.I did all the usual checks no joy ,out comes the search for a reliable repair man/woman.Out comes the old trusty electric fire.Out comes the warm woolly socks.Rain continues to pour down outside its cold it’s miserable but I’m home and the kettle has just boiled so a cup of tea is next.Things aren’t so bad after all’Home Sweet Home.

  15. I returned to the town where I was born in my early fifties because my mother needed me. In the last 25 years: my husband died; my mother died; I received a second degree and I discovered volunteering. I do the crime reports for the weekly paper and proofread the eight pages. I serve on the hospital board. I have been asked to serve as president of the historical society. I have a paid part time job which I am thinking of giving up because the other “stuff” is so much more fun! I understand wanting to stay put even though I could not wait to fly away when I was 18.

  16. It sounds a bit silly, but take photos. I have moved A LOT, and I take photos of my favorite things and places associated with that home. So, maybe it is the bench in the park around the corner or the view from a window, but being able to look at the photos anytime I want makes transitions from place to place much easier for me. (For me, it is the mundane details instead of beautiful things so nothing ends up framed or displayed in any fashion. Just pictures of things that mean nothing to anyone else but me but make me smile when I look at them.)

    • What a wonderful idea! I have pictures of the houses we lived in – but not favorite restaurants; soccer fields where my children played; the stables where my daughter and I rode; my husband’s sailboat; or even the houses across the all the streets where we lived.

  17. I’ve ended up moving quite a lot in my life (and I’m a woman of “an uncertain age”), and the only place I miss and still think of fondly was in the countryside of N. Va. where I lived with my now ex-husband. Probably not too far as the crow flies from where you are. Maybe it’s something in the air or the water there…

    So much love for your home came through in this post – I’m afraid it would feel like ripping your right arm off to leave it. 🙁

    And as far as my stress-coping mechanism – withdrawal into myself, meditation, solitude and reading. Your books are like a warm down comforter and a cup of hot, sweet tea. Maybe with some dark chocolate thrown in for good measure.

  18. Could you be a “House Counsel” in Oregon, with the kind of work you do? P. 56 – If you could get a job like that, it would buy you time to study for the Oregon Bar.

    The attorney shall be limited to practice exclusively for the
    business entity identified in the affidavit required by section (1)(c)
    of this rule, and except as provided in subsection 7(f) below
    regarding pro bono legal services, is not authorized by this rule to
    appear before a court or tribunal, or to offer legal services to the
    public. Participating as an attorney in any arbitration or mediation that is court-mandated or is conducted in connection
    with a pending adjudication shall be considered an appearance
    before a court or tribunal under this rule.

  19. Old homes are dear & precious treasures. Our family home was built in 1700 and was the setting for all of life’s happiness, trials, joys and desolation’s until a fire took it from us on October 29th, 2005. You give your heart and soul to an old home and she keeps it safe for you. She’s a comfort that wraps around your children when they come home. To visit or to run to when times are hard and the spirit needs bolstering. If you can hold on to that wonderful sanctuary, do so. I’d give everything I have and more to put my skeleton key in the lock and step through that old door to go home again.