Van Chronicles – Chapter 17

House on the hill

As I flip through the calendar pages of 1996, there’s not a lot to choose from between the piano and violin lessons, kid sleepovers, dentist and doctor appointments, and trips to the park until we come to June 25, which has MOVING DAY scrawled across it. Lock, stock, and barrel, we were picking up and moving up the coast, to Massachusetts, about an hour north of Boston, which, if nothing else, meant we were still going to be in Van territory. It’s not that I would choose where to live based solely on how frequently Van comes to play, but by the same token, I don’t see me moving to Montana or Missouri anytime soon either.

Talk about easy. We were able to sell our Connecticut home before it even got on the market. The buyers were thrilled with it and could hardly wait to move in. Up in Massachusetts, we’d found this great farmhouse, and I was about to get my dream come true. That was always my dream when I was a kid – to be a farmer when I grew up.
As a kid, I spent a lot of my summers at my grandparents’ farm in the Eastern Townships in Quebec and would dream about how one day I would be a farmer too. Harvesting the crops and eating all that good food. So here was my big chance. Now that push had come to shove it was a bit of a “careful what you wish for” thing, but with only seven acres to worry about, surely I couldn’t mess it up too badly.

So all we had to do was move.

There were no murders or suicides, so, truly, it could have been worse. But not by much.

1. The moving truck is too big to get up the driveway.

2. The Tin Man
“But the sales guy said for sure if we went with the smaller truck, there’d be no problem.”

3. There are no magicians in the house.
“I don’t know what to tell you, lady, but this truck ain’t going up that driveway.”
So the boss crew chief drives off in his car to go find us a shuttle that WILL go up the driveway. The worker bees, under the sous crew chief, stay behind with the express job of moving the furniture out of the house and onto the front lawn.

4. Labor unrest.
A couple of hours go by and the big boss man hasn’t come back. At some point, there appears to be a work stoppage. It had all the makings of a cigarette break, but after thirty minutes of it, I got curious and just had to ask.
“Lady, what’s out here on the lawn isn’t all going to fit in that truck down there. There is no point in us bringing out more. It isn’t going to fit.”

5. The Tin Man comes in for the kill.
“But the sales guy said for sure everything we have would fit.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, lady, but it ain’t going to fit.”

6. Failure to communicate
“Let’s call the boss, see what he says, OK?”
So we call the boss, who’s found a shuttle to haul our stuff down the driveway. It’s forty miles away, but he’s heading out now, so he should be back in a couple of hours.
“What about the truck being too small?”
“Lady, I’ll deal with that when I get there. Put Joe on.”
It’s hard to say what boss man had to tell Joe, but whatever it was, it didn’t impress Joe.

7. Labor unrest turns into strike
Joe gathers the rest of the guys together, holds a quick vote, and the results favor strike action. Now.
Strike action is averted. Or at least postponed. After a pitcher of lemonade and cookies, and their grievances aired, all parties agreed that we’d all been shafted by the same people, we had a common enemy – but that a little solidarity was called for. I was sympathetic to their cause, who wouldn’t be, my heart is bleeding, but there is this little matter of a house that needs moving. Could they possibly find the compassion for us that we felt for them? We reached a compromise: They agreed to work to get everything on the truck. Then they’d quit.
Sounded good to me.

8. Surly Boss Man
True to his word, a couple hours later, the boss man shows up with the shuttle and the wheels of production go into motion once again. By four o’clock in the afternoon, a quarter of the furniture is on the truck, half of it is on the lawn and another quarter is still in the house. Still no word from the boss man whether it’s all going to fit. I decide it’s time to put the question to him and head down the driveway to the truck. It was right at this point that the day, having come to a fork in the road, that we decided to go down the “let’s see just how much worse we can make this” path. I stepped onto the truck, causing Max’s bucket of food to topple over, sending twenty pounds of dog kibble flying. Everywhere.
Giving me a look that said I was entirely to blame for every damned thing that had gone wrong today and would I just get off his damn truck, and lady, by the way, it ain’t all going to fit.

9. When all else fails, turn to prayer.
Everyone throws up their hands, but Dennis has the smarts to go looking for another truck. He comes back a couple hours later with the promise that if the truck that’s meant to be back on the lot by 11 p.m. comes in, then it’s ours for the next day. It’s the best we’ve got. It occurs to us to get us some religion and start praying.
10. Worker unrest turns into work to rule
It takes a couple more hours to fill the truck. I’m sitting in the La-Z-Boy out on the front lawn (it hadn’t made the cut) around eight o’clock, not entirely sure how this is all going to turn out. The truck is full to the brim. There’s a lot of stuff on the front lawn, but it’s all out of the house at least. But we can’t leave it on the lawn, there’s rain called for tomorrow. So everything has to go into the basement and garage. And the worker guys (our veritable comrades in arms) were starting to grumble about their side of the equation: Here it was eight, they’d been hired to work until six; it happened every single time. They quit. Lemonade and cookies weren’t going to do the trick this time. But money did, and eventually everything got inside. Somewhere around 2:30 in the morning, lying on the hard bedroom floor because there was nothing better to do at that hour of the morning – because, of course, all the beds had made the cut – and I was sussing up the situation: In the next twelve hours, we have to load up the U-Haul with about a third of our household belongings, close on the Connecticut house, pick up the kids, get the U-Haul into storage in Bridgeport (we’d be coming back on the weekend to pick it up), and get ourselves up to Massachusetts to close on that house at 2:30 that afternoon. If we started now, we just might make it. And that wasn’t even taking into account the unloading at the other end. You just knew the truck wasn’t going to make it up that driveway either.

Somehow, we made it happen. We got from Connecticut to Massachusetts. When it was all done, I said never again. I was never going to move again. My most fervent wish was to be carted out of this house at the end. It was a big house, lots of rooms to fill, way more than we needed, but it came with no neighbors to be seen, and that’s what I wanted. A sanctuary. Where I’d have space to think.

And garden. It turned out I had no aptitude for farming whatsoever. It takes a lot of work to farm, and basically it came down to I didn’t want to work. I’d rather be a dilettante in the farming business – so I had a kitchen garden, organic, with beets, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, yellow and green beans, cabbage, broccoli, cucumber, squash, pumpkin, peppers, corn, lettuce, radishes, carrots, celery. We had two pear trees, a peach tree, a dozen apple trees, rhubarb, blueberry and raspberry bushes, and wild blackberries to beat the band. So I had visions of preserving, freezing, and over-wintering all this great food. Not enough to feed us, but it was nice to have a pickled beet every once in a while.

The second year was a different story. All I’d heard throughout the first summer from fellow gardeners in town was how the moles ate everything in their garden. And smug me was thinking, it must be good karma, we don’t have any moles, the garden is going great.

It turns out they just hadn’t found us yet. They did the second year, and the third, and every year from then on. The only way a mole and his extended family are going to go away is if you stop putting things in the ground he wants to eat, or you kill the things. I had no heart for either, so we battled wits throughout the years. They won. By the time I planted my last vegetable garden in Boxford, I was down to corn, tomatoes, and potatoes; apples that had so many worms in them, you just felt sorry for them; and blackberries to feed a small nation. Early on, I realized if I was going to have any success in the ground, I better shift to flowers. And in my flowers, there I’d be, listening to Van on my walkman, and later, Van on my CD player. Gardening is 80 percent weeding, so that’s what I spent 80 percent of my time doing: weeding, listening to Van, singing to Van, with my hands in the dirt. I’d just found a new hobby.

And soon I had a second hobby. The best part about the house was its age: 1910. All that old wood, wide planks, so New England. Of course, all the wall to wall rugs would have to come up and the layers of paint on every piece of wood on the house would have to come off. But I was dead set on never moving again, so this wasn’t going to be a rush job. I was going to do over the whole house, bring back its rustic charm. I imagined braided rugs on every floor and quilts on every bed. So I went out and priced quilts. Let me tell you, these babies cost money. At that price, I figured I better learn how to quilt if we’re going to get any quilts on these beds.

There have been wars that haven’t lasted as long as it took me to get through making the first one. But I was determined to carry on and make this the country house of my dreams.

Chapter 18

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