Years ago, for a class at the University of Wisconsin, I read a poignant novel titled YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN, by Thomas Wolfe. Employing a cliché, “I beg to differ” with that deceased American author. Yes, you can go home again; I know because my husband and I have done exactly that.
Due to health issues, Joe and I had not made the road trip to our homes 280 miles North since Memorial Day weekend of 2010. A friend has been taking care of the yards—mowing and snow blowing, cleaning up fallen branches, etc. so the area around the two houses has been well tended. The remaining 14 acres are wild woods—to be left the way we have always loved them, in God’s hands through the venue of nature.
A daughter visited the homes several times, when vacationing North. She reported that things were compromised there. The downstairs at the lake home smelled musty and the sweet house pictured above—a factory home built for our guests when we lived up there full time—had gone to the mice, mothballs notwithstanding.
Two garages at the lake home were packed full of Joe’s tools, half finished carpentry projects, years of nuts and bolts, life jackets, random bicycles culled from rummages, junked furniture, shovels, rakes, an outboard motor, canoe paddles, paint cans, oil cans, batteries—just for starters. The houses contained dishes, bedding, decorative items, pictures, and enough kitchen utensils in each house to accommodate the vacations we had thought we’d spend there when we moved to Southern Wisconsin in September of 2009.
The above-pictured house has provided a charming site for some of my mother’s favorite furniture pieces: a cherry wood dining room table, a mahogany secretary with a glass cabinet, Mom’s cedar hope chest, and a highboy in some elegant unknown-to-me wood. Both houses groaned with books leftover from the many boxes of volumes we moved with us 4 years ago.
What to do with all of this? I think Joe and I simply stuffed all issues surrounding these homes due to larger and more crucial concerns—namely multiple surgeries and other medical procedures spanning many months. Occasionally our beloved North, where we’d naively thought we’d live “forever”, surfaced in my mind. Whenever this happened, I prayed: “Lord, these are Your houses. They are in Your hands.”
(Have you ever yielded something you dearly loved to the Lord, with no bitterness and no sorrowful misgivings? Have you ever relaxed and said, “Lord, this belongs to You?” only to have God graciously hand that something back to you—with a minimum of stress and effort on your part, while taking care of every minute detail along the way? Well, this is what has happened to us.)
Since 2009 we went right on paying the utilities and telephone bills, and annual taxes on our property North. Would we ever return? We really didn’t think so, as we arranged to put business matters in our son, Eric’s hands. We were happy here in the South. I think we didn’t want to grieve, so we were refusing to acknowledge the fact that these homes were still ours even though we couldn’t go up there. Someone else could eventually sell them for us, and we’d pay a commission and just bank or invest the results—all in God’s time of course.
Then about a month ago a man called from Green Bay. He had been on our road North, and he’d read “For Sale By Owner” on our mailbox up there—with our Southern Wisconsin phone number. He drove in, walked around the yards, probably peeked in windows, and then called. He sounded very interested in possibly buying both homes, and he wanted to meet us up there.
We scrambled, quite against our will. After all, life was so easy here in the South and we were super contented. We didn’t want to go up there (we thought!) and we certainly did not feel up to the gargantuan task of cleaning those houses and emptying the 2 garages. But circumstances were kicking us in the head. Something had to be done and we could not in good conscience dump the burden on our 6 beautiful children.
God was in charge! We were given the name of a wonderfully efficient and energetic woman, Marilyn, whom we hired to clean the interiors of the houses and wash the windows. She had completed the above-pictured house when we arrived on the scene nearly 2 weeks ago. We decided to stay there, on the hill, since Marilyn would be doing the lake house next—approximately a 3 day job. When we stepped into our house on the hill, originally installed as a guest house, Joe and I had the same sudden and drastic response. We fell in love all over again irrevocably with this colorful, sparkling, easy-to-manage home high on a hill with maples and birches around the edge of the yard. Instantly I prayed in my mind, “Oh Lord, if it be Your will, PLEASE don’t let that man from Green Bay want this house!!!”
For the next 3 days, prior to our appointment with the Green Bay fellow, Joe and I planned, sorted, discarded, etc. Our grounds helper, Allen took loads of burnable trash to dispose of at his home where he has a permit for burning. Some of the equipment also went home with Allen. Marilyn and her husband were wonderful as well. They carried many pick-up truckloads away with things they could use on their property at another lake nearby. I sold some furniture to Marilyn, and gave her many household items we just didn’t need. Our friends, Betty and Joe, took many more items—and so did friends, Dee and Jim. And my Joe took 2 van loads, packed to the ceiling, to our town dump. The houses are in beautiful condition now, and the 2 garages are miraculously (almost!) empty!
For 10 nights, we slept in the commodious bedroom on the hill—the sleep of contented, well fed and amply exercised children. For 9 days we happily did projects, and spent quality time with the above mentioned friends. We went to town (10 miles from home) several times. In every store and restaurant, we were greeted as good old friends. “Where have you been?” “I’ve thought of you so often!” were familiar refrains.
However for several days prior to the man allegedly coming from Green Bay, I carried an ache in my heart. We had advertised 2 houses. What if he wanted both? We were settling into the hill house, bringing in more “treasures” from the lake house, making the hill house ours for future vacations now that we realized we were healthy enough to make the trip and enjoy the North once again!
Then one night we picked up a message from our phone answering machine in the South. The man from Green Bay reneged and would not be meeting us. He would not be thinking of buying anything until maybe spring of 2014, and then he might see if a house was still available. Joe and I were in bed at our hill house, when we got this news. We shouted for joy, and I wept! We were enjoying our vacation home, and God-willing we will enjoy more.
Even if this was to be our last vacation North, it would be a priceless gift. But we anticipate more. In fact we hope to go up for a couple of weeks in January when, although much colder than South (like minus 25 degrees F) the air is always fresher without that damp, penetrating (and I think, miserable!) Lake Michigan chill we have South. The only problem with winters in the North is that (I think) they last just a bit too long. When I was itching to dig in a garden, we were still blowing snow.
Judging from his melancholy novel, Thomas Wolfe had a disillusioned slant on life—sadly lacking in any vision beyond the material and temporal. So the character in his literary work could not go home again. Things were never the same at home, in that book, and all was lost.
Praise God that doesn’t have to be so! Joe and I have “gone home again”—home where there are more Virginia whitetails than people, home abounding in howling timber wolves and ever-ravenous-until-hibernation-time black bears. Things are the same. No, I rescind that statement! Things are even better! We willingly yielded the North to the Lord, and God has graciously handed it back to us—for whatever amount of time He’s ordained in Eternity Past! What a PRAISE! :)
Margaret L. Been, 2013
NOTE: We plan to list the lake house with a realtor, by spring of 2014. Again, it’s all in God’s hands! What a GOOD LIFE! (Our Lord must have a sense of humor to put up with us, if we sometimes lapse into thinking we are in charge!)
ANOTHER NOTE: Sunshine, are you online? I’ll see you on a 4th Monday sometime in 2014!