Though I am technically home, living near where I grew up, with family and old friends around, this time of year makes me homesick for some other places that I have called home, however temporarily.
And especially because Al recently took a long weekend in Vermont, and drove past our old farmhouse, and visited with our old friends there, I'm feeling heavy with nostalgia for that particular home.
When we first got to Vermont, Al found us a sweet little chalet style cabin, tucked way back in the woods, on the landlord's property. It was one room, with a loft for a bedroom. One had to navigate a sketchy ladder to go to bed.
We were happy there until we discovered that the landlord, at least once had stumbled down his driveway and stood in our yard, looking in our window...watching us. Yup. Watching us.
So I got one of those country trader fliers and started searching for our next home. I read a promising description of a house for rent, closer to both our jobs. I called and went to look at it the next day. Al wasn't with me.
I remember loving the winding road along the river as I looked for what matched the description the owner had given me. Light green farmhouse, porch, river, huge barn.
My jaw dropped when I pulled up. I was met by a woman, near my age; she and her husband and another couple bought the place from the dairy farmer who'd farmed there up until two years prior.
It was a hundred years old. It had wide pine floor boards throughout the downstairs. Pretty wainscoting in the dining room. A narrow twisting stairway to the upstairs which had three good size rooms.
The basement had a dirt floor and a ceiling so low I couldn't stand up straight. Indoor plumbing was an afterthought. It had no insulation.
The barn dwarfed the house. It was once red, but only flecks were left as evidence. It was full of hay. It smelled wonderful, like cows.
A lazy river twisted past the house and along the edge of the property's ten acres of knobby fields.
I almost passed out with love for this place. I explained my situation to the woman Brenda and filled out the application.
She informed me that I was the last person she'd be showing it to. She had dozens of people interested and dozens of applications to sort through. I would be hearing from her in a few days.
I left, quite deflated, knowing that I had little chance of calling this old farm my home.
I still couldn't help myself from throwing Al in the car when he got home that night and dragging him through the countryside to look at what was about to slip through our fingers. He loved it just as much.
A few days later, I answered a call from Brenda. She had carefully considered all the applicants. I stood out. The winner.
We moved in the last week of April, during a snowstorm. We quickly learned what a labor intensive endeavor it is to keep an uninsulated home in Vermont warm with only a wood stove in the basement as source of heat.
We also quickly realized that we never wanted to leave. We imagined a field full of goats, occupied hen house, children in a pumpkin patch.
We treated their house as if it were our own. If something needed fixing, Al would just do it. If the landlords found out, they'd work on our cars for free. We carpeted the den. We added a second wood stove to the dining room. Al planted a beautiful garden.
I cleaned constantly, engaging in a losing battle against the dust that all that wood burning produced. I didn't mind.
We never owned keys to that house. When we went away, the landlords would keep our fire burning so the pipes wouldn't freeze.
The week that Owen was due to be born, I performed the traditional nesting ritual of the soon to be mother. I scrubbed every surface, vacuumed every web, dusted every nook. Fire wood was piled and ready to go. Baby things were staged in the dining room; swing, bouncy seat, play pen. Fridge and freezer were fully stocked. We wouldn't need to leave the house until Owen was weeks old.
When I clicked the door behind me, three thirty on a Tuesday morning, I didn't think to take one last look around. To soak in the cozy corners, to inhale the sweet cow scent.
I didn't think of anything but getting to Boston while Owen was still alive.
By the third day of Owen's life, I knew we'd never live in Vermont again.
By the third week of Owen's life, I knew I'd never know Owen.
At the end of that third week, on a Friday, we sat listening to his surgeon give it to us straight. Desperate measures would be taken. We shouldn't hold out much hope.
As I took this in, my cell phone rang. It was a girl who I'd worked with at the nursing home in Vermont. She was young, 21, married with two girls and one on the way. She needed a place to stay. Only for a week or so, until their new apartment was ready.
I didn't think at the time; "Who asks the mother of a mostly dead baby if she can shack up in her home?".
All I could think about was how good everyone had been to us. My co workers had donated vacation time so I could get full paychecks. They donated money so we could afford to eat and park at the hospital. I didn't know this girl outside of the workplace, but as part of my little family there, I agreed to let her stay, for a week or so, in my home. I insisted she stay in the downstairs only. I couldn't bear the thought of anyone going into Owen's nursery.
Al didn't question my decision. Our landlords were ok with it. Melissa, her husband and their girls moved in within a couple days.
She was grateful. She called often. She was taking care of our mail. Keeping the fire going.
She stayed more than a week.
I got a call from our landlords. They had gone over for whatever reason, and were surprised by what they found.
Our house was trashed. Garbage everywhere. Dirty diapers. Dirty dishes. Clothes. Broken things. A pig sty.
I was angry and hurt and embarrassed; I called Melissa and hurled a concentrated dose of all of that at her. A doctor walked in during my tirade and I didn't stop. The doctor got my index finger while I ranted and raved.
She was gone the next day. But she left her mess. When Al drove up to pick up our life, he was murderous. Things were stolen. Money was stolen.
I've never asked him if there was evidence that they'd been in Owen's nursery.
And we never speak of it. Any of it.
The pain of losing the dream farm on the river is barely a dull ache. There are joys in our life that far outweigh that little jab.
But the way my home was mistreated and disrespected, after I'd lost so much, has left a big ugly hole.
Karma is real. We've been given a home to love once again.
I do wonder if Melissa has learned her lesson though. Or if Karma is still waiting to show her.
She should be afraid. Very afraid.