“Did you know you own that?”
In early 2011, we moved. The biggest motivation was finding a place with a shop or outbuilding large enough for my husband’s growing business (he’s a contractor, cabinet maker, and all around amazing guy). We found what we needed a mile away from our old house. The one acre was once part of a huge working farm, and includes the original farm house, hidden now by a late eighties expansion and remodel—hello eleven different kinds of rose wallpaper, slanting floors, and porches that are about to fall off! Also on the property: a detached garage with a scary cold storage room and a funky smelling apartment area above it where we think laborers were housed, a giant 4,000 square foot chicken house and equipment shed that my husband is repairing and converting into his shop, and a couple of other cool little outbuildings.
Another old barn forms one edge of our property, but it actually belongs to an empty lot to the southwest. Dwight, the neighbor who owns that property, is kind enough to let us cut through the lot with our kids on our way to our favorite bike riding spot. A few months after we moved in, Dwight pointed to the milking parlor attached to the front of the barn and said, “You know you own that, right?”
Um, no. We didn’t.
I didn’t even know what a milking parlor was until someone explained that its primary purpose was housing a tank where the milk was collected. Long abandoned, the 10 foot by 10 foot room was a wreck. The parlor still bore the scars where the tank was bolted to the floor, still has the vent in the wall where a truck would feed a hose through to siphon off the milk and take it for processing. There is still has the drain in the slanted floor (only this one is slanted on purpose). And it even had a fragile, tattered copy of the last inspection of the milk barn and parlor, dated August 8, 1967, signed by the farmer who owned the property.
It took me about half a second to know what I wanted to do with it. I’ve spent enough time looking longingly at the writing cottages of folks like Laurie Halse Anderson to seriously dream of what it might be like to have one of my own. And now I do.
It wasn’t a desperate need, mind you. I’ve written seven books so far, most of them from a comfy chair or my couch. But occasionally, I find myself in need of a change of venue, or something more private than I can now manage as a stay-at-home mom in a house with a preschooler and a kindergartner and a dishwasher that seems to constantly beg to be loaded or emptied. On those occasions, I might take a Saturday or an evening and hole up in a coffee shop or at a quiet table in the library. So I was managing.
But even so, I’m thrilled beyond words to have this space. A space that’s dedicated to the work I love to do. A space that may only be twenty steps from my backdoor across a the driveway where my kids ride their bikes and draw on the pavement with sidewalk chalk or dare each other to eat things from my raised garden bed, but somehow feels wonderfully separate. Separate enough to perhaps to put some breathing room between two very different, very consuming roles I play: wife/mom and writer. And I’m so grateful. I know this room doesn’t necessarily represent a fulfilled need so much as a fulfilled desire of my heart, but somehow that makes me even more thankful.
The remodel itself was a blast for another reason. My husband and I are pathologically thrifty. We love to repurpose items, often hitting up thrift and salvage stores to find the best deals. And as we worked, sort of tallying up in our heads how low the cost was for the value of what the parlor represented, my husband remarked how we were a bit like Thoreau with his obsession in listing the costs of the construction of his cabin on Walden Pond.
But in the end, it doesn’t really matter how much it cost. I’ve got a room of my own to work, create, read, wrestle with line edits, or do Skype visits in peace. And I can’t put a price on any of that.