When I was a kid I thought I’d been born into the wrong century; I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. I longed to drink warm milk right out of the cow with the cream still mixed in, to walk barefoot down dusty field roads, to pump cold water from a pump outside the kitchen, to eat corn and tomatoes right from the garden.
Ten years after we were married, my husband and I bought a farm in the forgotten southwestern corner of Wisconsin where it often seemed that time had stopped a hundred years ago. Our neighbors farmed with draft horses. Our house had no indoor plumbing when we moved in and the pump really was right outside the kitchen door. We heated the house with wood and in the winter we cooked on a big black cookstove that was older than the house. My three children grew up doing all the things I had wanted to do when I was a kid.
I began writing historical fiction. That was the best–I got to spend time in the past by researching, plotting and writing novels for children and young adults, and when I occasionally went to New York to see my agent and my editor I felt like I was visiting another planet.
My kids grew up. And they found jobs in the city. Not Madison, or even Milwaukee. My daughters lived in Brooklyn and worked in Manhattan and my son lived and worked in Washington DC–they all actually moved to that other planet.
For ten years we visited them. We grew to appreciate the city–the amazing food from every imaginable ethnicity, theater, music, the history–even the crowds, sometimes. On the way home we’d dream about living closer. We could eat dinner with our kids every week, meet for coffee, celebrate birthdays together. But when we got back to the farm, we’d settle back into the life we loved until the next visit.
Then my oldest daughter and her wife announced their newest plan–the baby project. Sure, we’d imagined grandkids visiting the farm. We even thought about putting up a new swing set and getting a pony. But real grandchildren? That was unexpected. Even more unexpected–they asked us to come to Brooklyn to do child care. Jack had recently retired from teaching high school math and as a writer, theoretically, I can write anywhere. So we said yes.
Leaving the farm–even a long-term temporary absence–turned out to be both easier and more complicated that we thought. We had nine months to plan, but of course we ended up doing almost everything in the last month–giving away plants too big to fit in the car, changing addresses, deciding what to take. We decided to just take what would fit in our (very tightly packed) Impreza and the car-top carrier We arranged for a friend to live in the farmhouse come spring, and a close neighbor signed up to mow the lawn in the summertime. On a gray day at the end of January we vacuumed one more time, drained the pipes, turned down the heat and headed east.