“You’ll figure it out,” Vic said, gently pulling me into a long hug. He wasn’t interested in making decisions about my life after his death. He trusted me and had no interest in planning his funeral or my future. I’d handled the finances for years, but fretted about where I would live without him.
“I can’t stay in the house by myself,” I said. “Firewood, plowing, gardening, and winter roads. I should move to town,” I argued with no one but myself. “I just don’t know where else I want to be.”
Vic and I worked on this neglected house for 35 years to create the beauty we’d imagined when we fell in love with the land in 1972. When he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2006, one son lived in North Carolina and the other in California. I loved our old farm house and especially the land, but keeping it humming was a two-person job.
I’m a woman who likes a plan, so I had to come up with a practical one–and I had to get lucky.
It was obvious to everyone else that I should move. Maybe wait a year before deciding. Maybe sell this place and go to North Carolina or move to town, but the summer passed with no plan. There was nothing I liked more than being in the oak forest with my dogs or in the garden or watching birds and deer from the deck at sunset. My sons came often that first summer and fall after Vic’s death, but I didn’t want to make them responsible for my wild woman choices.
So I remembered what my heart loved and began imagining ways to stay.
I clearly needed a helper so searched Vic’s cell phone, found the name Matt, and called the number. “Are you the Matt who helped Vic Mansfield with firewood the last few years?” I asked. “I’m sorry I don’t know your last name and you probably don’t know Vic died in June.”
“That’s me,” he said, “and I’m sorry about Vic. I knew he was sick. I’ll come by to talk to you tomorrow.”
Matt agreed to take care of firewood and soon I counted on him to take care of the tractor, to plow in a snowstorm, and mow the summer trails. He read equipment manuals, did tractor maintenance, and helped me make decisions about the property. He became a trusted friend, and I got to know his family, too. He fixed whatever was broken, including my shaky plan.
But that decision was made in 2008. A woman, now in her 70s, should live in town, not with dogs in the country. Right?
The question hovered unanswered until my younger son Anthony surprised me by moving here from California four years ago. He’s in the process of buying land and the cabin where he lives three miles from me.
I have support from Matt and Anthony plus a close friend Lisa who lives a mile away and more lifelong friends within a few miles. I feel Vic’s positive presence in every tree he planted and every trail he made. This old farm house with a stack of dry firewood on the front porch and two dogs warming their bones by the woodstove is still my home in this world.
Have you changed where you live because your life or health changed? Or did you find a way to make the place where you already lived work? I’ve been grateful for my choice during the pandemic as I wander the land without a mask and take walks and snowshoe hikes with friends. I haven’t been able to convince my NC son to move here and I understand why. He has a beautiful home and business in NC.
For other articles about Vic’s and my choice to protect the land with the Finger Lakes Land Trust, see For the Love of Trees. For more history of this area before European conquerors stole the land and nearly eradicated the tribes, see On Iroquois Land.