The Best of Plans

Washington DC Metro

Mark and I had often talked about our future plans way back before retirement days were near. The conversations often cropped up after a Friday night at the National Geographic lectures in the DAR Constitution Hall, followed by dinner at Freddie’s Piano Restaurant. Freddie’s was on Connecticut Avenue, a small place always filled with returning, dedicated diners.

Buster would play his piano non-stop and we’d linger over our meal, talk of our kids, our near and far goals and plans, and our enjoyment of the evening. (Unfortunately, Freddie’s is no longer there. The building was torn down years ago and replaced with a larger business building.)

After our meal and before driving home we’d take a half hour to walk along the sidewalk, often going into the beautiful lobby of the Mayflower Hotel and going out the other side. We’d resume our walk and now and then would stop to talk with the men who were building the new metro system. “It’s beautiful down there!” they would exclaim. We couldn’t wait to see it.

The city has its magic, especially Washington with the Smithsonian Institution, the Kennedy Center, all the monuments, the theaters, the restaurants, just to name a few of its attractions. Just the hustle and bustle adds excitement. Yes, we’d say, someday we’ll have an apartment down here so we could just go to all these places without having to drive back to the suburbs.

“But it also would be nice to have a small place in the country, on a mountain,” I’d add, being a New Englander. Just a small, simple place. Not fancy. Maybe somewhat rustic, but with plumbing, of course. We could go for small vacations. Yes, that would be the plan. The lovely apartment in the city. The small cabin on a mountain. How perfect that would be!

2000 Eads St. Our city house in Arlington, VA

I visualized myself living in the city. How different it would be. How different I’d be! Somehow I’d be much taller and slimmer. My hair would be longer, thicker and stylish, well coiffed by the hairdresser. It would never look unkempt. My nails would be long and polished. I’d dress in elegant clothes––silky and flowing, and I’d whisk gracefully into galleries and concerts with perfect posture and my head held high. Mark, now dressed impeccably in a new suit, shirt and tie, would give me his arm as I floated in. We would take cabs from place to place. Our Lincoln Continental, clean and polished, would stay parked in the garage under our apartment building and get used for longer social excursions.

I would miraculously change when we’d go to our country cabin. I would become shorter and plumper. My hair would blow around freely and I certainly wouldn’t have nail polish. In fact, I wouldn’t even have nails to speak of. They’d be broken and split even though I’d sporadically run a nail file across them. My closet would be full of WalMart jeans and shirts. I’d hike around in the forest, carefully climbing over fallen branches. I’d sit on boulders and smell the leaves. We’d have no neighbors, no city noises, no traffic. I’d have to cook. There’d be no restaurants nearby. Our old Honda CRX, covered with the dust from the dirt road, would be parked outside.

Mark finally did retire in 1988. By then I was working full-time. We could now realize our dream. All those plans we made we could now fulfill. But what should we do first? Buy land in the country, build and move there, and then find an apartment? Find an apartment and then look for land and build? Can we do them both at once?

We sold our family home and moved to our apartment in Arlington, VA. It was a short drive to my work. We could walk to the mall, to the bookstore, to the library, to the underground shops, and to the metro. And yes, the metro was indeed beautiful––and a convenient way to travel. It all was perfect.

Then we looked for land and found it on top of Backbone Mountain in Western Maryland, close to the highest point in the state. Mark would be able put up his antennas. We bought 5 acres. It all was perfect.

For years (so it seemed) we raced back and forth between the two places. Mark was often away helping with the building of the country house. I was going to work and living in the city apartment. He’d go to the city one weekend. I’d go to the country the next weekend. We were busy with weddings of daughters, nieces and nephews, and then there were beautiful grandchildren being born. I had visits to my mother in Florida, extra trips when she was ill, and then again to help when she moved to a new condominium.

The house took longer to build, and I often worked late or on weekends. There was no time in our busy lives for my imagined elegant life in the city. I never did grow taller and definitely not slimmer. My hair just stayed as it was, short and easy to manage; not coiffed, not stylish. Fingernails?  No, no fingernails, I fear––definitely nothing to put polish on. We didn’t dress up in elegant clothing and taxi to special events, and our car, parked under the building, was still the old dusty Honda CRX.

A mountain friend

Back and forth we’d go, but somewhere during this time, it was the country that kept calling to us, telling us to come out permanently to live among the clouds and in the quiet and in the beauty. It called to us to make our home up there our only home, one where we didn’t have make choices between two worlds.

We both heard its call. We moved to the mountain permanently in 1999 after I retired. We wear our jeans, we walk through our forest, we sit on boulders, we smell the forest air. From our windows we watch the deer, the wild turkeys, and the fat wood chucks, and sometimes even foxes, bears and bobcats. Our night sky is clear and we can lie out on the grass to see the stars and count how many satellites go over.

We’ve had rainbows that form perfect semi-circles over and down into the valleys, the same valleys where morning clouds nestle. In October trees surround us with an array of autumn colors, their falling leaves blowing freely across the fields and roads. No raking them into big green leaf bags where they’ll wait on the curb for pick-up. The winter snow is clean, the roads are plowed but still white; not filled with dirt and salt, not sloppy to walk through. Our tree branches, each covered in ice, sparkle with golden reflections.

Mark has his “ham shack”. I have my studio. We are surrounded inside and out with things we love.

It’s all quite elegant.

 

 

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