How We Did It (Part II)

In the midst of caring for elderly parents, getting away for a much-needed break was so complicated, involved, and exhausting, that sometimes I wondered if it was worth getting away.  I had to have backups to my backup care. I had to not only make sure meals were prepared that the moms would eat willingly, but that they would be served when they were in the mood to be served, rather than at an appointed hour.  Of course someone had to stay not only during the day, but overnight.  That someone had to realize the fine balance between “visiting” with the mothers versus being in their faces.  They couldn’t be too loud, yet they had to speak loud enough to be heard by the hearing impaired.  They had to ensure that the moms didn’t feel like they were being babysat, as this was demeaning to them; yet their presence had to register so that the moms would feel safe and not jump at every outside noise, especially at night when they felt most vulnerable.  It also required that my children check in on a regular basis.  And this was for an absence of less than 48 hours!

Nevertheless I tried to get away for 1 1/2 to 3 days, once a month.  Usually I went two times by myself, and the third month my husband went by himself, and the fourth month we’d go together.  Even though we had moved to our basement for sleep and work and gave the moms our main level (the master bedroom for my mother because it had a private bath, a den which they used as a TV room, a living room for a sitting room and the 3rd bedroom for my mother-in-law), we really did not have much personal privacy.  So on the rare occasions when my spouse and I did get away together, it served to rejuvenate our marriage, which was de facto under strain.

During that time I would head to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  At $40 – $50 each way, it was an inexpensive way to get far, far away, and unlike the humid mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the air was dry.  In addition to hiking, kayaking, or doing scenic drives, I’d have real estate agents show me acreage for sale within our very limited budget.

There were many adventures associated with this time.  I was given the address of a rough-hewn cabin that had been someone’s unfinished weekend project.  Lesson learned:  never trust your GPS in rural areas!  I took a back road that was so rough and corroded with ruts and boulders that I thought the axle of my rental vehicle was going to break.  I ended up stopping the car, and walking 1/4 mile to the approximate site of the cabin (I wasn’t worried about oncoming traffic because the road had obviously not been used in years).  I couldn’t see the cabin hidden behind heavy tree growth, so I walked further on until I came to a nicely-kept house.  The homeowner had a good laugh at my expense when I told him how I arrived.  “Why didn’t you take the road from the other end?” he said, pointing to the freshly-paved asphalt.  He pointed me to the cabin, still chuckling as he went back inside.

The cabin itself was pretty dilapidated, but it had potential.  The real stunner, though, was the view: on top of the world, a 180-degree view of the White Mountains.  The price was too good to be true – – and you know what they say about things when they’re too good to be true.

Alas, as I stepped off the back porch, 25’ away, there were 3 tombstones in the backyard.  They were from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, graves of pioneer settlers.  A little girl, an old woman, and a middle-aged woman all lay at eternal rest.

“Think of the historical significance!” the real estate lady cooed.  When I told her I wasn’t interested in sharing my backyard with dead people, she said thoughtfully, “Well, maybe we can arrange to have them moved to the town cemetery.”  After I stated that they were here before I was and they had the right to keep it that way, I walked back to my car and prayed I hadn’t damaged the rental vehicle too badly.

Late one night back in my home town, after a particularly trying day, I took out a map to look at the names of towns in the vicinity where we were interested in buying land.  I had never noticed that part of western Maine shared the White Mountains with New Hampshire!  I made a list of the few towns in that vicinity, and started a search on Craigslist.  There I found a description of a piece of property that sounded like it would suit our needs.  It was for sale by owner.

The next month, when I revisited the mountains for my 1 1/2 day break, I contacted the owner of the property. The seller, a young physician who enjoyed camping in the White Mountains with his family, intended to build a vacation home there.  But the town had been giving him trouble about his land. They wanted to keep the area in as natural a state as possible, and didn’t want any outsiders infringing.  He was going back and forth about trying to get a building permit and getting more and more frustrated.  Finally, he gave up, and bought an already-built house near Acadia National Park on the coastal side of Maine, and so the property was up for sale.

The fact that there might be difficulties in getting a permit didn’t faze me, because our original intention was just to plop down a camper and use the land only in the summer when we could get away.  It was too heavily forested to have much of a view, but it faced a large bog where moose sometimes hung out.  The land abutted White Mountain National Forest and was at the base of many hiking trails, ponds, lakes and streams.  A constant breeze seemed to keep the mosquitoes somewhat under control.  An inn that had seen better times was a mile down the road – great for overflow guests, I thought.

We put in an offer that was much less than he originally paid. He countered, but we weren’t interested in paying more.  After a couple of weeks, he agreed to our offer, and we were on our way to being land owners in the White Mountains!

We found a local lawyer who helped us through the sale and title search.  Now we had only to build a driveway, so we could get the camper up the steep hill that was our land.  And so the fun began.

It turned out that the first 125’ feet of our 5.6 acres of land, being across from a bog (really a glorified swamp) was considered environmentally fragile and therefore under the auspices of the Department of Environmental Protection.  The location of the driveway’s entrance would be decided not by the homeowner, but by the town and the DEP.  That, apparently, was the source of the seller’s grief, since a proper driveway location that was agreeable to everyone could not be established.

Basically our attitude was not, “this is what we want,” but rather, “we will do whatever it takes to make you happy.”  Within a month we had our permit, and excavation for the driveway could begin.

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