We are selling our beautiful house in the Michigan woods and plotting a move to the nearby city of South Bend, Indiana. We have many reasons for doing this and we have been thinking about it for some time but what prompted us to take action, to actually put our beloved home on the market and begin the rollercoaster of real estate searches, showings, and offers, has a lot to do with the election of Donald Trump and the stunning, fast-moving stream of events since then. The political has become personal in so many ways.
First some background. We bought this place in 1995, when we were still living and working 100 miles away in Chicago. It was our country retreat, to which we became more and more attached over the years, especially since it was close to the rural area where I grew up and still have family. When I worked part time from home, I would spend most of my week in this soul-filled wooden house surrounded by trees and birds. We got together regularly with my brothers and their spouses. Our children came home to this place–not Chicago–for holidays, first from college and grad school and then with their spouses and children.
In 2008 we sold our city dwelling and moved here full time, though Vic commuted back to the city weekly to work part time for a few years. Our family has gradually expanded in numbers and contracted in geography so we are now all in the state of Michigan. This is the ultimate Grandpa and Grandma home with its woodstove, crooked stairways, quilt-covered beds, paths and wildflowers and firepit in the woods, horses and donkeys and chickens across the road in the neighbors’ big red barn.
Our Chicago church friends come for annual Michigan apple-picking parties and dream retreats. Meanwhile, we have found a church not so far away, on the edge of South Bend, that has become our community.
We have loved this house on the wooded hill. So why would we even think about giving it up?
Old age. The first prompt was those crooked stairways up and down, along with its relative isolation. What seemed like an ideal retirement house may not be so senior friendly in a few years. At age 72 it’s high time to plan for those last decades.
Having a neighborhood. The second prompt was more vague: missing certain aspects of city life. Having places to walk to, living in a neighborhood where you may befriend or ignore your neighbors but at least you can see them. Besides our friendly and helpful neighbors across the road and one widower a half a mile away who supplies us with wood and gossip, we do not know our neighbors. That’s partly our fault as introverts. I am not one for small talk and where do you even start to find people with whom you could get beyond that, when everybody lives–like we do–up in their own, isolated enclave? (Though some of my best, albeit short, conversations have been with neighbors who pull up in their cars beside me as I pick up trash along the roadside.)
Things to do. And of course it would be nice to be closer to restaurants and cultural events, though that is not so important these days as we have to be careful about what we eat and we are easily entertained by Netflix and Amazon movies–with subtitles for our hearing-impaired convenience.
Community. We have been longing for a stronger sense of community with the people we see on Sunday mornings. They are scattered over a wide area, but we are on the very fringe. “Area groups” have been created that have helped deepen these relationships. But everything involves driving and planning; there is little opportunity for spontaneous hanging out, dropping in on each other, cooking up projects together besides on Sunday morning. Some church members do live closer together and do that.
Actually we haven’t had that kind of community for a long time, maybe not since the 1970s, in a small town in Iowa where we were part of an academic community. Even our Chicago church community was scattered over the city, and we didn’t develop many friendships in the neighborhood where we lived. So maybe we idealize the possibility of soulful urban community just a bit.
You notice I haven’t mentioned any kind of longing for a senior living community, which would be the logical next step for people our age. It’s an option we have considered but we’re looking for alternatives. Maybe we are resistant to the senior identity. I don’t think so. Part of it is, strangely enough, aesthetics. I don’t like the way senior developments around here (and most newer urban developments) look. I am spoiled for the beauty of the woods and the character of older homes. Our current house is a pretty good facsimile of a very old home, saltbox style. My soul requires beauty in some authentic form.
The solution to these needs and longings we began to settle on, before the election, was to find an aesthetically pleasing, senior-friendly house in a neighborhood near downtown South Bend and a cluster of other church members. Oh, and I require light, because our woods house is too dark in the summertime.
Our requirements were quite specific. Finding something like that seemed like a tall challenge that would require a lot of research and energy–to say nothing of putting a house on the market and selling it. We had plenty of other things to do. We are still in good health and the “senior-friendly” requirement wasn’t urgent. In fact, nothing was urgent about this move.
Until Donald Trump was elected.
You notice that this blog has gone almost silent since the election. It is because I haven’t known what to say that isn’t already being said. One more opinion isn’t going to help and opinions, arguments and exposés aren’t my forté anyhow.
What I am good at is writing about myself, my own internal workings, in a way that is honest enough that other people may find an echo in their own hearts. And what I’ve noticed is that Donald Trump has served as a kickstarter for me and for many members of the majority who did not vote for him, as well as the 40 percent who didn’t vote at all. He has lit a fire under our butts.
For me this has translated into a need to move to town. What’s driving me is that need for neighborhood and community. It has gone from vague to urgent. I need community not only for support but also for collaboration and opportunity. I have a sense that I will find more things to do and ways to respond if I just move 10 miles closer to the action.
Two small examples, related to the crazy wall plan and the unconscionable, unconstitutional ban on Muslim travelers. Yesterday in church I heard about the need for English teachers for immigrants. South Bend has large immigrant communities. I would like to do that. And then after church and a long committee meeting, I learned of a “no ban, no wall” demonstration in downtown South Bend–one of many flash demonstrations across the country. I was already snug by the fire in my home in the woods and I didn’t go.
Nothing should prevent me even now from participating in such things. I can drive to South Bend. But I want to be closer to the action. Is it as simple as that? I don’t know. We’ll see. We may be about to put an offer on a house.
Has Donald Trump been a kickstarter for you? What are you doing now that you wouldn’t have done before the election? What has become urgent that used to be a vague intention?