Cottages for sale. $3,000 each. Must be moved.
I imagine these cottages, all in a row. Waiting to be adopted. I wonder where they are.
Must be moved. I wonder how much it costs to move a building.
Thus begins one of my favorite books, my own personal fairy tale: Cottage for Sale: Must be Moved by Kate Whouley.
Don’t we all have our own? Whatever it is? Didn’t we all grow up with them? Cinderella. Snow White. The prince riding in on the white horse to save the day, to rescue us from the evil stepmother, or boss, or bullies. From the time we’re old enough to handle the remote – or even before – we’re raised to believe in magic and love and blah blah blah.
My fairy tale is different.
See, it’s always been my fantasy to move a house. An old house. An old house that’s about to be razed, and needs saved. An old house with charm, character. An old house with stories and elaborately carved newel posts, with a huge porcelain farm sink and hardwood floors, with transom windows over the doors and a bay window and the original woodwork inside. The style of house has changed as I’ve gotten older; I used to dream only about Victorian homes – the gorgeous details, the tall ceilings, the whimsy and artistry. Now, it’s Craftsman-style houses that draw me in. The spacious floor plans and attention to detail – and the fact that while everyone wants a Victorian, almost no one seems to want my beloved Prairie Style homes.
But I thought I was totally crazy to want to do it – until I found Kate’s book.
Kate lives on Cape Cod, where houses are small, the Conservation Commission is strict (rightfully so), and space is at a premium. She loves her little corner of the Cape – the cranberry bog, the woodchuck who lives in the hill next to her house, the day lilies and daffodils and lilacs and trees and birds. But her house is tiny, and she has spent years wanting to expand, exploring every option. It seemed impossible – until she opened the Penny Saver one day, and saw the ad that changed it all.
Going mostly on faith, she embarks on a quest to purchase a cottage – the one in the very back, the one with the Mexican tiles in the kitchen and the little sliver of soap left on the sink – and move it to her property, and attach it to her house, creating a home. She has to navigate small-town bureaucracy, the logistics of actually moving a house – even a small one – dealing with plumbers, electricians, concrete guys, and others, and overcoming her own doubts and fears about the entire project along the way.
Kate’s is a story that resonates with me on several levels. Obviously, the entire house-moving idea appeals to me. If she can do it, so can I . . . someday. But it’s more than that. Her observations of the people around her, her interactions with them, are so warm and appealing that you really do want to move to the Cape just to be near them all. She is incredibly aware of her own motivations and fears, and has no hesitancy in putting them on the page. Her love for the land she owns, and the animals she shares it with (especially Egypt, the Cat-in-Charge), comes through loud and clear. Her writing style is a little different – it’s present tense, which I tend not to like, but in this case it works well.
I love this book. I read it at least once a year. When I start to feel down, when I lose yet another house to the bulldozer, when I look at my bank accounts and realize there’s nothing there . . . I go back to this book. Kate’s faith in the project is the only thing that carries her through it. Faith that the Conservation Commission will approve her requests – because she has to buy the cottage before she gets their approval. Faith that the cottage will fit on her property; faith that it can actually be put there. Faith that she can afford it, even though she’s self-employed and doesn’t precisely have a steady income. Faith that the project will come together, even when it seems things are at a standstill. Faith that it will all come together, just as she envisions it, even when no one else seems to think so:
“It isn’t hard for me to envision what the house will look like when it is finished, but as I receive visitors I realize that most of them do not see what I see. I give them the tour, tell them what wall will come down, what doors will be replaced, what the roof will look like . . . At some point, they invariably say to me, “What a lot of work!” . . . And these echoes of my neighbor’s remark tell me I am communicating process well enough, but I am not able to share the visuals that I carry with me in my mind’s eye. It is a lot of work, sure, but what I can already see motivates me, propels me forward.” (p. 161)
Yes. My personal fairy tale. No matter what, Kate is determined to move this house in order to change her life for the better. And that really is what it’s all about, in the end – changing her life for the better. Creating space for more work, more family, maybe even someday a partner. Creating a home in which she can be who and what she is.
Creating a life.
Maybe that’s why this book resonates with me so much. It’s not about moving a house. It really is about creating a life for yourself, despite the naysayers, despite the difficulties.
A lesson that some of us probably need from time to time.
And that, really, is my personal fairy tale.