Billymead, Then and Now
Cross stitch by Adam's cousin. Billymead is the name of his grandmother's homestead.
I think we’ll take the window screens out this weekend. I’ve never lived in a house where that was an easy option, but here, it is, and wow how crystal clear the view becomes all winter long. It’s quite beautiful. Until then, a screen-darkened scene beyond the glass tells me that stick season is officially here. Heavy winds have stripped the few remaining leaves from maple and ash. Beech and birch holding on a bit longer. I keep saying that I don’t feel ready for what is to come - six steady months of grey and white - yet with each peel-back of summer’s layers, then autumn's, I feel more and more open to it. Almost eager to see what’s around the corner. It helps that I’ve got my indoor winter craft projects lined up in enticing succession.
I've included a few unrelated foliage photos in this post, even though they were taken two to three weeks ago. I've been without my computer for a couple of weeks, hence my absence here and my need to catch up with pretty photos. It would be a shame to roll right into winter without posting autumn's glory.
On our road, heading out for an early Sunday morning drive.
Emily, kayaking on Long Pond in Westmore, Vermont.
Most of the leaves were gone, but that did nothing to hinder the beauty of this place.
The rounded formation beyond the treeline is Haystack; it can be seen from our bedroom window, thirty minutes away.
There is something I have not mentioned, something that does not necessarily need to be shared, but doing so will help to fully tell our story in this new place we call home. Not so much the walls that hold us, but the land that does.
A few weeks before my father passed away, Adam’s grandmother, known to many of you as Grandma June, also passed away, quietly and at home. Her death came one month before her 101st birthday. My reasons for not mentioning it were twofold. One, I knew at the time that my own father’s death was imminent, and how many death notices could I put out into the world at once. Second, there is actually quite a lot about my life that I do not offer publicly, things relating to my husband’s family (and my extended family, and friends, etc) among them. I don’t know, I guess I tend to stick to things that I feel I can claim as my own. I don’t want people to walk on eggshells around me wondering if I will write about them. The good or the bad. The wise and wonderful Anne Lamott says, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” I fully support any writer who adheres to that, but I am too cautious. Granted, most of my interactions at this point in life are positive, still, I choose not to share the majority of my life experiences and observations. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I do not consider myself to be a writer. I self-sensor more than any real writer would. Stick around though, if I’m still at this gig in my eighties, I’ll probably let it all fly. Should be a real hoot.
The short story, if you are new here, is that my husband’s grandparents purchased an old abandoned Vermont farmhouse settled on 100 acres, back in the 1950’s for $350. Maybe it was $300, I can’t recall at the moment. There would be no electricity, plumbing, or phone for the next twenty-plus years, and as other surrounding parcels became available, they scooped those up too, average price being fifty cents per acre. Eventually they were stewards of nearly 400 acres. Over the years, parcels ranging from ten to seventy five acres were divided off for family and for one friend (we’ll get to who that friend is in a minute). One of those lots is where my husband’s parents built a home and where he grew up. Other lots went to his mother's two sisters and brother. Now, a generation later, Adam and I are living on the land and in the house that belonged to one of his aunts. His cousin (also of our generation) now has a bit of land here, too. Feels like the kids are coming home.
Given the close proximity of her adult children, Grandmother June was able to remain in her home all the days of her life, which was her greatest wish. She was even lighting her wood cookstove each morning, well into her late nineties. When she passed, the fabric of life up here changed for many. Adam’s aunt who we purchased our house from, along with her husband, felt it was time to move on to warmer pastures. So here we are.
The part of the story that I’ve wanted to share, and just haven't done so yet, is what became of June’s homestead. Especially as many of you have asked and I’ve mostly avoided the question. Well, it was offered to anyone in the family first, of course. The older generation had no interest, and most of the older cousins live too far away, Adam and I were the likely ones to purchase it if we were interested. It was not an easy decision to come to, but we decided to pass, and went for this house instead. I won’t tell you that we never wonder if that was the correct decision, because we do, often. But June’s house needed a lot of the “big stuff” done to it (turns out this one does too...), and although technically her land does abut the land we already owned, it is divided by a right-of-way driveway to another family member’s home. The two parcels would never quite feel joined up. We felt we should take a pass. The house we wound up purchasing does meet up with the land we already own. It all blends together much more naturally. The other reason we were able to make the decision with ease, is because we knew who the next interested buyer (beyond family) was, and we all rather liked the idea of that person becoming the new steward of Billymead.
I’ve been coming up here since I was nineteen years old, and for all of that time, as far as I can recall, a man named Alan owned a camp on the southern side of the property we now own. I think his parcel is about 25 acres, as is ours, so there is a fair amount of buffer all around. Alan, a professor of eastern religions from Pennsylvania, comes up to camp for one month each summer. His land once belonged to June. He is a wonderful friend to the family, and was especially close with June. He always admired her home, and expressed he would be interested in buying it someday, if it became available. His own (now adult) son told friends, when June passed away, that she was like a grandmother to him. He’d been coming to camp his whole childhood, and had many of his own Billymead adventures and memories.
The original homestead and its builders.
After the front porch was added. The porch remains today.
The reason I am sharing about Alan, is because it was his ancestors that originally built June’s old 1800’s farmhouse. His fondness was not mere appreciation for a bucolic Vermont farm, rather, it came from a familiarity deep within his own bloodline. If the home was not to stay within Adam’s family, Alan was next in line. So you can see how easy it was to know that if we didn’t feel it was the right place for us, it would indeed land in the hands of the person who likely needed it the most. Alan still comes up for only one month each summer, and he still owns both properties with no desire to sell his camp at this time. He is the kindest person and part-time neighbor, and he invites us to pick apples on his two properties.
In every sense of the word, the house did stay within the family, and we are now bookended on northern and southern sides with a neighbor that is here for only one month out of the year.
I hope this offers a little context about what is going on up here. I’ve been asked several times and have yet to explain. The house has been passed on, but our road name will forever hold June’s name. Alive or in memory, she will be considered the matriarch of this ridge for many years to come.
Adam, Emily, Grandmother June, and a fraction of her German Shepherds.
One final thought. Over the years, many of you have been curious about Grandma June’s personality and way of life, imaging her to be like Tahsa Tudor. I suppose maybe she was like Tasha in some ways: her ever present pack of dogs, her naturalist ways, her cooking over a wood cookstove, her legendary gardens, her spinning wool... but when I think of June, I think of Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond. Capable and strong, whip smart, sharp sense of humor, a bit proper in her mannerisms but also possessing more grit than most. June had it all, and she lived a remarkable life up here for more than half a century. It’s funny, she was older than me when she moved here, and was given another fifty years to enjoy the place. Can you imagine? What a gift that would be.