Hemingway went to Paris to discover, he once explained, if “I could write two good sentences.”
While there, however, Papa wrote two good books, The Sun Also Rises and Farewell to Arms.
James Michener wrote several of his epic novels holed up for months in the same Bangkok hotel room.
Sinclair Lewis found Babbitt and Main Street first in Italy.
Illinois-inspired. Me, I came to central Illinois and the spacious, white-walled office hideaway above the backyard carriage house that doubles as a garage.
It’s been my idyllic workshop since 1988 after a tedious, two-year renovation of what once was the hay mow and oat bin for the horses below.
Now, however, it, and the gorgeous, two-and-a-half-story white home that has been the family’s sanctuary since September 1986, passes to a new owner.
Leaving. Yep, the very lovely Catherine and I are rounding a corner in our now-50-year-old lives: the smaller, simpler corner.
That means this office, this quiet, 800-square-foot crow’s nest of books, desks, computers, golf clubs, pictures, poker chips and paper, will shortly be traded for 300-square-feet of uncluttered modernity.
Did I mention the view of the (fish-holding) lake the new office affords?
Cleaning clutter. The move has been months in the works. It takes months to winnow the contents of nine file cabinets to just two, to choose which of the 37 framed pictures and plaques now looking down on me here will look down on me there, and to sell or give away 45 of the 53 antique cameras collected over the last 20 years.
It also takes time to find a home for the 9-by-4-foot, handmade, 100-year-old library table that has served as my desk since the late 80s.
I bought it (for about a $1 per pound) when a local library auctioned it off to keep their lights on.
When I telephoned the library to offer it back last month, a deal was quickly struck. So, off it goes, back to its original and rightful owners.
Gone too are the four, long shelves and all the tottering stacks of background material they held for the several books I planned to write but never did. Recycling paper is very easy because writing a book is very hard.
Two weeks ago, I owned six computers. This week I own four. Next week I’ll own two. Is there any reason whatsoever to hang onto, and move for the third time, a 1984 Compaq portable computer – a portable that weighs 26 pounds?
Moving memories. Making the move, however, will be the memories.
Memories such as my mother-in-law graciously loaning me the money to renovate this barn into an office, then quietly turning away as I sawed three huge holes into its painted, redwood siding to accommodate upper floor windows.
Then there’s the impossibly hot June day in 1988 when I toted 41 sheets of heavy drywall up the building’s 15 steps.
The only thing worse was the impossibly hot June day a year later when I wrestled two, 25-foot-long rolls of 12-foot-wide carpet up here to lay.
One day could have been worse. It was the time a hulking local farmer, well-known for his bluntness, climbed my stairway to heaven with a tablet of complaints in hand.
The impromptu meeting was interrupted five minutes later when my neighbor, then the chief of police, telephoned to see if I was still alive.
Family space. Over the years, this office has served the family as well as readers and editors.
It was slumber party headquarters for daughter Gracie.
It served as a warm, dry place for son Paul when he’d scoot home from college or law school – without warning – to find the house locked.
It was a conference room to plan numerous fishing and canoeing trips with the “Bowling, Boats and Bait Boys.”
What it never was, however, was permanent. Few things ever are.
Consistency in change. This huge, quiet oasis is simply being swapped for a smaller, even quieter oasis.
An oasis – have I mentioned? – that overlooks a fish-holding lake.
And, yes, for a while, I’ll miss it, but then I’ll move on because around the corner await a new office, new stories and the never-changing Catherine.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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