I came back to Forsyth County in the Summer of 2016 with a mission — find out if the family farm is salvageable. At the time, the farm was still owned by my father and uncles, and had been uninhabited for the past two years. The house had issues from almost as far back as I can remember — questionable spots in the foundation and a leaky roof, to name a few.
On the drive down from Boone, I tried to prepare myself. “It’s going to be bad” I remember repeating in my head. And it was. I pulled into the gravel driveway and parked just past 10 a.m. It was a Saturday in July, the grass all over the property, that my Dad had always kept manicured, was waist high, all the way up to the house. The tarp that had been set up over the leakiest part of the roof had long since ripped off in the wind and blown away. The house looked dreary and broken down, like something out of a stress nightmare.
The photos below are the ones that were posted on Zillow a year or so before then (and still are — not sure how that works). You get the idea why not a single person came for a showing in two years.
Entering the house, I was unprepared. On opening the door, I was overcome with the smell you get when you tear open a hot bag of compost to dump on the garden. Hot, wet, and broken down. As Pat, who is sitting beside me and giving me feedback as I write this pointed out, I went to school for creative writing. So, I’ll spare you the drawn out, self-indulgent, room-by-room description. In short, it was moldy, steamy, and dank. There was a general atmosphere of rot. I started coughing. And in one spot, just past the small colony of mushrooms that were flourishing in the corner of the living room, my foot went through the floor. I have to admit, there were warning creaks — I knew I was tempting fate.
So let’s go back to the why of this story. Any normal person confronted with this situation would turn and run, and that would be a wise decision. Surely there are other farms in lesser states of disrepair in similar areas that could play host to this new life journey. But this farm was my farm. Not literally, as I found out five months later when I bought the farm from my Dad and uncles. But it was mine, deep in my heart. I grew up here and knew the house and the barn and the trees. I had memories in every square inch of these 14 acres and there was something irresistible about the idea of reclaiming what was so close to waste and abandon.
I walked out of the house, wiped the blood off of my shin, and took a deep breath of fragrant Summer air as I looked north toward the horizon of trees and the growing sub-development just beyond. Our neighbor’s land had been sold off and was being developed. There was something deep inside of me that wanted to prevent that here.
So first I, and then Michael and I, camped out on the screened-in porch until mid-September. Slowly, room-by-room, we reclaimed the living spaces in the house from the mold and rot. We scrubbed and disinfected every square inch of everything. Installing a fridge and reinstating hot water were major milestones.
Then there were much bigger milestones. We learned to rip off and replace a roof. We learned to crawl under the house and stab floors joists with a screwdriver to find out which ones were rotten. I fell through the floor several more times. We dug out old air ducts, taped them up (because that’s something that should be done) and laid down a vapor barrier. As we ripped out more of the damage, we found more that was damaged. I feel like I spent six months of my life in coveralls and dirt under the house. We learned every aspect of our new home — we took ownership.
Slowly, day-by-day, through the long, cold winter without forced air heating or floors or really complete walls, things started to come together. We finished the floors. Drywall went up. As the first tulips of 2017 emerged, we were reinbahiting rooms that had long been bastions of dust and demolition debris. The space began feel less like a monster and more like a home.
It’s important to say at this point that I didn’t do this on my own. Michael and I didn’t do it on our own. There’s a long cast of Brightheart regulars (you know who you are) who have sacrificed more than any reasonable person would expect of their friends to support the rehabilitation of our home, and for that I’m eternally grateful. But I don’t lose sleep worrying and feeling like I can never repay them. I think that what we are all working to create at Brightheart is more than sufficient compensation. It’s a space where we can leave the world for a moment and feel like we’re totally alone in the woods. A space to nurture ideas, creativity, and slow down long enough to catch our breath. A space to enjoy the dirt and the trees and the sun, complete with a house with a shower and a couch for when you need a break, and all of the characters that have brought this happy home to life from the very beginning. Thanks to all of you.