May 25, 2022

Moving In To Benzonia

Before – boxes and belongings arrive from Kentucky. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

It was chilly and sunny the April day earlier this month when the truck from Kentucky arrived in Michigan. It held all of Gabrielle’s belongings. Over the next several hours we carried them into the Benzonia house. Though we’ve been married nearly five years, this transport of furniture and appliances, books, clothing, and all manner of other goods formalized a momentous change in our lives. For the first time we’d be living together at a single address. Given the formidable exertion of psychic and physical energy that went into the move, from my perspective I look for it to be permanent.

I turn 66 this week. That’s old enough to know the decisions and events that carry real weight. A fortunate life, like the one I’ve led, turns on surprisingly few pivot points. Most, if you’re lucky, are your choice: Friends. Colleges. Mates. Careers. Children. And through so many of these self-appointed choices, it’s noteworthy how moving exerts such influence.

Equally significant is the decision not to move.

I’ve experienced the power of both to alter my life.

By the time I was 29, I’d moved six times from White Plains, NY to Philadelphia, Boston, Wilkes-Barre, Charleston, Sacramento, and Bethesda. Every one of those moves had a single overriding objective. They advanced a journalism career that took me to the Washington Bureau of the New York Times.

I started a new life in northern Michigan in the early 1990s because of a move I didn’t make. I turned down the Times’ offer to become the Denver bureau chief due to resistance from my first wife. Here along the northern shores of Lake Michigan I’ve moved six times between two counties. Moving, in short, has been a periodic event with consequential results.

After – a home transformed. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

I wasn’t the one moving in this latest event, which kicked off with a phone call Gabrielle received late last year from a dear friend. “Are you thinking of selling your house?” Cheri asked. A prescient question.

Yes, Gabrielle had indeed been thinking of selling her much-loved Somerset, Kentucky home, for a number of practical reasons. The several-times-per-year trek between homes was hectic, made far more-so by the two pets we adopted in August of 2020, one of which — Choppa — was a carsick cat. It was hard to change locations; whatever she was looking for was always in the other house. And she’d come to love Benzie County and our wonderful community of friends during the ten years she’d spent here during the warm summer months. As last summer ended she described her reluctance to leave. Home prices were rising in Somerset. Kentucky’s hard tilt to the extreme right was making her unhappy. Then there was her desire to reduce expenses, her confidence in our marriage. Yes, she’d given serious thought to selling her house.

When she put down the phone I understood the significance. I told her that was one of the calls, one of the handful of conversations that are capable of utterly changing your life. Six months later it has. She’s here. Our lives are joined in one place. While the Earth warms and America crumbles and a war is turning Ukraine to rubble and death, here in Benzie we’re together. We’re troubled like everyone we know. We’re also safe.

Loaded in Somerset. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

I would like to report that I was a tower of strength through the last month while we packed the boxes in Kentucky, loaded the truck, and unloaded it in Michigan.

Physically, I was sturdy enough to do all that. Psychically, I was off my game.

I learned I had no interest in moving. I was happy with what we had. Two homes in separate states that we could afford. Great friends in both places. In Kentucky, Gabrielle’s brother Joseph lived with us in a studio apartment she’d built in one of her home’s two garages, and her sister-in-law, Libby, lived only a few blocks away. We spent summers in Benzie and winters in warmer Somerset where spring arrived in early March.

Also, I’d already moved Gabrielle in 2016 from her home in Owensboro to Somerset. It took three other men and two trips in the largest U-Haul in the company’s fleet. I projected the Benzie house would be inundated with a surplus of everything, especially the four imposing glass-front Kentucky-crafted cabinets that she asserted could not possibly be left behind, and all the books and fragile items that filled them.

She also expressed reluctance approaching regret at leaving the heritage state her family helped settle in the 18th century, and the people she loved. She was nervous about Michigan’s long, dark, cold winters.

I told her the very night we arrived here that I felt “bulldozed.” You can imagine her reaction. She responded that she had “totally capitulated.” We decided love mattered most of all and soldiered on. I cleared junk, rearranged the ground floor store room in Benzie, and put down new carpet in three rooms. At the suggestion of a friend we discovered Facebook Marketplace. I sold stuff in Michigan to make room. She sold stuff out of the Kentucky house to make more room and earn enough to pay the drivers’ tips.

Now, two weeks after the movers unloaded in Michigan, boxes are emptied, furniture is in place, the house is in order and more beautiful than it’s ever been. I finished a new piece for the Times. Tomorrow I launch the next big project. Gabrielle is arranging her office in the sunlight-bright corner of the ground floor. Our movie watching area across the room is a cozy treat. I’ve begun raking the gardens in preparation for planting in May. It was warm enough a week ago for the first bicycle ride of the season.

We completed the move. All is good with the world. Welcome home, Gabrielle.

— Keith Schneider

Loading in Somerset. (Photo/Keith Schneider)
Unloaded in Benzonia. (Photo/Keith Schneider)
New look in Benzonia. (Photo Keith Schneider)

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