From the first conversation about how maybe it was time to leave the house on the hill, it only took us five months to move into our cottage in Wake Robin, near Lake Champlain. Some people take years to complete the process of choosing and then moving to a retirement community, but we said, "Why prolong the agony? Let's get it over with."
This was my husband's and my fourteenth move since the Summer of Love of 1967, and you'd think that all that practice would have made us into pros, but this was by far the hardest move of all. Since we were swapping a 2400 square-foot house with ten closets plus attic, basement, and outbuildings, for a 1400 square-foot cottage with four closets, we had to get rid of most of our stuff.
You will be surprised to hear that during this period I was not my sweet unflappable self. In fact the combined anxieties about disposing of truckloads of belongings, and getting it all done in time for the move turned me into a sort of emotional porcupine.
And when, weary and guilt-ridden after a day of packing and sorting and flinging quills at my spouse, I tried to take a break, the chaos around me made it hard to relax. Unclassifiable objects mocked me from half-filled boxes; the dogs, anxious and bored, followed me panting from room to room; and there was no comfortable place to sit. At the rate I was going, when we finally arrived in Wake Robin I would have to go not into independent living, but into skilled nursing.
That was when the universe sent me the inspiration to re-read War and Peace. For $.99 Tolstoy's masterpiece wafted into my Kindle and wafted me away from my chaotic Vermont homestead and into 19th century Russia.
I quickly realized that, in the decades since I'd first read the book, either Tolstoy had become a much better writer or I had become a better reader. My jaw fell open at the masterful characterizations--Natasha's childish arms; Pierre's spectacles; Princess Mary's timidity. My preference for the characters had changed as well. In my twenties I had had eyes only for the intense, handsome Prince Andre, but now it was plump Pierre's soul that captivated me. And those battle scenes that had bored me almost to death I now found fascinating--in part because they confirmed my suspicion that there is no "art of war," just a lot of noise and confusion and sheer dumb luck, or lack of it.
The day the movers came, I hardly noticed, so immersed was I in the battle of Borodino. And Napoleon's retreat from Russia got me through the first hectic twenty-four hours at the cottage. But the best part of this second reading of War and Peace was being able to take refuge in Tolstoy's voice, which remained the same, both powerful and serene, throughout my travails. For the last week in the old house, that voice was the only constant in my life, and every time I dove into the book I thought, "does Tolstoy know, wherever he is, how grateful I feel?"
Despite my porcupine impersonations--or perhaps because of them--the move went without a hitch. In fact, when the movers first arrived, the driver went through the house with me--up to the top floor and down to the basement, out to the garage and the old milking room--and as he passed the piles of neatly packed and labeled boxes he whistled and said, "boy, you've really got things under control here!" It was one of the proudest moments of my life.