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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Moving forward and rolling on with loved ones in the passenger seat

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The pressure is on to finish the VW bus restoration in 2017 in order to hit the road with Jock, Horace and Hilda.

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Usually at the end of the year, I take a look back at progress made with my Live Local goals—and for several years they were starting to sound like a country-Western song: pay down credit card debt, work on the second floor of the bookstore, work on the house, pay bills, buy local, keep head above water, etc. But here is the thing about the swirl of life when in the middle of it: There is no way to get any perspective about it at all.
Unless you live with Hilda.

A WORLD AWAY: Happy Camper vans provided Gwenyfar and Jock shelter on the road in Iceland. Courtesy photo

A WORLD AWAY: Happy Camper vans provided Gwenyfar and Jock shelter on the road in Iceland. Courtesy photo

Hilda is the light of my life—a furry love light who wanders around on four legs and is best described as “The Marilyn Monroe of dogs.” She is remarkable at bringing my life back into focus.

I began 2016 with a variety of big goals: Keep the house on Market Street from collapsing; restore my ’67 VW camper bus; finish the second floor of the bookstore; employ local tradesmen; grow the bookstore; explore the nooks and crannies of Wilmington I have missed; buy local; and spend more time with Jock and our dogs. Now this last one shouldn’t need to be written down, right? Well, for workaholics, it can be hard to remember what it is we are working for: to make a better life for our loved ones.

We began the year with round-the-clock medical care for Hilda. (She was recovering from a car accident and one of her legs had been rebuilt by the stunningly talented Dr. Ned Williams of Eastern Carolina Veterinary Referral.) Confronted so starkly with the possibility of losing her, I resolved to spend more time doing things with her, Horace and Jock. I was working myself to pieces and not fully appreciating they were who I was trying to impress and provide for.

To be fair, any one of the above goals could easily take a year of life. But I am happiest when I am spinning at top speed and doing too much. So, in all honesty, though I have felt at a loss and like my life is in limbo since early November, the reality is this has actually been a tremendously productive year. The back corner of the house on Market Street is stabilized. Progress has been made with my van. I hoped to be able to drive her by now—but maybe soon. She is painted, so the rust situation is stabilized. Now I need to buy pieces for the next stage—and, like a lot of people in town, I am focused on paying property taxes by January 5 and getting Christmas paid for. So, expenditures on the van are on hold for now.

There are people around me who smirk and make fun of the way I go about long-term goals. By and large my response to their teasing is the proof is in the pudding; There are those who do and those who tease. I know the goals are long-term. When I see a piece of furniture for one of the projects in the future at a great price, I buy it—even if it will sit in storage for three years before I am ready for it. Yes, I walk around in clothes covered in paint because I, personally, hand-painted the second floor of the bookstore—including three coats on the bead board ceilings (so I wore a lot of it). I work hard and I am not embarrassed by that.

For five years I chipped away at the second floor project of the bookstore, with varying degrees of forward movement. Maybe part of why I have been feeling such a collapse for the last two months is the equal and opposite reaction of my body demanding a rest after a huge push to finish the second-floor project by October 1. We finally opened our Literary Loft as a nightly rental above the bookstore. It has been wonderful; we have met so many nice people as a result, but it was grueling to get it finished.  Not that it isn’t an amazing feeling to finally check off a goal I have worked toward since 2010. Along the way I bought new and used local materials, employed local tradesmen, and learned a lot about construction and restoration.

Just when I was at the lowest and most bewildered I have been in months about work, the way forward and the world in general, Hilda got bitten by a snake. At first I thought it was a rat. Regardless, I scooped her up and arrived at the vet’s office in state of hysteria. A couple Prednisone and antibiotic injections later (followed by antibiotics at home), she is fine (thank all the gods!) and surprised at her people overreacting. Again, it was the sharp focus: Whatever the NC General Assembly does, the efforts renovating, the struggles with deadlines, keeping the business going—all of that is a support system for spending time, making memories and sharing life with those who matter. I can’t be a superhero to the world, but I matter a lot to this one dog. Maybe that’s all I can really be.

Toward the goal of spending more time with Jock and dogs, Jock and I took our first non-working vacation together in at least seven years in 2016. We rented a camper and drove around Iceland. (It blew me away that this was cheaper than four days in New York.) This was partly research for what we want to do with restoring the VW camper and thoughts toward spending time in it. Surprisingly, I had a harder time being away from work than he did. Jock managed to turn our vacation into a series of visits to farms and chats with farmers, so he really got to keep working. Though, it was a good reset for us. Time for focus, conversation, and none of the distractions our hyper-busy lives respond to all-too easily.

However, we didn’t take the dogs with us—they are not ready for international flights. I haven’t been away from them for two whole weeks since they came to live with us and I was absolutely bereft. If anything, our trip not only reinforced how proud I am of Jock and his work, but also that I really need to finish the van so Hilda and Horace can travel with us.

So the pressure is on to move forward. Jock was a little shocked when we discussed a timeline, and I announced that as soon as I could get it legal to drive (lights, brakes, signals, windows, etc.), I’d put the driver’s seat in and an old mattress in the back for the dogs. It has been almost three years, and I really want to drive her down the road with Horace and Hilda hanging their heads in the breeze and sunshine.

Apparently, Jock thought she wasn’t going to roll until she was perfect. “The enemy of the good,” I commented. Yes, she will be perfectly restored one day, but first she will be drivable and enjoyable with friends, dogs and Jock.

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