For my first wedding anniversary, I went back to a children’s story.
When I was a kid, I loved the “Little House on the Prairie” books, so I thought it would be kind of fun to re-read “The First Four Years,” which is the last of them. It’s the story of the writer Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband Almanzo’s first years of marriage.
The story, which is pretty romanticized, is full of new wedding dishes and spring pony rides and the birth of their first baby. “Manly,” as she calls her husband, is handsome and strong and determined to succeed as a farmer, since he has an independent spirit and can’t stand the work and crowdedness of town.
As the years unfold, they’re a disaster. The kids own more land than they can pay for, and servicing the mortgages is grinding. They lose one crop to heat and another to hail. Medical and childcare are ruinously expensive. Manly becomes partially paralyzed by diphtheria, and their son dies when he’s just a few weeks old. At the end of the book, Laura, numb with grief and exhaustion, accidentally burns their house to the ground.
So, OK, I haven’t yet burned the house to the ground.
But it’s hard not to take the fable to heart. The newlyweds just can’t seem to understand that perhaps God did not mean for man to farm the Dakota territory; are we making the same mistake? Here we are, in one of the five most expensive cities in America, picking and scratching at what seems to be dry, dry ground.
I’m thinking this at a time when cash flow seems to have stabilized; I’m pulling in a thousand bucks a week from writing and editing gigs, which is not the fortune it sounds like but is way better than six months ago. It’s enough money to keep servicing the mortgages, and I’ve managed to organize my life so that I’m only working on publishing half time.
If I close a couple of transactions by the end of the year, that money will pay my taxes. And I think two in six months is doable, though I fret continually that as a half-time real estate agent I’m doing a lousy job. Paid work constantly encroaches, and the margin for error is so thin: was the buyer I called back late “The One”? What about the direct mail drop I didn’t do, the Web site improvements I didn’t make, the ad I didn’t rewrite?
My husband keeps reminding me of the “P-word,” which in our house means “patience,” the joke being that I don’t know what that is. And I have only been real estate-ing in New York for three months…but the summer stretches ahead so long, and the bills are so big.
The Wilders’ story turned out to have a happy ending: they moved to Missouri, where farming was better. They both took occasional work in town to help out their cash flow, but they managed to bump and scrape along ’till Laura’s career took off…as a writer. Their prairie daughter Rose may have been the guiding hand behind most of the manuscripts, but Laura’s memoirs became children’s classics and the couple lived to be 90. That’s a message of hope, I think.
I’d ponder it, but I gotta go show an apartment.