The first time I visited the farmhouse here at Fern Island Farm was in January 2014. It would be the first time I officially met my future (unbeknownst to me at the time) family-in-law. Fañch had told his mom that he was bringing a friend over for crêpes and to see the farm. When she tells the story now she laughs, saying that when she saw the look in Fañch’s eyes as we sat together at the table she knew there was something more going on.
As is typical in January, the day was overcast. The trees were bare but the grass was green. The courtyard in front of the house was bursting at the seams with palm trees of all shapes and sizes, shivering stands of bamboo, and two hounds, whose Breton names I could not pronounce, weaved in between it all. The house stood discretely behind the verdure. Blue shutters were framed by naked pear tree branches and wisteria vines.
There are a handful of places in this world which put me at ease simply upon entering the space. A friend’s home on a quiet St. Paul street. A professor’s sunlit office. My grandparents’ kitchen. It is something I feel right away on my first visit. As soon as I walk through the door it is as though whatever problem I had when arriving has evaporated and drifted out the window. There is warmth that calms even the coldest of winter days or most frigid of anxious thoughts. On that January morning I found another one of these sanctuaries, a centuries old farmhouse in the Breton countryside.
The walls were painted orange and nearly every available inch seemed to have a picture hung upon it. Or a violin. Or framed prints of vegetables. In the corner was a built-in floor-to-ceiling bookcase. The books filled each shelf, stood towering in piles on the remaining ledge, and covered the coffee table. Philosophy, religion, the natural world. Language, politics, and history. Breton fables and veterinary medicine. Biographies of folk singers and authors. A crackling wood stove centered the room, Fañch stoked the flames and added a log or two, closing the glass-paned door before smoke could billow out.
I felt a smile spread across my face and I quickly sneaked a photo, not sure if photographing someone else’s house was normal but not wanting to ever forget the time and space in which I had found myself.
In the four years since I took that photo, the farmhouse and more specifically, that room, have been a constant reassurance as my life evolved and changed quicker and more drastically than ever before. Its walls have held me and sheltered me, providing a home on days when I was not really sure anymore what “home” was.
My first Christmas away was celebrated there, the house soaking up our laughter and storing it for when we would need it later. Eight months later Fañch and I announced our engagement to his parents as we stood in the kitchen late one evening. My father-in-law helped my sister carry my wedding dress down the staircase on a warm August morning a year after that. My mom buttoned it up as I stood next to the dining room table on which we ate crêpes during my first visit.
On a particularly difficult day of motherhood I had called upon my father-in-law to take Lewis as I finished milking cows. He had fussed and cried all evening and nothing I did would calm him long enough for me to finish my work. Defeated and out of ideas, I sent a message to my in-laws asking if they were back home. Knowing I was attempting to work with the baby, they came straight home and drove up to the milking parlor. Jean-Yves swept in and picked his grandson up, gave me one of his reassuring soft smiles, and brought him back to the house.
As soon as I had finished and washed up I went to the farmhouse to pick Lewis up. I was exhausted and discouraged, questioning how I ever thought I could work full time while mothering full time with Lewis (sometimes literally) attached at the hip. As I walked into the house I heard the familiar crackling of the fire. It masked the sound of the wind whistling outside. The warm colors on the walls seemed to glow, as though reflecting the flames in the stove itself. And there, asleep in his grandfather’s arms, was Lewis. Finally resting. Finally calm. The house had worked its magic on him as it had me so many times before.
To be continued.