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The Journey Back To The Island

Before we moved back to the island my husband, Edward, was involved with an entire community of classic car enthusiasts. A mechanic by trade, he focused on classic restoration. Traveling far and wide searching for the next project, he almost always found something and returned home with it. We had a shop a short walk away from our back door, and that is where he was -- morning, noon and night. His car friends would stop by daily, and it seemed his contagious passion for cars knew no bounds. Cars would come and some would go. He loved 1955, 1956 and 1957 Chevrolets, also known as "the tri-fives," with a passion.

For our first anniversary Edward gave me a 1955 butternut squash and cream sedan. It had been exposed to a fire and half of the paint just on the exterior body had been damaged. He sanded and repainted it weeks earlier as a car to resell. Upon seeing its pastel colors in the grey tones of the Northwest, I fell madly in love with its sunshine exterior. On our anniversary he parked it outside the kitchen window and set a cup of coffee for me on the windowsill so I couldn't miss it. I proceeded to catch the tri-five disease on that very day and decided that I wouldn't sit on the sidelines. Instead I would embrace it. Life is all about the adventures we choose to take, and an adventure is more fun when you have a sidekick.

Years of this kind of devotion changed our lives. What once was a hobby became an occupation which really just meant that more cars came and went. We remember these days fondly now, driving down I-5 with a car trailer and an envelope of cash. Always trying to find the next project, we were elated when it was actually found. Exporting cars, brokering them and sometimes simply using eBay were approaches we used to sell these special vehicles. We even high-graded a few for ourselves. I, too, found myself getting excited about the discovery of a rare triple vintage carburetor peeking out from under the hood. Like I said -- his enthusiasm was contagious.

By the time our daughter was born we had created such a busy lifestyle on the mainland we couldn't seem to slow down. Our fast track life felt like a rat race, because it was. The pull to the island was now ever present. It was a place we knew from our childhood. A place we knew that a child could really be a child. It seemed to call to us every time we looked into our daughter's clear blue eyes. We knew that it was time to make a change. It was time to build more than just a living, it was time to build a life.

So, we put all those beautiful cars in storage, packed up our belongings (and the farm), and along with our almost two-year-old daughter, moved to Orcas Island. We became different people. We became parents. We tamed raw property to build a home. And we had to build businesses to support this new life that was far different from what once was. We acquired new skills and left old ones behind. It sounds easy, but I assure you it wasn't a seamless process.

Once when our daughter was five years old, we opened the storage barn where all the classic cars were stored, and our daughter simply stated, "Dad, why do you have so many cars? You can only drive one.” My husband and I laughed at that statement because it was such a simple observation that only children blatantly state. There wasn't an easy answer to her question. How do you tell a five-year-old that we were still holding onto the people we once were?

It’s amazing how you can go down so many roads and have so many adventures on a 50 square mile island. It's equally amazing how when you try to slow down, everything speeds up. When you shed the skin of the life you once knew and you embrace what life has become, life doesn't slow down, it keeps moving. And as we marvel at every developmental milestone our daughter masters, it reminds us once again that life seems to be moving at warp speed. Perhaps it's just in our minds, we now had a new way to measure time with every developmental milestone our daughter mastered as a ticking clock. For some reason it seemed to be moving faster.

When my husband started Axe & Wedge, a local firewood company, he wanted to create something that provided a service to the community, but at the same time offered some flexibility with the use of his time. In the second autumn of Axe & Wedge being in business, I noticed that late afternoon when the sky grew dark, Edward would head to the shop since it's not wise to process firewood in the dusk. He would disappear for just a few hours every evening when the days were short. At first, I just assumed he was fixing something that was broken, but then I started to notice he smelled like the mechanic I once knew. I noticed that one of the cars was missing its car cover. I noticed boxes arriving here and there that had return labels that I recognized from years past.

Success comes in many forms. I know it's different for everyone. For us it's about being able to take the time to do the things we love. It's about those boxes arriving that have return labels I recognize. It's about the car that no longer is invisible under a car cover. It's about dropping off our daughter at the bus stop, so we get a few more minutes to chat with her every morning. It's about all these little insignificant decisions we get to make every day that make our lives feel more fulfilled.

When our daughter turned thirteen, she and Edward started a new project: restoring a 1956 Chevrolet wagon, a classic that my husband and I found when I was pregnant with her. It was one of those cars that she pointed out when she was five and made her blatant statement. They spend weekends and evenings sandblasting and bonding over what seems like an overwhelming project to most people. We now know the UPS man well.

We can't slow the clock down, but it's important that our daughter knows both who we are now and perhaps have some insight into who we once were. We have had the extraordinary opportunity to live here and to realize that it's not the quantity of time we get to spend with her, but the quality that matters.

She reminds us that we are a part of something bigger and that we can only drive one car at a time, too.

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