We had three cars, two sons, a golden retriever, and an in-ground pool. For seven years, my husband and I had been living the dream in a center-entrance colonial with attached two-car garage in a suburb west of Boston. Paul commuted to his job as Vice President of Sales for a software company and I was a happy stay-at-home Mom.
Now, two close friends were moving to New Hampshire to embark on a real-estate development project and wanted Paul to ditch his high-stress, high-travel corporate job and become their partner. I thought it was a wonderful idea. For weeks I’d been putting a full-court press on my reluctant husband to make the move. I was envisioning a Currier & Ives life in beautiful New Hampshire, raising two boys who would each become a combination of Huckleberry Finn and Opie from the Andy Griffith Show.
"I'm terrified we’re going to lose everything,” Paul said one night. We were making progress; a couple of weeks before, he was saying, “No way in hell.”
"We won’t,” I replied with all the certainty that accompanies insane naiveté. “We can do this.”
Paul finally caved and on a rainy spring day in 1987, we loaded a truck with the contents of our subdivision colonial and then unloaded it into a 200-year-old cape on seventeen acres.
Three years later, we handed the keys to the bank and filed for bankruptcy. My husband’s worst fears had come true. We had lost everything.
Sitting on the crooked stone step outside the kitchen door, I closed my eyes and let the warmth of the early summer morning wash over me. A furry golden head lay heavily on one bare foot; Rozzi’s soft snore mingled with birdsong, creating a soothing harmony.
The abrupt roar of a chain saw jolted me out of my reverie. Both dogs raised their heads briefly at the familiar sound, then went back to sleep.
So much for peace and quiet.
I stood and looked beyond the yard to the small field that lay on the other side of our narrow dirt road. Several tall, limbless trees lay in the field, scattered like Lincoln Logs on a green carpet. Sawdust flew as Paul’s chain saw dug into a thick trunk.
I turned and headed into the house.
"A.J.,” I called to our youngest son, “we have to be out of here in fifteen minutes if I’m going to take you to Zach’s before I go to work.”
Four years after we filed for bankruptcy, a series of fiscally frugal steps had brought us to another old farmhouse in another small, New Hampshire town. Paul had returned to the corporate world and was gone Monday through Friday. I was selling real estate.
Our lives were dictated by what things cost. There were no restaurants and no fun family getaways. Shopping was limited to necessities. To avoid paying for pre-split firewood for our woodstove and two fireplaces, Paul was spending his two days at home each week splitting wood. I wondered how much of this time-consuming task was really about money. Or was the manual labor just a good excuse to be alone?
I walked into the living room. “Adam, honey, what are you doing today?”
My oldest was smart enough to put his video game controller down. He looked up at me with black-brown eyes fringed by thick eyelashes.
His father’s eyes.
“Dunno,” he answered. “How long are you gonna be gone?”
“Not sure. I’m showing three houses, so probably early afternoon.”
“Oh.” His narrow shoulders sagged and he turned back to his game.
“I’m sorry, sweetie. When I get home we’ll go to the lake for a swim. I promise.”
His face brightened a little. “Okay, Mom. See ya.”
My heart ached. What’s happened to us?
Bankruptcy had happened.
“I hate money,” Adam said to me one night as I sat on the edge of his bed.
I almost wept. “I know, honey. I know this is hard.”
I understood lost college and retirement funds weighed heavily on Paul, but we had lost more than that. What about joy? And fun? And happiness? I’d lost the man who always made me laugh when I was angry. The boys had lost the father who loved to act as much like a kid as they did.
As A.J. and I backed out of the driveway and headed down the dirt road I glanced at Paul, intent on the log before him.
I had to come up with a way to make a whole lot of money, so Paul would stop worrying and we’d be happy again.
Selling real estate wasn’t going to do it. As a fledgling realtor in a small town swimming in realtors, I sold houses at the low end of the price spectrum. By the time the commission was divided, my piece was small. Besides, I hated selling real estate.
I need to start my own business.
I had no clue what starting and running a business would entail. I didn’t even know enough to think that far ahead. I just knew I needed to make a lot of money and believed that owning a business was the way to do it. But we had settled into a life where naïve first steps into the unknown were — as far as my husband was concerned — reckless foolishness. Flying leaps? Not even up for discussion.
All that changed the day I decided to build a better brownie.