Never Too Old to Reinvent Ourselves
by Christine Tailer
I was a trial attorney in Cincinnati. The job fit my personality perfectly. I was always excited to meet new clients, listen to their stories, gather witnesses, and, in time, tell their stories to a jury. For twenty-two years I lived an incredibly rich urban life, weaving words into the fabric of the real lives that walked through my office door. I felt fulfilled and rewarded beyond measure.
As my hair began to grey, however, I began to feel an inkling, just barely a tickle, that I should consider slowing down, but I honestly did not know if I could ever let go. Litigation was such a big part of my life, and I knew that my colleagues felt the same. One day, though, I walked into court to greet an older lawyer who was using a three-footed cane. He was obviously walking with great discomfort while trying to push his client in a wheelchair towards the front of the courtroom. Of course, I offered my assistance. The following day, on another case, in another courtroom, my adversary, also an older lawyer, greeted me quietly at the door. “Christine, could you tell me what case we are here on today? My secretary just told me to come to this room, but did not mention my client’s name.” I told him, and I also reminded him of our opposing positions. That little inkling in the back of my mind grew stronger, and I began to seriously consider my exit.
It was a humbling process. My attorney self was so very much a major part of who I was. Friends would jokingly introduce me as their lawyer. My children had grown up listening to case stories: the backhoe and the ball; the fly on the principal’s pizza; the sewer-swamped, million-dollar home. Every night I would fall asleep reciting my closing arguments over and over in my head. Now I wondered not only what would I do in retirement, but who would I be.
My dear husband came to the rescue. He is a country fellow who loved me so much that, when we got married, he moved into the city and adapted to my Cincinnati life. I would often find him sitting on our back porch, looking out over our small urban yard, no doubt imagining the farm fields of his youth. When I told him of my inkling, he suggested that we look for a rural weekend getaway to keep us busy once the children had all moved on.
So, for the next two years, we drove out of the city to explore properties on country roads. I was in no rush to devote my precious time to a rural endeavor, however, and my husband, thankfully, is a patient man. Then one day, we turned off the main two-lane road and drove two miles down a one-lane, gravel road alongside a creek. We both barely spoke as we stepped out of the car. We were standing in a beautiful valley. The creek ran clear and wide behind us. An old tobacco barn stood before us. The house had long ago burned to the ground, leaving a pile of rocks where its chimney had once stood. We climbed the hillsides, walked the creek, and I fell completely in love.
The farmstead encompassed sixty-three acres, of which fifteen were tillable, but the one-lane, gravel road leading to the farm was not passable for large modern farm equipment, and the acreage was simply not enough to support conventional farming. The nearest utility lines were also well over a mile away. The cost of running lines in to the farm would have only added to the required investment in the property and so had kept potential developers away. We held our breath, made an offer, and held our breath some more, and then, in the spring of 2003, the property was ours. I thought it odd that we were given no key. The land was simply ours.
Suddenly, I found myself researching oil lamps, wood-fire cooking, seed starting, and a million other things that had never crossed my city-centered mind before. My husband researched solar electricity, and he designed and installed a small solar array to power the small, three-hundred-eighty-eight-square-foot cabin we built for ourselves. My weekends became busily filled with planting a garden, tending our first beehives, fishing in the creek, and adding the finishing touches to our perfect little cabin. The wooden swing on the front porch quickly became my favorite place on earth, and I found myself falling fast asleep at night, wonderfully tired and dreaming of our next farm venture.
Then, one weekend as we drove down the gravel road heading back to the city, I turned to my husband and told him that I really did not want to leave. He smiled and said that he had been waiting for me to say this. So, in 2006, we put the city house on the market, held the world’s biggest yard sale, retired from our city jobs, and moved to the little cabin permanently. Family and friends placed bets as to how long I would last. Well, fifteen years later I have never once looked back.
We happily lived in the small cabin for twelve years. It was not only our home, but also our office. My husband was a mechanical designer, and for several years, as we learned to farm, we both worked very part-time out of our virtual offices. I took on court appointments, representing children in the county’s juvenile court, and my husband worked several contract design projects, but once we had saved up enough to build and completely finish our somewhat larger dream home—a beautiful, nine-hundred-sixty-square-foot log structure—we hung up our virtual shingles and moved across the gravel drive. The little cabin is now our guest house for visiting family and friends.
I am pleased to say that, even though some might consider me to be a retired trial attorney, I consider myself to be a maple syrup producer, beekeeper, goat herder, chicken farmer, grower of vegetables, and crafter of gourds, among many, many other things. Surely, it was rather scary to make this retirement move. It almost felt as though I was stepping off of a tall step and could not quite see where my foot would touch down, but I knew that I had my husband by my side and that we were headed off on this adventure together.
I suppose, at the age of sixty-seven, that the retirement lesson I would like to share is that we are never really too old to reinvent ourselves.
Photo credit by Christine Tailer.
Christine is a retired trial attorney who has lived for the past fifteen years on a sixty-three-acre, off-grid farm with her husband Greg, a retired mechanical designer. They have built everything on the farm themselves, from barns to their beautiful log home, and they farm themselves, using antique equipment that they have found at auctions and sitting unused in farm fields. They raised their children in Cincinnati, Ohio, and then, children grown, they followed their dreams, quitting their city jobs and moving to the farm. At first, they continued to work out of virtual home offices, but by the end of 2019, they gave up their professional careers and settled down to enjoy a fulltime farm life. Christine writes a weekly column for four local newspapers about her adventures in learning to live the country life, and, pre-COVID, both Christine and Greg gave presentations and hosted open houses on what they have learned about living with solar and wind energy.