Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 22, 2010

Serendipity to Sleepy Hollow

At this time of the year, any mention of Sleepy Hollow is certain to raise thoughts about Ichabod Crane, the Headless Horseman and a dark scary night's ride. But while the Sleepy Hollow where husband Art and I recently spent a night is caught between two high nearby ridges that give a feeling of isolation from the outside world, it was anything but frightening. In fact, it was downright beautiful.

Returning from shutting down our cottage in Wisconsin for the winter, we were able to squeeze in a night at the home of Art's high school classmate JoAnn and her hubby Bob.

Art first saw the place a few years back, shortly after they purchased it. He told me his first impression involved two strong feelings - one of envy and one of thinking they had lost their minds. The original farmhouse was built in 1856 and was added to in fits and starts in the years following. There was no question that it needed a lot of work. But it was also undeniable that the setting was breathtaking.

For Jo and Bob, it was pretty much love at first sight - even though their first sight of the house was in a snowstorm. The house has conventional plumbing, but the water supply is a spring just to the north. Several hundred feet to the west past the meadow is a small trout stream. Sitting on either porch, a person may see a pheasant come out of the nearby tall grass and cross the lawn. At night, the sky between each twinkling star is black. Not the absence-of-day black of the city, but the black that somehow seems darker than when you close your eyes under the covers at night. The hazy glow isn't the reflection of lights from a city's smog, but a clearly visible Milky Way. Jo says she never tires of just looking at the sky.

While the house needs a lot of love, Bob and Jo have no intention of converting it into one of those "modern" homes that spring up in the country these days. Their goal is to restore it to a well-functioning farm home, even though there won't be any farming other than gardening and maybe raising a few chickens. And while the work ahead might dim many people's enthusiasm, Bob looks forward to it. He isn't the type who sits around easily and he enjoys seeing the fruits of his labor.

And as for Jo, after years of working in banking in Chicago, she too enjoys watching the fruits of Bob's labor. Years of living in the city with the sound of jet planes taking off and landing at O'Hare International Airport night and day made it easy to turn her back on their nice home in the suburb of Rolling Meadows and get into the country life.

But the path to where they are was anything but a direct one. They met in college, but the Vietnam War took him away. Not knowing what the future might bring, Bob thought it best to let Jo go - to let her find a life. Bob had a talent for languages and he was trained in Mandarin so he could eavesdrop on enemy communications.

After he left the service, he drifted. It wasn't the drifting of a leaf in the wind, but of a man who seems to have an unlimited fascination for the things life has to offer. He spent much time reading and exploring, working at simple jobs such as dishwashing - anything that wouldn't get in the way of his endless curiosity.

And Jo? She found that other life Bob expected she would. She met Bill, fell in love and settled down in Chicago where he taught math in a high school. Two children came - son Chris and daughter Carrie.

But when the children were still young, Bill developed cancer and died. Jo returned to working in banking. At times she had considered remarrying, but with kids to raise, a house to tend to and a full-time job, life just got in the way.

Other than the chubby part, I've never considered Art to be anything like cupid. But in Bob and Jo's case, he was. Ten years ago when Art saw Jo's mother's obituary in his hometown newspaper, he wrote to her. That led to a reunion at her home in Chicago. Art happened to mention how he has occasionally used his genealogical skills to locate people. When Jo asked how to go about finding someone, Art knew immediately she wasn't asking about just anyone.

Within a week, Art had located Bob. He had never married and was living only 100 miles away. She made a phone call - and the rest is history.

So now, two people who for so many years had their bodies in the city, but their hearts in the country, have, through a bit of serendipity, found not only a place that suits them, but each other.

And nearby, just a few yards from their door, Sleepy Hollow Road passes by. There is no Ichabod Crane or Headless Horseman. But the old house does have a new name. It's now called Serendip.

Serendip with its bright yellow tamarack trees.

Left, Bob, Art and JoAnn by the garden plot; right, Jo shares her opinion with Bob about something he did.

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