At some point during our search, I had stumbled on a book outlining some of the best small towns to live in within the United States. There were several cities that piqued our interest, including a small town in North Carolina called Elizabeth City.
Elizabeth City is about an hour west of the Outer Banks, on the Pasquotank River, which flows into the Albemarle Sound, which flows into the Atlantic. I can’t really point to any one thing about Elizabeth City that really, in and of itself, made it stand out to us. It was really more of a compilation of little things.
We were ready for something quite different, so the small town nature of Elizabeth City was appealing. The Pasquotank is an impressive body of water, wide as it meets the Albemarle Sound, with really more of a sound or Intracoastal Waterway feel to it than anything. The harbor was quaint and friendly, where they pride themselves on their hospitality to visiting boaters, and LCB liked the idea of the boating opportunities there. Properties there were vastly less expensive than what we had been accustomed to in Chicago, and lot sizes were larger too.
Most importantly, it was close to the Atlantic Ocean. While it was certainly not island or ocean-oriented living, we reasoned that it was at least close enough to drive out to the ocean for the day, a far cry better than what we had in Chicago, obviously. We could make it to Kitty Hawk in just under an hour, and reside on waterfront property.
We found beautiful neighborhoods all up and down the river. I recall standing out in the backyard of a house that was for sale, with its own boat launch right into the Pasquotank. I looked to my right, in the direction of the sound, and saw children laughing and swimming nearby in the river. Beyond them, in the distance, an older man stood almost waist-deep in the water, motionless, taking it all in. I could see myself doing the same. And beyond the people were the boats, reviving a dormant passion in LCB.
While we were contemplating all of this, we were also now in serious discussions about starting a family. Because so many of our friends were struggling with fertility issues, we had somehow gotten into the mindset that this would, minimally, take time. It wasn’t based on any medical data, but we had talked it through and even thrown out the idea of first selling our house in the suburbs and then moving downtown for a year or so just to have fun, if a baby took a while to join us. So this idea of a “detour” was there as well, swirling around outside the vortex of coastal dreams.
At this point, too, we were sure that we would be providing our own source of income whenever we did move to the coast, so as I’ve mentioned earlier, we knew it would likely be years before we made this a reality and were able to move.
Then, during our next visit to Elizabeth City, we found a wooded lot south and east of the city, close to the sound. It was just under an acre, and it was directly on the Pasquotank. It was beautiful, and quiet, and I remember standing on the riverbank at dusk, inhaling the quiet and that faintly sweet, fresh Carolina air. I could see my whole life unfold there before me, in the two-story neo-traditional house we could build. In that moment, all the deep, wrenching pain caused by all the Ann Taylor purchases I had denied myself over the years suddenly became worth it. I had in tangible form what our nest egg could buy: the land, no, the life I’d imagined a million times or more.
The advantage of a lot over land with a house was clearly the smaller initial investment and the low maintenance required if we purchased it now and held on to it for a while before building and ultimately moving there. This would give us a direction and a goal, but we’d also be a little more able to take our time to plan and build our career path as well as our home in a new place.
It began to seem like Elizabeth City might be our next home, that we could build a life there that would be most different from the one we had in Chicago, that we could live on the water and be within reasonable driving distance of the ocean. Praying that our hearts and minds were moving where they were meant to, we sat down, and wrote an offer on the lot on the Pasquotank River. Then, we sat back and waited for an answer from the owner, who was traveling at the time.
Oh, and there was one other thing. With a result we had been eventually expecting but with a speed we had not, at this point in our quest, we found ourselves quite suddenly in the family way.