We Made Ourselves a Home
We left Nashville in 2015, selling everything we had to our friends and neighbors in a big yard sale and packing ourselves into a 16' camper (not recommended by Marvin the salesperson). We packed up our dog Butter, we accidentally ran into the neighbor's mailbox, and we immediately headed west. Then east. Then west. Then east. With a whole lot of north and south, too. We were armed only with the resentment of a bad landlord, a few EPs and a weird double album about underappreciated holidays, and some dumb belief that we, Scott & Mallory-- The Rough & Tumble-- were going to make it.
We did, of course.
It never felt like a decision so much as a leading. It never felt like a risk, it felt like a logical next step.
We gave ourselves a maximum of 10 years. "If we aren't out of the camper in 10 years, something is wrong." But as the years continued, that decade mark didn't seem so far. We got caught in a perpetual travel loop. Florida for Christmas, Nashville for recording, Michigan for summer, Appalachia for Fall. It was-- aside from the break downs and the strange spacial arrangements and the heat going out in Wyoming when it was 27 degrees-- the best of all worlds. We could have it all. We could be at home anywhere. Until we felt we were at home nowhere.
Our first true full length record-- not an EP or that weird holiday record-- was released in 2018, three years into our journey. By then, we had a good rhythm. We knew what Walmarts we could and couldn't stay in, we knew how to navigate BLM land, we knew how to sneak water into our tanks from the side of an auto parts store after closing. We were still piss poor, but we were figuring it out, and we were having to take at least one or two fewer of those horrible gigs we were needing to take our first year. We showed no sign of stopping. Which was why the title of our record, We Made Ourselves a Home When We Didn't Know seemed incongruent. We said, "It's about finding home everywhere." That was true. We said, "It's about missing the home you used to have." Also true. We said, "It's about missing the home you never had." Yes. And a record that was meant to put the matter of home to rest suddenly became a gaping something in the middle of the camper.
When we fell into a little town in Kansas or New Mexico, we played a new game called, "Would you live here for five years?" In the Northwest we played, "What if someone gave you this house here for free, but you could never travel again?" Then, when we were in South Dakota or North Carolina we cut to the chase and said, "Are we gonna live here?" But these games and questions made us discontent, and we were still well within our 10 year limit and-- we were having a blast. We love, love, love life on the road. Besides, we made a new rule-- we can't talk about where we're gonna live until we see Alaska.
It became our new mantra. When someone would ask, "Where do you think you're going to land someday?" We'd say, "We can't talk about that until we see Alaska." We stopped playing What If games and started planning our trip to Alaska.
When the #vanlife and #camperlife craze went into effect shortly after, we lost a few of our favorite parking spots, but we were rugged and resourceful by then. We were using Gorilla Tape instead of Pinterest to fix our rig, but we didn't need the aesthetics to love the lifestyle. There was no other life for us.
Decision time was coming. 2020 was going to be our year. We were heading to Alaska. Then suddenly, we weren't. Instead, we made our home stay still in California, then Alabama, then South Carolina in long stints while we waited out the pandemic. Mallory took up bookbinding. Scott got more serious about printmaking. We collected, we practiced, we dreamed. The camper sat patiently in backyards while we slept in real houses alone. Something was shifting. 2021 came, we got vaccinated, and we headed out again, but something was different. The gaping Something was wider inside the camper. Not just the stacks of paper and bookbinding supplies weighing us down under the bed, but something else weighing us down in the bottom of our hearts.
We were six years in, and it was time.
We began looking on Cheap Old Houses. We began listening in on housing prices and neighborhood gossip. No dice. We weren't ready. We were ready. We weren't ready.
In late 2021, easily the hardest year we'd ever had-- the wild unknowns mixed with the tumultuous knowns-- we found a cheap old house in southeastern Ohio. "Let's go look at it," Mallory said. We were on our way from Michigan to New England. It was an old church in the backwoods, and maybe, barely, affordable. We called the agent. We took the tour. Just like Marvin our camper salesperson, she told us not to do it. "It doesn't even have water or septic, he's asking too much!" Mallory patted down her concerns, "We've lived in a camper for years-- we can handle that."
We were going to do it. But the wrench in our guts told us otherwise.
"This isn't our house," Scott said.
"I know," Mallory said. And that mysterious Something grew hungrier.
So, we gave up. It was late October, and we decided we were done looking. We verbally committed ourselves to five more years in the camper. Yes, that would exceed our 10 year plan, but with housing prices and our career to consider, there was no other way. We could no longer live in the world of dreaming for stillness and appreciate the ride. Sometimes dreams move you forward, and sometimes they make you discontent. If we were going to continue this way, we had to stop dreaming. We shushed the Something in the middle of the camper and we buckled up and headed to New England.
And this is how the letting go works, sometimes.
Two nights later we played one of our best shows of 2021. We were in the small town of Haverhill, NH. People felt safe enough again to show up. Our friends showed up, too. It was raucous. It was fun. It felt like before the pandemic for the first time. We rode this feeling as our friends, John and Becky, approached us after the show and said--
"Our friends who came with us tonight, they live two doors down, and they would like to show you the jail in their basement."
Now, it should be noted here that as a band rule, when asked to see one's jail in the basement, we always say yes.
We left Puddle with Pat, the venue host, just in case things went south, and we walked two doors up Court Street to see the last jail in New Hampshire in which a public hanging took place. Laurel, the homeowner of said jail, read stories inside the etched, stone walls about entrails being cut out. Byron, the other half of Laurel, showed us his studio up in the debtors prison above the regular cells. It was, generally speaking, a good time. But Mallory wanted to leave and get Puddle, so she exited the jail as Scott was detained by a conversation in the second cell. As Mallory waited in the kitchen with a few friends, someone asked Laurel a question, which sparked a stranger question directed at Mallory:
"Would you like a cabin in the woods?"
"Yes," said Mallory, without thinking.
"It probably won't be ready til next summer or fall," said Laurel.
"That would be fine," said Mallory.
"What paint colors do you prefer?" said Laurel.
"Wait," said Mallory, "Is this real?"
It was real, and the next morning, we drove ten minutes from our friend's house in Vermont across the river to Haverhill, NH again where Byron and Laurel showed us a more-than-run-down cabin in the woods. They described the renovations, their history of work. They assured us we could have the place on a verbal agreement, so long as we let them know the second we changed our mind-- should we ever change our mind. They knocked down our fears of bank loans (which are non-existent for two people who live on the road as artists), cleared the way for our timeline, and again asked us which paint colors we prefer.
We took exactly one photo.
We had no sooner shut the doors to our truck when we looked at each other and said,
"This is our house."
Over the next year, we kept in contact as Byron worked, asking us questions and adding extra padding to one bedroom so that Scott could have a more sound proof music studio, pushing out walls so that Mallory could have a pantry. It was partially our disbelief and partially our dreaming that had us keeping it to ourselves. We were making ourselves a home when we didn't know. We spent our dinners remembering what the space had looked like, parceling it together with the few photos Byron sent over. We'd build bookshelves. We'd build a table. We'd make a coffee bar. We'd roll over in the middle of the night and the whole house wouldn't shake. We'd get a waffle iron. Suddenly, our break downs felt less like the end of the world and more like a bump in the road. We had a landing pad, a back up plan, a place to go home to.
Over the summer, we spent over a month at our new place, still living in the camper. It was only half finished, and Byron taught Scott a few handyman skills as they built Mallory a bookbinding studio out of what we'd previously deemed The Murder Shed. Mallory spent the month thrifting funiture and setting up the necessary things to make a softer landing for the fall. The fall. When we would make ourselves a home. When we left in August for one last camper-only run, stopping by Nashville and Asheville and Florida to pick up our few things we'd left with friends to store for the last 8 years, we didn't speak of the house much. The Something was no longer in the middle of the camper, so we didn't have to talk about it or move around it or accidentally sink into it. The Something was left in New Hampshire.
We made a new record in that slice of time. We're calling it Only This Far. It's a record about all we carry and for the time we carry it, and knowing when it is time to stop carrying it after all. Somehow, even after we lay it down, it still remains part of us.
We rented a U-Haul in Florida at Mallory's sister's place. Mallory's brother-in-law had found some free furniture to get us started. Mallory's sister loaded us up on a few extras, and the pieces and parts we'd left with her 8 years ago. Mostly books, but a surprising number of sentimentals, too. It felt too good to be true, but we knew it had to be true, because everything was falling exactly into place at the right time. We even found a waffle iron at the neighborhood yardsale right before we left. We drove from Florida to Nashville, Mallory in the U-Haul and Scott with the dogs and hamster in the truck and camper. Mallory did her art fair. Then we went the remaining distance from Nashville to New Hampshire, where we unloaded our truck and unloaded our sweet little camper house. On October 31, 2022, we signed the paperwork. We had finally made it. We finally came home.
But that's Only This Far, not to be confused with a finale. The work has just started. Sure, we've hung curtains and put our books on the shelves, but we've also taken our camper in to be winterized so it's safe for next year's touring. We're still carrying it along with us, even as we've dropped it off. We'll be touring full months at a time, continuing the work we've built. But now, we also have a place to bake an apple pie and bind some books, a place to write songs without worrying about the sound carrying into the Walmart parking lot, a place to sleep without a check out or a kick-out time. We're still grappling with the identity of being "house people," but we don't feel any less like "camper people." It's a Yes, And... situation.
Because, truthfully? Right here, in our house, there is a wide Something in the middle of the floor that is nudging us to go home, too. That other home we love so much. Our home on the road.