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  • Writer's pictureJane Rubin

Refuge in a World on Edge

My husband and I have been hibernating, I mean quarantining, at our lake home in northern New Jersey. It is a peaceful, bucolic setting and a perfect place to play make believe while the world is on edge fighting a horrible pandemic.

We’re not exactly hibernating. He’s working remotely, Zooming away, as many hours (or more) than he did before, and I’m working furiously on my first historical fiction novel - that I hope to complete this year.

The story takes place near the end of the nineteenth century and is a fictional creation of my great grandmother, Mathilda’s, life.

Sussex County contains a leg of the Appalachian Trail, numerous lakes and farms. Many remain much like they were in the late 1800’s and it’s easy to imagine taking a trip back in time. So I do, from sunrise until lunch when my stomach’s growling begins to distract me. The afternoons are for gardening, reading and if I’m lucky, entertaining my grandchildren.

Family folk lore had it that Mathilda’s family came to NYC in 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War and trudged north with her parents to establish a farm in Harlem, before the completion of Central Park and the majestic housing flanking it. Construction for Harlem had been planned years before on city grid maps dating back close to a century. With the help of a lovely librarian at the NYC Historical Society, I was able to locate Mathilda's home on 110th street. Her family must have stayed there after city housing was built.

In my novel, after marrying at 16 (she actually did), Mathilda moves to a tenement in the Lower East Side. But her Papa moves to open land in the Bronx to continue running his Kosher Chicken Farm. From there, things start to take off.

Yesterday, driving home from our local market and passing the old barns shown above, a thought hit me. German settlers owned most of the dairy farms in Upper Manhattan in the 1800’s and needed to relocate too. These restored barns may have belonged to one of those families who headed west into New Jersey. Train lines were built right and left making it easy for farmers to transport milk product short distances. It’s beginning to all fit together....

Thank you for joining me on my mental holiday. I need to get back to revising my story - I’m finally up to the last section.

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