BY ANNA WATTS | SEPTEMBER 15, 2020
Jonathan Brathwaite and his wife Becky Alford started coming to Vermont each summer through a home swap program nine years ago. Each visit, they would stay longer. Each departure, it got harder to leave. With a growing family confined to the cramped space of a Manhattan apartment, they began to think more seriously about giving their kids the opportunity to grow up outdoors with a slower pace of life far away from the noisy and crowded bars, streets, and subways of the city.
In July 2017, the couple and their three children —Sion, Sonnet, and Lilla— officially moved from New York City to their new home in a woodsy, rural corner of Hinesburg, Vermont. Yet Becky and Jonathan knew the biggest move was still ahead of them: Becky’s mother, Christa, was now even further away, and living alone with serious health issues. They knew they needed to bring the family together.
Eleven years ago, when Becky’s father passed away, he had told her to take care of her mom who had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, which meant she was also highly immuno-compromised. “I didn’t know how to do this when we lived in New York,” said Becky, “But arriving in Vermont, we finally had the space to do this!”
“We knew sooner or later, it was going to have to happen,” says Jonathan, of Christa’s move to join her daughter and grandchildren in Vermont. “And we didn’t want to have to do it during an emergency, during a crisis.” They were not a moment too late. Exactly a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, Becky and Jonathan moved Christa to their home in Vermont and began construction on a small cottage less than a hundred feet from their home where Christa could have her own small kitchen, bedroom, and a play area for the grandchildren. A few weeks before the pandemic hit Vermont, Christa moved in.
“The emergency that we were foreseeing is now upon us,” said Jonathan, in August at his home, six months into the pandemic and Christa’s move into her adjacent house. “This was the crisis that we were trying to avoid and thank God we did. We missed it by a few months. We hit right at the right time and we feel blessed that it happened. The move to Vermont has literally been a lifesaver.”
For Christa, the transition came with a powerful silver lining: the opportunity to reunite with her daughter and watch her grandchildren grow up. “When Becky left for college at NYU, I knew she wasn’t coming back and would root herself in New York and there was no possibility for me [to be] in New York,” said Christa. “So for us coming back together is like a dream come true.”
This story is courtesy of the Vermont Futures Project.
“The pandemic is the exact scenario of a panic situation we were trying to avoid. We missed it by a few months. The move to Vermont has literally been a lifesaver.”
Header photo: From left to right: Becky, Lilla, Sion, Sonnet, Jonathan, Christa and their dog Windsor (named after the Vermont town where Becky and Jonathan were married) outside their home in Hinesburg, Vermont. All photos by Anna Watts.