We aren’t quite into actual autumn, but we are definitely into a fall schedule again; choir rehearsal, committees, etc. The golden rod along the roadsides and the vegetable gardens are beginning to look a little tired too. The light mists of August have turned into very foggy September mornings. The birds are flocking for their trek south, cutting down on the seed we use, until the winter birds return.
Our porch is nearing its finish. The construction process has triggered “house stories”. The first day our contractor came (he has worked on this house often and knows its idiosyncrasies) he sighed deeply and jacked one corner of the porch floor up because it was way lower there than the other three corners. He couldn’t change the concrete base, but was able to make the ceiling almost level and he will make the floor level over the concrete. We are quite used to the amusing, if frustrating, quirks of this old house, and are fortunate to have made the acquaintance of several people who lived here in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, who can tell us the whys and wherefores.
This particular structure came to life in the mid-to-late 1800s, with one room over a dug-out, stone-walled basement. It was a tenant house for what used to be the large farm next door. Over the decades, other rooms were added. The living room, with bedrooms above turned it into a 2-story edifice. Possibly the bathroom, beneath the stairs, was added soon thereafter. Then a shed was bolted onto the back of the house and a concrete floor poured. We’ve been told that the day was very hot, and that the individuals attaching the shed were cooling themselves with vodka ---- frequently. Becoming impatient, they put the shed on the slab before one corner was entirely dry. Thus when we moved in, one could roll a marble from anyplace in the room to that one corner. We have since corrected the floor, but the room has interesting ceiling lines.
We learned from a lady who lived here in the 1930s and early 1940s that down the road, in the acreage now known as Cornell’s Arnot Forest, there was a prison camp during WWII. The people who lived here got to know some of the guards, and the guards then came on weekends for home-cooked food, music and a bit of partying. We’ve tried to carry on that tradition of good times and an open house. Bob Benson wrote a book that he entitled “Laughter In The Walls” and I think there’s that in our walls too.
During our tenure, we have added a back entrance with a laundry room (where I type these essays), another bedroom, a second bath, several gardens and probably way too many trees. One of our sons remarked that our additions make the house look rather meandering. Well, some houses are built all at once; have simple and congenial bones and classical lines. Others, like ours, are put together rather like Frankenstein, in bits and pieces, often from other structures. That’s how old farm houses evolved, additions as the need arose. It is good to remember that “a home is not for other people; it is for every day and it is for you.” * If it is filled with love, enjoyment of life and one’s own precious things, it is sufficient.
If the walls in our house could talk as well as laugh, they would have many an anecdote to share. Our current dining room was a multi-purpose game room when our sons were home, so there might be echoes of kittens, dogs, “Risk” battles as well as numerous forays into the fantasy world of “Dungeons and Dragons”. In its current life, the walls would report on re-runs of Mash, share diverse conversations from dinner-times with friends, and reflect all the sparkle, glow and good cheer of 12th Night parties.
Besides the memory of many a good tete-a-tete, the living room would probably spill piano, flute and vocal music from its corners and crannies. There’s been many a Spencer Singers rehearsal around our piano, and there was both piano and flute practicing a few years ago. Even now, when our granddaughters are here, the piano gets a little workout. This room is also where I play CDs, listen to NPR and drink a cup of tea while sitting in a pillowed corner of our very seasoned couch with a good book.
The kitchen would send out the aromatic bouquets of lasagna, soups, ginger cookies, chocolate torte and popcorn. There might be a trace scent of my experiments with lentils, daylily buds, milkweed pods, tofu and carob. There would also be wispy remnants of canning steam due to years of preserving tomatoes, peaches, pears, relish and jellies. Certainly there’d be a breath or two of my cough syrup (termed witch’s brew by a son); a combination of white pine needles, cherry bark, red clover and honey. And thanks to those same boys, there also might be a lingering whiff of motor oil left from the occasional carburetor in the sink.
The bedrooms would resound with grunts of Orcs, wisdom of Ents and adventures of Hobbits since the last stories I read to our middle-school sons (before they outgrew being read to) were from the Tolkien Trilogy. And there might be a few terse complaints about enduring shiny stars on the ceiling, brilliant blue paint on the walls, having to absorb music by Van Halen and “The Boss”, and putting up with loud voices at all hours. They’d emit sighs over boys who came in very late at night and left their smelly socks around before collapsing in deep slumber. And they might speak highly of the many good friends, over the years, whose fate it was to sleep in those beds. It is fun to remember the situations and happenings. Every home has stories; they are our ---- and your ---- personal kernels of history.
And speaking of stories, when several of us in the same twenty-five-year age span get together, we are all too apt to find ourselves sharing tales about our doctors, complaining about being awake at 2 AM, and expressing our irritations at whatever it is that ails us. While I think we probably should find other topics of conversation, I also feel that it is good to be comfortable in talking, at any age, about what is going on in our lives. We can very often help each other along. I saw a pertinent comment recently (no idea where it came from): “We are all a little broken. But the last time I checked, broken crayons still color the same.” In other words, it’s good to be honest about life’s troubles with those we can trust to care. But at the same time, we must never feel diminished because we aren’t who we were, or don’t meet our own standards of perfection. Whether it is depression, chronic sleeplessness, difficulty in getting around, being unable to polka around the room or drive a car anymore, those things are not who we are. Disabilities are annoying, but they have no impact on how valuable we can be to our friends, family and the world around us. When things begin to make us feel that we are not enough --- perhaps we need to recite this old Scottish prayer: “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us!” Those monsters can be negative thoughts and skewed perceptions that prey on our minds just as much as the night mares to which the poem refers.
Now that we are in September, it is really important to take notice of the natural world around us before flying snow flurries blot out our landscapes. September, October and November can be the most beautiful time of the year with crisper, less humid air and the many scents of autumn. “The golden rod is yellow; the corn is turning brown; the trees in apple orchards with fruit are bending down……..from dewy lanes at morning the grapes sweet odors rise; at noon the roads all flutter with yellow butterflies. By all these lovely tokens, September days are here, with summers best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.”** I wish for you all the beauty of fall to temper your hard days, to fill you with appreciation of the world around and to just give you peace and energy for the months to come.
*-Alexandra Stoddard – American home-decorator and life-style philosopher.
**-a few verses from “September” by Helen Hunt Jackson. 1830-1885. American poet and activist for better treatment of Native Americans.
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.