Like a lot of people who approach middle age, I started to wish for a simpler life based on the quiet of the country. So a few years ago, my friends, Jon and Roger, and I, started to look for a suitable place, either an old house to fix up or some raw land to build on. Eventually, we found Neil Shelton’s site at OzarkLand.com and we bought six acres with a pond at Origanna Woods, 17 miles from Lebanon in Laclede County. That was October of 1998.
We bought that first parcel sight unseen and the next March, we finally went down to look at it. Even in the gray of early spring, I could see how nice it was, and as luck would have it, Neil had 6 more acres across the lane for sale, so we bought that too. The new parcel came complete with an electric pole, an outhouse and shed and the log frame of a pole barn courtesy of the previous owner. All this was set in a nice shady clearing and we decided that this was where we would build our house. That old pole frame made a dandy arbor and we set up camp there with a nice fire ring and a few comforts and we started to make our plans and begin our improvements.
This journal is meant to be a record of our plans and adventures and I hope to add to it as we go along, and the house grows and improves.
In August of 1999, we made our first improvement. We bought an 8 x 12 wooden garden shed from Mr. Green up in Waynesville. He has a huge selection of well-built sheds and he will deliver them to your site. He brought ours on a huge flatbed truck and in less than 30 minutes it was all set up next to our electric pole and 30 feet or so from our pole arbor. It wasn’t very big but it gave us plenty of space to store our equipment and it gave us a warm dry place to sleep if the weather went bad.
In October, we added a 12 x 20 pole shed across the front of that little shed and by snowfly, it was closed in. This gave us a big room to use as a kitchen and living room and the shed became a sleeping room when we added a window on one end and a built-in bed. These two rooms would become the nucleus of our house.
That original structure is what you see in the pictures on this page. In the summer of 2000, we finally got electricity hooked up and run into the cottage. You cant imagine what a boon that was. NO MORE rented generator or building with hand tools. I kinda miss the lantern light and we still use a lot of candles, but now we could have a refrigerator and a real stove to cook on. We added some new windows and a side door and installed some old kitchen cabinets. Before we knew it, the cottage was too small again, and we started to think about adding more space. Yeah I know, there’s a motif there; so we made a concerted effort NOT to over-design and build. I spent that winter planning the final addition.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Architecture is my delight, and putting up and pulling down one, of my favorite amusements.”
I couldn’t agree more. In fact, if I were more mathematically inclined, I would probably be an architect and not a librarian. For years I have scribbled on reams of paper and built castles in the air, but my 12 acres in Missouri gave me the first opportunity to really build something I had designed. For months I made drawings and models, trying to design something I liked that we could afford to build. I wanted something relatively simple in plan and facade, suitable to the area, but with a touch of whimsy. The drawings on this page show a couple of my ideas. The one constant in all the designs was that the basic frame would be a pole structure of one sort or another.
Even the most unskilled carpenter can manage to cob together some sort of pole building, improve it bit by bit, into a comfortable and suitable home. Pole buildings are extremely flexible and forgiving of small errors in the laying out and general construction.
Once we bought the shed and built that first addition, the plans began to shape themselves around the existing building. I discovered that I wasn’t allowed to build under the power lines, which meant I couldn’t build to the south. All through the winter of 2000, I worked on variations of one l shaped plan that would give us 3 good bedrooms, a dining room, as well as a great room for living and entertaining. I also wanted to put the bathroom and kitchen in one area to save on plumbing. I intended to heat the whole place with fireplaces. There were also provisions for a guest building, a drive through loggia (a sort of glorified carport), and a separate room for all my dogs.
Eventually, I narrowed it down to four plans. They were all variations on the same theme, but each plan had some unique features and some flaws as well. Number one above had all the bedrooms along the side of the house with the best view, the south side. This left the living rooms without the view toward the ravine in back. It also meant you entered the living space directly, no mudroom. Number two shared the view with two bedrooms and the great room and gave us an entrance hall, but it was the largest plan of all. Number four we rejected because it had too many rooflines and would have been the hardest to build. So, we chose number three. Basically, it’s a long pole building, 20 feet by 58 feet attached to a smaller wing, roughly 24 feet by 26 feet, which joins the main wing to the existing rooms. The yellow rooms are the existing kitchen and sleeping room. The light blue rooms are bedrooms and the purple rooms are the dining room and great room. The dark blue areas are the front hall and the drive-through loggia. The green area is the future site of the laundry room, dog room, and bathroom. We are also thinking about putting a second floor over the lower half of the main wing to give us three more rooms over the loggia and guest room area. That depends on the height of the poles we can get. You can see a more detailed plan on the next page.
THE FINAL PLAN AND FACADES
This is the plan we are working with now. It’s not engraved in stone, but the finished house won’t be too different. We did get one surprise when we came to lay it out: there was one tree in the way, a really nice big oak that is, unfortunately, right in the loggia area. After a little head-scratching, we decided to be a bit unorthodox and just build around the tree. When we get around to building the loggia wing next year, that tree will continue to grow where it is, undisturbed. We will lose a bit of the space in the upper story, but it does create a neat sort of hanging hallway lined with windows. We figure the tree can serve double duty as a sort of fire escape for those upper story guest rooms. The great room will be about 12 feet tall and, pretty much, lined with windows. We designed that big corner bay so we would have a place to put a huge Christmas tree that could be seen from the road, not that Sappington Lane gets much traffic. The public rooms will have sun most of the day and the dining room and kitchen will stay fairly cool on the north side. The courtyard formed by the two wings is shaded by two big oak trees and leads to the old log pole arbor. There’s also a handy little wood room so we don’t have to go out in the winter.
We tried to cut down as few trees as possible and since the previous owner had left us with a pretty large open site, it was only necessary to cut down 4 trees. The power company had pretty much cleared out all the brush for us, which left us with a small open meadow toward the road. Roger and Jon are working on getting this area cleared out so that maybe the grass will grow and we will probably throw down a bit of wildflower seed to help it along. Nearer the house, we want to have some more formal garden spaces and a nice vegetable garden with raised beds. Our soil here isn’t very good so we figured raised beds, filled with imported soil, would solve that problem. All that is in the future. Right now we are anxious to get the poles in the ground and frame up and close in the middle wing before the end of the summer. That way we will have two bedrooms and the dining room to use while we work on the main wing this winter and next year. Wish us luck.
JULY 5, 2001, THURSDAY
Jon and I left this morning at 8:15 and headed down to Missouri. Took Wheeza and Toby along. This is Toby’s first long car trip but he handled it well. Nice weather, light traffic, and we didn’t miss the infamous bypass around St. Louis. We arrived about 3 p.m. And met with Jeff and Adriana and discovered our first problems. The biggest mess is that the lumber has not arrived and won’t arrive until the weekend or possibly Monday.
Arggggghhhh!!!!!! So much for prior planning! It seems our roof metal is not a stock color at Yucky Lumber, and it has to be shipped from Rolla. Of course, they’ve had the order for a week and Rolla is barely an hour away. I don’t think I’m gonna like this company, but we will see. A few days delay won’t kill me though I’m dying to get started. Also, Jeff got the day of the demolition derby wrong. It’s this coming Monday, so, he’s a bit pre-occupied. All in all, I suspect nothing will get started much before Tuesday, but Jeff says that’s plenty of time. NB: remember this is the South and no one hurries. Spent the evening tidying the house and early to bed.
JULY 6, 2001, FRIDAY
Woke early to start the day. Figure I will get the meadow and building area clear so we can start work ASAP. Adriana visited us with a basket of fresh eggs and news that the lumber and roofing won’t arrive until Monday. Sigh!!!!!! Back to raking, and clearing, and other odd jobs. Its about 90 degrees out and they are predicting the same all weekend with a heat index of 105. I’m taking it slow and easy. Spent the afternoon in town doing yard sales and putting about. Bought 10 pounds of peaches for $6.00 from a roadside farm stand. Juicy, ripe, and delicious! Quiet evening at home with Jon. Early to bed with a clear sky and moon huge and bright.
JULY 7, 2001,SATURDAY
Awake at 5:45 a.m. Another hour and a half of work clearing the meadow and with luck we will have the whole area cleared to the road before we leave. Weather continues in the high 90’s. All the farmers are making hay and the fields are full of huge round bales and the wonderful smell of fresh cut grass. Drove to Eldridge, a small town north of Lebanon, to an auction, but didn’t stay. Too crowded and blazing hot. Hit some yard sales on the way home. Bought a mosquito net for Jon’s bed. Spent the evening in town at the movies to escape the heat. Met our new neighbors, Steve and Judy and family. They bought Sandy’s old place. Early to bed.
JULY 8, 2001, SUNDAY
Awake at 6 a.m. and out in the meadow to work but too hot to work for very long. Drove to Hartville for Sunday lunch at the Olde Mill Inn. Hartville is a nice old town with most of its square intact, except for the courthouse, which is new. A nice chicken dinner and drive home. Spent the afternoon doing the washing. Adrianna and Matt brought me a nice single mattress to replace my air bed. A quiet evening and early to bed.
Temperature never got below 75 last night. Even early morning is too hot for physical work. Lumber is promised by noon tomorrow. I won’t hold my breath. I am so ready to start work. Spent the morning doing wiring diagrams for the dining room, bedrooms and the rest of the kitchen. Went to town to purchase wire, materials, and screening for the kitchen doors and windows. Jon is handling the delays better than I am. He spends his days doing this and that and manages to accomplish some small improvements. Went to the Laclede County Fair to watch Jeff in the demolition derby. Jon had never seen one, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Hot, dusty, and noisy but plenty to see. To bed early in hopes that lumber will arrive early and we can begin building at last.
July 10, 2001, Tuesday
Well, the one blessing today is that it rained about 4:30 this morning and kept sprinkling until about 10 a.m. Nice cool morning, but hot and humid in the afternoon. Jeff arrived at 7:30 during breakfast to tell us Yucky Lumber called and doesn’t want to deliver in the rain because the OSB flooring will disintegrate in the rain. My reply to Jeff was:
1) OSB is used in all weather conditions.
2) I never ordered any OSB for this project.
We called Yucky Lumber and discovered they don’t stock treated 3/4 inch plywood and had substituted OSB , but hadn’t mentioned the change to us. I told them that was unacceptable and to take it out of the order, a savings of $178, but, now I have no flooring. If I had had my wits about me I would have rechecked the invoice to see if they made any other changes. They promised to deliver the balance of the order and a check for the difference no later than 3 p.m.
Jon and I drove to town and went to T.H. Rogers lumber on Route 5. They didn’t have sufficient TR ply in stock, but can have it here by tomorrow, with luck, but guaranteed by Thursday morning. They will deliver the ply and concrete products and I pray they are reliable. Jon and I returned and installed the kitchen sink and a temporary drain.
Trauma 2: Heard the lumber truck coming up the hill at the stroke of 3 p.m. And went out to check the load. The bill of lading was all wrong. They had substituted 5×5 posts, which will work but won’t stand proud of the surface as planned. All the standard lumber is right, but all the TR lumber is wrong. They substituted 2×6 for all the 2×8’s (they don’t carry 2×8’s, which is nutty) and they sent 16 footers instead of 14′. It took an hour and a half to decipher the mistakes and to make phone calls back and forth, all while standing in the blazing sun. They claim they told Jeff about the changes but there is no note on the estimate, which I never actually saw or I might have caught it. Yucky is going to take back the 2×6 and substitute 2×10. This means that the house floors will be higher than the kitchen by at least 2 inches unless we can lower the whole building area a bit. Perhaps the posthole man can do this. The whole order is still such a mess I’m not sure what is coming back and I suspect I may be short of floor joists for the bedrooms. The change to 2×10’s raised the total cost a bit, but they still owe me money back for the OSB mess. I haven’t balanced the book yet, but think the new flooring will raise the estimate by about $500 to about $2506. Good thing I brought cash.
To finish off the day, the old TV died on us, so we went into town to Wal-Mart and bought a new TV on sale ($80). Tired and frustrated, so to bed at 11:30 in hopes that tomorrow will see the arrival of the last of the lumber and the start of real building.
HOORAY!!!!! WE FINALLY BREAK GROUND
JULY 11, 2001, WEDNESDAY
A nice cool night’s sleep. Awake at 6 a.m. Partly cloudy and a bit humid. Jeff arrived at 9 a.m. and we laid out the building fairly quickly. Jon now has a better idea of the actual layout and is picking up my excitement. Posthole man is coming around noon. So we should have posts up by tonight. Yeaaahhhh!!! The NE corner of the house is right up on the driveway but a bit of widening and clearing will solve that. We will probably have to reduce the loggia to 14′ depth, which will help avoid the big tree and make the front facade less long and flat. More later…..
Jerry, the posthole man, arrived with his new toy, a Belarus tractor with a power auger. Costs $13,000 compared to $33,000 for comparable John Deere. Can we say “Thank you, Detente”? Jerry and his power auger made quick work of 24 postholes, 9″ by 3’down, as if he was cutting butter. By 12:45, we were chewing the fat and settling up. The bill came to $325, $8/hole for 24 holes, plus the previous use of his backhoe for the trees that had to come down. Jeff came back later and took down the last tree in middle of my bedroom. I can’t wait to see the posts in the ground. T.H. Rogers delivered all the wood and concrete. Guess who will be getting the rest of my business? Jon went to town and while he was gone Yucky Lumber came back and the order is still not completely right, but in my favor, so, to hell with it.
Jon came back with some news. He called home and Roger is moving into a new house with Laurie. Also Jon found out he might lose his insurance at work if he doesn’t have 15 hours in the pay period which ends Saturday. Soooooooooo… Jon’s gone back to Champaign to work for two days and will return on Saturday.
Wheeza’s a bit freaked to be here alone with me, but we will manage. It does leave us short handed here, but Jeff says he and Matt can help me set the joists and if I take it slow, I can lay the floor on my own. If Jon can stay from Saturday to Tuesday, we can finish the framing. Simple supper and a cool evening.
JULY 12, 2001, THURSDAY
I awoke at dawn after a good night’s rest by a tremendous thunderstorm and pouring rain. Good thing I covered up all the concrete before bed! Wheeza is pining for her Jonny, but we will survive. Jeff came by about 9:30 to chat and I spent the morning keeping house and baking a nice oatmeal fruit bannock and a big pot of chicken soup. Spent the afternoon wiring the little bunk room. Wet and cloudy with a bit of sun. Matt brought me some milk and will come tomorrow to help me set the posts. With luck, we can set the main beams and joists on Saturday and start the decking. We might have most of the framing done by Monday night or Tuesday and can leave Jeff to frame the roof. I wish Jon and I could stay longer but there’s no way. I hope I can get the whole structure closed in by Thanksgiving and snow fly. Money may be tight, but we can try. Quiet night of reading and so to bed.
JULY 13,2001, FRIDAY
Despite the inauspicious day, its bright, sunny, and cool. Matt arrived at 9 a.m. and work has really begun. We had to use his pickup to move and shift the main 5x5x16′ posts, as they weigh a ton. We got all the posts moved, set and, trued up by 2 p.m. when Matt had to leave to help with the milking.
It’s starting to look like a house now. You can sort of see the basic shape. Twelve foot ceilings will be quite adequate, really grand. I’m gonna take a short break now and then do the cement.
Hoooorrrrraaaaaaaayyyyyyy!!!! Its started at last. Finished the concrete on the posts and cleared up by 6:30 p.m. Matt came back to admire our work and plan tomorrow’s work. We should have the joists set and platform up by tomorrow night. A few posts are a bit out of true, but Jeff says we can bull them into line. Rustic old world look, hand hewn I said. Matt seemed to like the work and the wage ($10/hr) and he was worth every penny. A light supper and some reading and so to bed.
JULY 14, 2001, SATURDAY, BASTILLE DAY Day
Jon arrived last night around midnight, which was a nice surprise. Wheeza got all excited and Jon was impressed to see all the poles up. He brought me some nice shorts and a shirt. Spent the day framing the platform. We finished the dining room and started Jon’s room, but lumberman shorted us on the joist order, only sent 8 14′ joists instead of 18. Weather’s pleasant and almost cool. Went into Lebanon for a good fish supper and some videos and so to bed.
JULY 15, 2001, SUNDAY
Nice cool morning – stomach a bit wonky today, too many shrimp last night. Jon finished the platform in his room and I started the framing. I forgot to mention that we met a new neighbor yesterday. He’s a retired truck driver named Paul. He came on his 4-wheeler. He lives way up on Sunflower Lane in the house that looks like it’s underground. Actually, it was a log a-frame that he built completely on his own. Unfortunately, it burned to the ground last fall and he is now rebuilding. He is waiting on his roofing metal and heard our building noise and came to investigate. He seems a nice fella and hopefully will be a good neighbor. Jon and I ramped the kitchen to the dining room and it works well. Worked by lantern light until 10 p.m. Most of the dining room is framed. Simple supper and quiet evening watching vids.
JULY 16, 2001, MONDAY
Up bright and early. Cool and partly cloudy. Resumed framing. Matt came and helped us raise the big wall in Jon’s room and stayed to chat. He’s such a nice kid and will be a handy to have around. A good worker. Went into Lebanon for a late lunch during the heat of the day. Finished most of the framing by supper-time. Jeff came by to discuss final plans for the roof framing. He plans to finish the roof by the end of next week, which would be really great. Agreed on a price of $750 for his labor on the roof, which seems very fair. Half now and half when we return, plus a bit more for supplies. This is our last day. I wish I could stay and do more framing and see the roof go up. But when we do come back it will be fairly quick to finish the platform and framing and close it all in. Better get to bed, as Jon wants to leave as soon as we can finish odds and ends and close things up.
JULY 17,2001, TUESDAY
Up by 6;30 and hurried to finish up a few odds and ends and tidy up the site. Already hot and humid so we are going to leave as soon as we can to get home early. Sure wish I could stay. Jeff came by to collect his check and go over final details and to say goodbye. Packed up and left by 8:30. Took few final pictures as we drove off. Uneventful trip home. I will resume this diary when we have some progress to report.
EARLY FALL 2001
Been planning to get back all summer, but one thing or another has prevented it. In October, I got hit by a car crossing the street in my wheelchair. Totally the other person’s fault, but her insurance is fighting the claim. Insurance adjustor says a man in a wheelchair shouldn’t be out in the rain and the damage looks like I HIT HER. SHEEESH!! Anyway, bumps, bruises, sore ribs, pleurisy, and my chair is a wreck and I’m in a rental chair that’s too small. What Fun!! Building on hold while we start the law suit. At least Jeff got the roof done for us. Pictures look great, can’t wait to see it in person. Soon, I hope.
NOV.17, 2001, Saturday
Set off early this morning for Missouri with Jon, Jay, and Armando. Arrived without incident to see the new roof for the first time. We had photos but they really didn’t do it justice. Just amazing. The space is huge, really tall and grand. Of course, once walls and partitions are in, it will seem smaller. Jeff did a grand job. Unloaded, cleaned up, and checked on the new lumber that was delivered yesterday. Joists and plywood for the rest of the platform and 2×4’s and OSB for wall framing. Simple supper and a game of cards in our new dining room. Comfortable night and so to bed.
NOV.18, 2001, Sunday
Up bright and early and started to frame last of the platform. With four folks working it went pretty quick. Armando’s English made it a bit tricky, so we put him to fetch, carry, clean up, and he hammers nails with the best of us. Finished the floor platform and started putting up OSB on the dining room and tall wall to cut the wind. Armando and I packed insulation in all the soffit gaps. Jon and Jay got the soffit up in the kitchen. Much warmer inside. Cool night so we had a warm supper and early to bed.
NOV.19, 2001, MONDAY
NOT A GOOD DAY. Jon got sick in the night and by daybreak was vomiting blood, his ulcer in full cry. He looked terrible and it wouldn’t stop so we decided to take him to the E.R. in Lebanon. Problem was he was in no shape to drive. I can’t drive, Armando can’t drive a stick and so it was up to Jay, who hasn’t driven in 15 years and doesn’t have a license. But off we went at dawn with Jay at the wheel and me in back with Jon. Well Jay came through for us despite the wild hills, dips, and two passing log trucks at Twin Bridges. Got Jon to the Lebanon E.R. and they took him in hand. It’s a nice new little hospital and I was really impressed. Nice to know that good care is relatively handy when I’m here for good. Jon patched up by 2 p.m. and Jay drove us home and we put Jon to bed. Jay, Armando and I finished framing the back wall and put up more sheathing. We are covering over all windows and doors for now. A quiet night and early to bed. All pooped, but thank God for Jay. He earned his keep today.
Jon’s good as new but we got a scolding from Adrianna for not coming there for help. Jeff came by to check on progress and we had a visit from our neighbor Paul, as well. Got all the OSB up on the tall wall where the Great Room will attach. Bit windy and only one ladder, but with some rope and muscle managed to lift all the upper pieces and secure them tight. It makes things much warmer inside by breaking the wind. From the road the house looks a bit like a church with that high front wall and one big opening. Getting a bit cold, so its a good thing. Wish I had time to hook up that fireplace, but will make do with the kerosene heater. We learned a good thing today. Ran out of nails and were going to go to Lebanon but Paul told us to go to Grove Springs, which is closer. Turns out that Grove Springs proper is not on the highway, but down the side road, so off we went. Grove Springs is like a slice of the past. Church, couple of houses, twocafes, a garage and a FS Hardware and feed store. All kinds of useful things there and the proprietor was very friendly and helpful. We told him about our wood stove and he fixed us up with all the extra bits we might need to hook it up and made several other useful suggestions. And they take credit cards. Sure is a lot handier than driving to Lebanon. Across the road is a small grocery store in an old style building. There’s a big veranda across the front with benches and a pair of screen doors as you go in. Just 3 aisles but they have fresh produce and a meat counter with homemade sausage and the usual sundries and basics. We bought a few things for dinner and headed home. Did a little work but didn’t push it, so as not to strain Jon. Armando did a lot of clean up, sorting and stacking lumber and raking leaves so things aren’t quite such a mess. Tomorrow we will frame up the last big wall between the bedroom and the old shed and work on the last eaves over the dining room. Roast chicken for supper and a video for entertainment.
November 21, 2001, Wednesday
Downright chilly this morning and a bit wet so we slept-in a bit and went to town for late breakfast and some Thanksgiving groceries. We are gonna take Thanksgiving with Jeff, Adrianna and Matt. Gonna bake some pies to contribute. Spent afternoon framing the tall wall. Bit tricky as each stud was a different length and had to be notched to fit at the top. Lots of up and down the ladder. Closing that up gives you a real sense of space. There will definitely be room for the upper bunk and space for a little view window up top, overlooking the kitchen roof. Neat space. Spent the night tidying up, baking pies and organizing materials. We will try to frame the eave tomorrow if I can motivate folks, but we are all getting a bit tired. Definitely leaving first thing Friday morning. Cold tonight, extra blankets all around. Luckily the heater does a good job once we fire it up and all the walls and soffits now closed in.
November 22, 2001, Thanksgiving
Nice fall morning, crisp and clear. No one in the mood to frame the last eave so we will rough cover it for the winter. We have really accomplished a lot in five days. Its tight enough to survive the winter. Spent the day, closing up everything we can and shifting all the lumber and supplies inside to keep them dry. Went over to Jeff and Adrianna’s about 3:30 for a delicious grand dinner. They heat the whole house with a woodstove, a big plain box stove but does it work good. It was toasty as could be in that house. Nice friendly day with good food and company. Quiet evening, packing up. Early start home in the morning.
NB. WINTER OF 2001
Winter of 2001 was fairly mild though they had more snow then usual and some bad ice. Periodic reports from Adrianna that all was well. Collected various goodies for the house. Shed is overflowing with materials. Will need to rent a truck when we go down in the Spring.
Jon and Roger went down for a weekend to check on things. Nearly froze to death at night but they had a good time. I had to work and couldn’t go.
Finally, it’s a house!!
…but it’s not done yet!
April 19, 2002, Friday
Finally after so many false starts and postponements, the truck is loaded and we are ready to head back down to Missouri. Frankly, it will be a relief to finally get all the materials and supplies out of the house in Champaign. The truck is packed with lumber, siding, windows, 4 sets of doors, mantelpieces, furniture and bric-a-brac. We are set to go at last. Roger Coad and Jay will drive down in the truck and Jon, Levi, and I in the car. We left Champaign about 7 pm just in time to hit tornado and storm warnings in Tuscola. The skies opened up and it rained all the way down to Lebanon. Arrived around 2:30 AM as the rain stopped. The road from town to the house was full of animals. Groups of deer all the way, rabbits, turkeys, and even an armadillo, all out in the wee hours. We all collapsed into bed at 3:30 am.
April 20, 2002, Saturday
Morning dawned with thunderstorms and violent rain squalls. Dang, that metal roof is noisy! Managed to unload the truck and make some order out of the chaos. Jon, Levi, and Roger went into town for food and supplies while Jay and I started work. Built the partition between the two bedrooms and got wall board up by supper time so that the rooms have some division. Chili for supper and a quiet evening of cards.
April 21, 2002, Sunday
A nice bright sunny morning. Built the closets in the small bedroom then Roger and I began work on the built-in bed. Jon and Roger have to leave this afternoon, but Levi has decided to stay and help Jay and me. I sure hope that will work out. Levi seems eager and willing. Got French doors temporarily set in the big archway and framed in the transom above it. Lots of nice light in the dining room now. Jon and Roger left about 3:30 pm. Levi and I finished the built-in bed, framed up with 4 big drawers underneath and finished boarding the bedroom wall. Then we finished framing the kitchen pantry closet. Finally Levi and I worked on a nice permanent ramp while Jay made supper. The new ramp is six feet wide and supported on some stout planks and boarded with some recycled fence boards. It has very gentle slope and a welcoming appearance. Levi was quite pleased with his work. A nice roast chicken dinner with root veggies and a quiet evening in the new dining room. A cool night.
April 22, 2002, Monday
An absolutely perfect sunny morning. The three of us got an early start. Jay and Levi walled in the gable over the kitchen and we installed a big square transom over the door to the kitchen. It looks really good, lets in a lot of light and at night it has this wonderful glow from the outside. The dining room is turning into a lovely space and the whole place seems more like a house after just a few days. Jeff and Adrianna couldn’t believe the change in just a few days. After lunch, Levi and I built the first pocket window and put up half the siding on the North Wall. The pocket window looks really sharp, especially with the 6″ trim boards with the long tails. Worked until dusk, temp dropping fast so we closed things up and cranked up the kerosene heater. Meatloaf and baked potatoes for supper and the dining room had a cozy glow by lamplight. I wish I had time to set up the fireplaces. The fireplace will look great in Jon’s room with that simple mantelpiece I bought from Mr. Bement, but I’ve decided the bunk room is too small for a fireplace. It would eat up floor space and probably drive you out of the room with the heat. Maybe I will just duct hot air from the fire in Jon’s room through a false tiled stove cupboard… something clever like that. A night of cards and early to bed. Downright cold out tonight.
April 23, 2002, Tuesday
A gray dawn but by 10 am it had warmed up and sun was out. We started framing the double doors and second pocket window. Finished the siding on the North wall. Levi pretty much did the second pocket window on his own while I worked on door jambs and set hinges. Slow, tedious, design-as-you-go work. Levi and Jay cleaned the debris around the site, reordered the lumber, and took inventory while I worked. We wanted to get the doors in and trimmed, and the window installed in Jon’s room before the end of the day. Jon was expected back late tonight but arrived about 6 pm, while we were setting the last door and Levi was finishing the rough window opening. Jon was just amazed at all the work we had done and full of praise for how good it looked. We don’t leave until Thursday, so we finished the door, but left the window tacked in for tomorrow. Tidied up and Jay provided a nice ham dinner. Made a nice fire under the arbor and sat outdoors until it began to rain about midnight. And so to bed. A day full of progress. The House is really taking shape. Rain continues gently and a full moon.
Our old kitchen. It’s not really not that dark in there. It was early and the sun wasn’t over the trees yet.
April 24, 2002, Wednesday
Nice sunny morning. We went into town for a good breakfast and then set to work. Got the window installed in Jon’s room and all the siding on the South wall. Got most of the door frame done in Jon’s room but folks are pooping-out, so I decided to call it done for now. No need to push. We will be back in June and, in 2-3 days, we will get these rooms all closed up with doors and windows, wired, and insulated. Then we can take our time doing the finishes and starting the main wing. Levi and I can come for 2-3 weeks in June or July and really work. Sure am glad he has joined us and is a good worker. We are hoping Adriana’s miniature pony will foal while we are here, but she better do it tonight cause we are out of here tomorrow morning. Spent the evening tidying up and thinking about the main wing. I might decide to lower the wall and do the big room as a shed roof. Front wall at about 9.5 feet. It would be easier to frame and roof, but we would lose the upstairs bedroom. I will think about it some more.
April 25,2002, Thursday
Up early and packed like sardines in the car. Took some good pics, in and out with everyone involved. Usual drive home. Its definitely a house now with a real door and everything. Separate living and bedrooms; no more camping out and piles of possessions all over. HOORRRAYYY!!!!!!!
June 23, 2002, Sunday
Finally we are able to go to Missouri to do a bit of work. Our old car has probably given up the ghost, so we had to wait until we could buy a new one. Jon bought a used Pontiac Sunbird, colored purple. Jon, Levi and I set off about 10:30 this morning, warm but not humid. An uneventful trip and we arrived at the house around 4:30 pm. I had been afraid the house would be stifling hot, but it was fairly comfortable and once we got fans going and all the doors and windows open, it was just right. A quick cleanup and unpacking. A mother sparrow has built a nest in the dining room chandelier and has 4 babies. We were afraid she might not come back and feed them, but she ignores us completely, flying in and out of the eaves, feeding the babies while they chirp like mad. Good thing we left the dogs at home. Adriana has had a bout of parvo and lost 2 pups and warned us not to bring the dogs if their shots aren’t up-to-date. Pork chops and a simple salad for supper and strawberry shortcake for dessert. A hand or two of cards after supper and all to bed about midnight. A nice cool night and an early full moon.
June 24, 2002, Monday
Up and moving at 7:30 am. Nice clear morning with a pleasant breeze. I let Jon and Levi sleep in, while I puttered a bit. They got up about 9 am and went into town for coffee and to buy a post hole digger. Can’t find the old one anywhere. I stayed to wait for the lumberman arrive. Cut the grass and weeds in the lane. Will have to borrow a mower to clear the yard and meadow, which is all overgrown with grass, and wildflowers, too. I will try to keep the weeds and brush down and it should look pretty good by next year. Jon and Levi returned about 11 am and said their goodbyes and Jon took off for home. I started to teach Levi how to wire and install plugs and we spent most of the afternoon wiring the bunkroom, Jon’s room, and the dining room. Got that one big circuit complete about 4:30 pm. All rooms now have at least 2 plugs so no more extension chords to trip over. HOORRAY!!! Levi laid down for a little nap and I puttered and tidied up then took a walk at about 6:45 to visit Adriana and Jeff and then down the road to the first house and back. Made spaghetti for supper, but Levi still sleeping so I ate alone. Spent the evening reading and watching Oliver Twist. Thunder way off in the distance, but I don’t think it will rain.
June 25, 2002, Tuesday
Nice cool morning and up early. Levi and I cleared the area for the new building, but Matt couldn’t come to help so we weren’t able to put up the posts. They are just too big and heavy for two people to lift and set. So, Levi and I set the door in his room and did the front door trim and finished the back trim. Poured rain all afternoon, so we continued with small jobs inside. Framed the fireplace in the dining room and started hanging the door to the bunk room. The plan is to work on the wiring and insulation in the kitchen all day tomorrow. Jon is expected back around 7p.m tomorrow and we have to leave Thursday for home. Spent the evening playing Racko. Raining off and on and really cool out. And so to bed. Levi has really been a big help and is learning all kinds of new skills.
June 26, 2002, Wednesday
Another nice cool morning. Hung the last door and finished up all the trim on the garden side of the house. Levi went for a walk around lunchtime and came back to say there was a big bay horse loose on the road. Went down to investigate with Adriana, and the horse followed Levi back to Adriana’s farmyard. She made a few calls and discovered the horse belongs up the ridge near Paul’s house, so Adriana and Matt walked it back. Small rain shower in the afternoon. We cleared all the building debris around the house and tidied up for tomorrow’s departure. Started a nice pork roast with apple vinegar sauce and root veggies for supper. Jon arrived around 7 pm and we sat to dinner. Quiet evening of Racko. We leave early in the morning. I had hoped to get the post in the ground for the addition and perhaps lay the hearth for the kitchen, but it will have to wait until next trip. I will bring extra bodies next time. At least we accomplished a few odd bits and pieces.
An elegant supper… looks darn good, if I do say so myself.
The Builder and his Right-hand Man.
New house and new car. The good life arrives and away we go….
NOVEMBER, 2002 WE HAVE HEAT!
NOVEMBER 6, 2002. WEDNESDAY
After more than a year, we have finally settled the insurance claim and received our money. $22,000 settlement, 1/3 to the lawyer. Not quite 13k for me. More than enough to pay off all the bills and money left for a well in Missouri and some serious work on the house. So Jason and I are on our way tomorrow to spend a week working on the house. Too late to dig a well and run pipe so we will hold that off until spring. We are gonna go install the fireplaces, close up all the soffits, as well as caulk and insulate so that what we have done is warm and habitable. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. Jon and Levi plan to join us on Sunday for 3 days, just long enough to raise the posts and beams, and maybe the rafters for the great room. Jason and I went today and bought another fireplace and all the components for two complete chimneys. Jason has done this all before and said it should go really quick. Let’s hope so. Heat would be a Good Thing.
NOVEMBER 7, 2002, THURSDAY
Packed the truck and headed out of town by 10 a.m. Uneventful trip, down in 5.5 hours. Stopped at Wal-Mart for provisions. They are building a Sutherland Home Improvement store and lumberyard next to the “Stage” store. Yay, cheap lumber!n But the big surprise is that they have renamed Twin Bridges. It is now called EVERGREEN and they elected a sheriff. Sounds like the boys at the Ranch have lost some control. Arrived at Dusk. House looks like we have only been gone a week and not months. Quick dust and a sweep and the house was clean. Jeff and Adriana came over for a quick hello. Adriana has a new donkey named Jericho. I will have to go see him tomorrow. Kerosene heater was acting up, so it was a bit chilly, but we managed. Sausage and bubble and squeak for supper. Snug in bed by 11:30. Tomorrow we install the dining room fireplace and close up the soffits.
NOVEMBER 8, 2002, FRIDAY
A really fine morning. Got up early and did the housework. Jason and I started to assemble the dining room fireplace chimney and it turned out to be fairly simple. Within two hours, the chimney was completely installed and it tested fine. We will try lighting a small fire tonight, but the fireplace has to be broken in slowly. Went into town for lunch and to purchase more lumber. Jason is gonna build soffits for the front and install freize blocks at the back. That way we can install an arbor trellis later, but still block air flow. Went to T.H. Rogers and bought lumber for soffit and trimming out the fireplaces, and more luan for paneling Jon’s room and the dining room. Also lumber to frame the upper bunk in the small bedroom. Adriana and Jeff came over about 4 pm with a bit of bad news. Our neighbor, Bud, died in his sleep last night and Betty found him this morning. Tomorrow would have been his 78th birthday. Poor Betty is really upset and Adriana is going to sit up with her until her sister arrives. Such a shame, he was a good neighbor and helped us out when we first came. I told Jeff and Adriana about Angie buying Lot A and Jeff says he hopes she’s not disappointed as the road up there is in awful shape. Adriana told me that Bill’s Farm Store has a cook stove for sale. Not a big one, but the short camp style, but it has 6 burners and an oven. It costs $395 but might be just the thing for the kitchen. Maybe we will go look tomorrow. Jason finished the front soffits and they look great! Also cut down on the cold air inside. Built a small fire in the dining room. Worked fine, but wood a bit wet. Early to bed.
NOVEMBER 9, 2002, SATURDAY
Slept like a baby and another beautiful morning. Adriana up all night with poor Betty. Jason got right to work on the freize blocks and was done in about an hour and a half. I started trimming out the dining room fireplace and its going to look so good! Jason got started on Jon’s fireplace and we laid it out so we wouldn’t have to cut any purlins. It’s not quite centered, but looks fine. Jason had it all framed and installed by 3,so we went into town to look at the cook stove. Well its just perfect, too cute for words. I think I’m gonna buy one. Unfortunately, it has to be assembled and requires a deal of free space to operate safely. I might have to re-plan that end of the kitchen. I’m going to consult with Jeff about the mechanics of installation and on Monday, I will take Jon to see it. It’s the perfect height for me. The stove top is about level with my lap, so I could see what I’m cooking. The oven is small and so is the firebox, but the salesman says it really heats up. We will see, but I think I will buy it. Home by dusk and we had chicken pasta soup for supper with salad and garlic bread. We finished up the fireplace in Jon’s Room, except for the panel trim. It really looks great, although the foot of the bed is only about 3.5 feet from the fire. We will have to be careful, small fires only. We put Jon’s room back together and spent a quiet night. Paid Jason for his work through today. Worth every Penny. And so to Bed.
NOVEMBER 10, 2002, SUNDAY
Another nice bright morning but getting cool. Put up all the luan on the big wall in the dining room. It really brightens the room and looks grand. We framed a nice plant platform under the window next to the fireplace. If frames up the kitchen door and cleans up all the odd framing at the join between the two buildings. We were trimming out the fireplace when my friend Gail from Hartville arrived. It was so nice to finally meet someone from the HOMESTEAD BOARD. We all sat down for some coffee and pound cake. Gail told us all about his Homestead and we gave him the grand tour of the house. We had a nice visit and he left about dusk. Jason and I cleaned up and had a simple supper. Jon and Levi arrived about 9 p.m. with Duchess. They were surprised to see all we had done. We started both fireplaces and spent a quiet night.
NOVEMBER 11, 2002, MONDAY
Up at the usual time and after a quick breakfast we all got to work. Jason went to work on the soffit and fascia on the kitchen & dining room. Jon got out the chainsaw and started cutting firewood and Levi and I started to finish the wiring in the kitchen and dining room so we could be ready to insulate and put up wallboard. Paul came by about 1 p.m. to admire our progress and Gail turned up about 3 p.m. to meet Jon and Levi. We got all the kitchen and dining room wired up and new lights in the kitchen. Stopped work about 4 p.m. to go to town. Had to find a car mechanic as Jon had had some trouble with his car lights. Finally found someone to do the work and we had a good supper at Shoney’s. All four of us squeezed into Jason’s truck to get home. All kinds of deer along the route. Most we have ever seen. Spent the night round the fire. Temperature has plummeted and we had both fires going like mad. Early to bed as Jon leaves by noon and we will get the POSTS UP. Its been a productive few days. Things are looking Great.
NOVEMBER 12, 2002, TUESDAY
Jay and I up early to relight the fires. A nice clear morning, but temp was 28 degrees and frost on the ground. Went out to clear the post holes before Jon and Levi got up. By 10 a.m. we were putting up the posts, which took no time at all. You can now see the shape of the the final house as a skeleton. The living room will be huge and the approach will be just right along the lane. Jay and Jon went into town to get the car and to pick up more luan and insulation. Jon got home first. Car needed a new switch AND a new water pump,$315. Good thing I brought lots of cash. Took some pictures of Jon and Levi and saw them off to St Louis by 11:30. They are going to stop and visit Jon’s grandma. Jason arrived a bit later with a bit of news. It seems that the beautiful figured luan we put up in the dining room was actually some special ordered maple ply, $21.00/sheet. The yard man gave it to us by mistake, but too late now. Spent the afternoon and early evening finishing the insulation in the dining room and kitchen. We also got about half the luan up in the kitchen and built the wall to hide the icebox and make a broom closet. Jambalaya for supper and a pleasant night by the fire. Bed by midnight. Two more days and a lot yet to finish. Tomorrow we will cement the posts and set the rim joists and finish up a bit of window trim. Hope to finish the luan in the kitchen and dining room as well as the bunk room. Promised Jason we will leave no later than early Friday morning.
NOVEMBER 13, 2002, WEDNESDAY
Another crisp morning but the temp is up. House much warmer with all the new insulation. Jason set to work doing the last of the luan in the kitchen and I finished wiring Jon’s room. Framed a small closet behind the icebox. Kitchen looks great with all the panels up, much brighter and cleaner, and the new partition hiding the refrigerator, tidies the room up. Jason also finished all the panels in the dining room except for the top of the eaves wall. Leaving it undone for now to make wiring the addition easier. Around 3 p.m., the power went off and continued erratically all afternoon. Jason and I cleared brush from the addition area. We are going to cement the posts first thing tomorrow. Decided to go into town for supper and ended up at Dowd’s Catfish House. Its right next door to the Scottish Inn Motel, but we have never been there before. Its a shame Jon and Levi weren’t with us. It was a fun place and really good food. All kinds of fish and BBQ. The host owner and our waiter were very friendly and by dinner’s end, we knew the waiters life story and he had directions to the house. He could have passed for Levi’s brother. I’m sure we will be back. A quick stop to Wal-Mart and home to a quiet night in front of the fire. Tomorrow is our last day and lots to do. Jason has been a huge help. It’s really looking good.
NOVEMBER 14, 2002, THURSDAY
Cold cloudy morning and looks like rain. I think the good weather is gone. We started to straighten the posts and pour cement, but encountered some problems. Couple of post holes are out of line and the ground slopes more than we thought and it is causing problems with the rim joists. We did some digging and scraping, but Jason’s hand and arm are starting to bother him and my shoulder is aching. Then it started to rain, so we gave up on the posts. We will try to come next month with extra hands to set the posts. It might be easier to get someone to come with a backhoe and scrape the ground flat for us. Jason put up some temporary roofing over the shed gap to solve the water problem over winter and I put up some shelves in the closet and got things tidied up. About 3 p.m., a red car came up the road and stopped at the end of the lane. I started out to see if it was Angie, but car took off. As I got to the lane’s end, Jeff and Adriana came driving down from Betty’s house. It seems the car was headed toward Betty’s and had hit one of the dogs. Sure enough their male Papillion was there at the end of my lane with his neck broken. What a shame and a sad end to our visit. Jeff was a bit upset as he has warned the driver about racing up the hill in the past. Jason and I got the site clear by dusk and most of the insulation and wall board up. A simple supper and a quiet evening. Took lots of pictures once everything was cleaned up. Jason ready to go home, but already talking about coming back to do more work soon. I’d be glad to have him work anytime. Early to bed.
NOVEMBER 15, 2002, FRIDAY
A dreary wet morning. Slept until 8 am and had breakfast. Did the final chores, locked up and headed out about 9:15. We really got a lot done and it looks good. Stopped in town to get money and mail some letters and then off home. Uneventful trip. Home by 4pm and went to get the pictures developed. They are great pictures and you can see how good it will look when its done. Jon and Levi really impressed. A good long nights rest. Lots to do tomorrow.
DEC 7, 2002 SATURDAY
Went out shopping and found some real bargains. At Salvation Army I found a fine brass chandelier, a nice old one. Its shaped like an inverted T with lots of curlicue supports. Two plain chimney lamps on each end of the arms. Also, 2 large matching sconces like oil bracket lamps. The oil wells are elaborate and dimpled with switches and plain chimneys. Also a pair of heavy brass sconces, self switching with candle forms and brass shades. The wall plates are diamond shaped. They will look great over the beds in the bunk room. Also found two gorgeous mirrored and painted trumeau for over the dining room doors. Oval mirrors and carved frames with grapes, pears, and apples painted in the spandrels. They are just the right size, $70.00 a piece at T.J. Maxx. Also some fine all cotton Indian tablecloths in sand and black, 5’x7′, perfect for curtains. And a pair of small brackets for the dining room mantel for $6.00.
DEC 18, 2002 WEDNESDAY
Jason and I decided to go down to Missouri for 4 days. Couple of jobs need doing and Jason needs the work. Packed the truck with a collection of materials and furniture to bring down long as we had the space in the truck. Of course, woke up to discover that last night Missouri had a series of severe storms and a tornado just outside Springfield. Trailer park wiped out and couple of people killed. So heaven knows what sort of mess we may find. Drove down encountering strong winds, thunderstorms, fog, sunshine, and 65 degree weather. Arrived in Lebanon about 4 p.m. Weather mild and relatively dry. The water meadow at Twin Bridges was full of deer, 2-3 dozen on both sides. We’ve never seen so many there. Just a beautiful sight. House was fine when we arrived. Just the expected leaks, which we have come down to repair. Quick supper and a wild thunderstorm for about 15 mins. at 6 p.m. Deafening. Jason in bed by 8 p.m. Quiet night for me. Lots to do tomorrow.
DEC 19, 2002 THURSDAY
A good nights rest. Temperature mild for the season and a light rain this morning. Had a quick breakfast and right to work. Jason wrapped the tall wall in tarpaper to keep out the rain and weather until spring. Seems to have blocked all the leaks. Jason cut wood and brought it in for the evening while I unloaded and sorted the things we brought from home. Spent the afternoon running long runs of wire and telephone lines to the edge of the new construction. Turns out Jason is fully trained to hook lines into the main box, so we will try to do hook-ups tomorrow so we can have the two new circuits. Put up insulation and started the upper bunk. Pasta and chicken for supper and quiet evening watching last episode of Survivor. Temperature down to 35 degrees so we kept the fire going. We are going to finish the bunk tomorrow, put up wall board in both bedrooms and, with luck, finish the electrical. I don’t think we will manage the last of the kitchen paneling. We can always do that next visit.
DEC 20, 2002 FRIDAY
Cold, cold, cold this morning, but the sun is out. Lit a small fire to take the edge off. Jason framed up the loft bed. Its a bit higher than I thought, but still workable. I wired all the last of the plugs and circuits and Jason ran the last of the power lines, including two extra lines for the Great Hall wing. Ran into town for OSB, but we arrived too late. Can’t believe Friday night and lumberyards close at 5 p.m. Went to supper at Dowd’s and visited with Leon and Gary, the manager. Stopped at Wally World for a few basic sundries for the pantry. Quiet night in front of the fire. Jason’s going to hook up the two new circuits before we leave in the morning. And so to bed.
DEC 21,2002 SATURDAY
Crisp bright cold morning. Up at 8 a.m. for a fast breakfast. I installed a few more plugs and switches and Jason installed the two trunk lines so we can hook up on the next visit. Tidied the house and made a list of needed supplies for the next visit. Jeff stopped by to visit as we were leaving. He’s been laid off from the Fort for a bit, so finishing lots of projects. Jeff recommended we check out the new Sutherlands, good lumber and prices. Jeff told us Betty’s spending the winter with one of her kids, but will be back in the Spring. Her sister in Texas is trying to sell her Texas house and has plans to build a new house across from Betty on the two lots behind my pond lots at E1F1. Starting to get a bit crowded around here. Perhaps it won’t happen. Left for home about 10:30 a.m. Lots of deer at Twin Bridges even in daylight. Uneventful trip home. Next year by hook or crook, we will spend Christmas on the Homestead.
Had email from Gail in Hartville, and Jon and Loretta. Big snowstorm has left them with about 18 inches of snow and ice. Freezing cold, big winds, and lots of drifts. Some poor lady killed in a wreck at Twin Bridges. What a shame. Glad we didn’t stay for the holidays. House is still a bit unfinished for that kind of weather.
MARCH 26, 2003, WEDNESDAY
Spring has finally arrived and weather in Missouri has been wonderful for two weeks so Jason and I are on our way for a long weekend. We hope to finish off various bits of work and if the weather co-operates perhaps frame the floor of the great room. Loaded the truck with paneling for the ceilings and various household goods. Perfect weather in the 70’s. Arrived at the House at 8 p.m. Uneventful trip. House in perfect order, no winter damage, save a few downed branches and trees in the woods. A quick supper and early to bed.
MARCH 27,2003, THURSDAY
A bright clear morning, sunny and warm. Jason got an early start and finished the loft bed while I unpacked and worked on last of the electrical connections. Started work in the afternoon on the posts and rim joists. Discovered that the ground rises nearly 10 inches over the 20 feet of the great room’s width. If the floor level is to be same as the dining room, the front rim joists will be partly buried for almost 2/3 of their lengths. We dug trenches to set the treated rim joists and reworked the framing plan to accommodate the rise of the ground. We set two long joists, north to south at 6 feet and 12 feet in. This will allow 6 foot joists in between that will clear the ground. However, we have decided to raise the NE corner of the great room by 10 inches over an area of 8′ by 10′. This will create a dais and the fireplace will be moved to the 4′ wall between the front windows and the 6′ bay will be a wall of glass opposite the dining room arch. This opens up the view. The south end of the room will be at dining room level, but the walls will be lowered and a simple shed roof will cover it from north to south. The 6′ bay will be full height of 12′. The bedroom tower will be altered to accommodate similar leveling problems. My bedroom will be on the same level as the dining room but will open into the great room near the dais. The upstairs bedroom will be under the eaves with a big shed dormer to the front and the fireplace in the front corner. This will create two big chimneys on the front of the house flanking the tall bay window in the Great room. Finished work about 4 p.m. and went to town for supplies. Weather still beautiful but they are predicting rain and much lower temperatures tomorrow. Collected some wood just in case and a quiet night. To bed at midnight and temp was 65.
MARCH 28,2003, FRIDAY
Woke at 3 a.m. to pounding rain storm and thunder, and the temperature is down to 40. Up at 8 a.m. to a cold wet dreary morning. Jason and I went to work installing the fireplace blower as as we were working about 10:30 a.m., it began to snow, and it snowed hard. Temperature still dropping. Worked on the remaining electrical connections. All the plugs in the dining room and bedrooms function now, as does the dining room chandelier. By 4 p.m., it was 35 outside and as we had no dry firewood, we decided to go into town and spend the night. My bronchitis acting up as was Jason’s bad hand. A good supper at Dowd’s and quiet night of TV watching the War News from Iraq.
MARCH 29, 2003, SATURDAY
Morning dawned clear and sunny but very cold. Went to Sutherland’s to check them out. Not much selection and prices are nothing to write home about. Bought 6 rolls of insulation in hopes of working on the kitchen ceilings this afternoon. Returned to house at 11 a.m. and finished last of the electrical. Jason finished the kitchen wall board while I did the design work for the dining room casework. Weather still very cold and predicting below freezing weather tonight…… So Jason and I decide to call it quits and head home early. Too cold to work outdoors and Jason can’t hang the ceilings alone so we don’t have need to stay. It makes more sense to go home and come back in a month with extra hands and warmer weather to do the framing. Packed up and left at 4 p.m. Uneventful trip home. Arrived at 9 p.m. A short trip but at least we finished most of the work and now know what must be done next time.
LATE SPRING 2003
Tornados reported all around the Homestead so we emailed Adrianna to make sure all was well. She sent word that our house was fine but hers had burned to the ground in early May. No details but house was a total loss and they lost one of the dogs. The house wasn’t insured but the contents were so they will have money to at least buy a new trailer and start up again. What a shame to lose it all just when they were getting it in such nice shape. Sure glad it wasn’t worse and no one was hurt.
SUMMER OF 03: THE BIG WING FINALLY GETS FRAMED!
AUGUST 13,2003 WEDNESDAY
After waiting most of the summer to get our plans and work crew together, we finally left for Missouri today to spend at least 10 days on the house. Jon, Levi, and Sam drove in the car and I went with Jason in a truck full of materials. Perfect weather and we arrived at 5:30pm. Big changes at Jeff and Adrianna’s since the fire. Their barns and animals are still in place, but they opened a new house lot in the land opposite our lane, way back in the woods, with a long curved lane into the yard. It almost looks like a new road and we nearly missed our lane. They have a nice new single wide. Our house is just as we left it, but the yard is really overgrown. Unpacked, and Sam and I started clearing the area after supper before it got dark. Quiet night and early to bed.
AUGUST 14,2003 THURSDAY
Up early, cool and a bit cloudy. Jon decided to leave after breakfast so he could visit his grandma on the way home. Jason and Sam started laying out rim joists and Levi and I started cutting back brush and weeds. Got the courtyard and most of the meadow clear. Place is looking much tidier. Jeff and Adrianna came by to say hello and check on progress. I gave Adrianna the box of books I brought to replace the cookbooks she lost in the fire. Paul came round to say hello and is going to bring us some fresh eggs and tomatoes. Lumber finally arrived at 1:30 p.m. a bit late as the truck had problem with its clutch. Unloaded and started setting joists and the last post. By 3:30, it was really hot so we stopped work for a siesta. Short nap, then Jason and I went to town for supplies. Back at 6:30 and worked until dark. Finished cutting brush and half the joists are set for the bedroom. We raised the floor instead of digging out. It means a step up, so Jon will take the front bedroom and I will take the back bedroom. We may have to change the plan for the big window, as the posts are too close together. Simple supper and so to bed. NB: News reports that the east coast has had a massive blackout. NY, NJ, CT and parts of PA and west to Detroit. NOT terrorist related, they think.
AUGUST 15,2003, FRIDAY
Dawned hot and humid. Just our luck that the weeks of mild summer weather would disappear the minute we arrived. We got started early to try to beat the heat. Jason and Sam continued setting joists and laying the platform. Levi and I finally finished clearing all the brush from the meadow. Work progressing slowly because of the heat and some tension in the work crew. Our newest worker is not all he was cracked up to be. Nothing seems to suit him. “The hammer’s too light, the lumber’s not straight enough, it’s too hot, the water tastes funny.” If he keeps this up, I may have to do the boss thing and remind him he was not hired for his brains. Luckily, Jason continues to work well, despite the kvetching, and Levi has been a complete gem. I give him a task and leave him alone and it gets done. Who could ask for more? About noon a strange truck pulled in and it was Rockpile and Tina, from the Homestead Board. Sat down in the shade and had a nice visit. Trading stories about life in the Boonies. They took the grand tour and loved the house. Had a nice visit and we hope they will come again. Decided to go to Bennett Springs for a swim to beat the heat. Levi and I rode in the back which was wild. Nice and cool at Bennett Springs. Back home by seven to set more joists and Levi and I framed the first bedroom wall. A late, late supper and early to bed. With luck we will get back on schedule tomorrow if the weather cooperates.
HEAT, CHEAP NAILS, CROOKED LUMBER, HEAT, FUNNY WATER, AND OTHER ASSORTED COMPLAINTS… DID I MENTION THE HEAT?
AUGUST 16, 2003 SATURDAY
Bright sunny morning and they are predicting another scorcher. Levi and I continued framing the bedroom and worked on brush cleanup. Jason and Sam continued work on the last of the joists and laying plywood. Jason’s hand is bothering him a bit and the heat is really slowing us all down. Paul brought us some eggs and tomatoes. Stopped work about 2 p.m. and took a long break until 4:30. Worked until 6 p.m. and decided to go to town to cool off and have pizza for dinner. A fairly cordial meal and a night of videos. Hot and sticky night.
AUGUST 17,2003 SUNDAY
Hot, humid morning. The boys slept in a bit. Jason’s hand still troubling him so he is going to ease off the heavy hammering and leave it to Sam and Levi. Sam his usual sunny cooperative self… NOT!!!! Grumpy and bitchy all morning! Levi was the first to start work today. Just got up from the table and started framing the next wall. Worked until noon when Gail arrived. I sat down for a nice long visit with him in the shade. The boys all went off for naps and walks. By 2 p.m., the thermometer said 101 though it didn’t seem that bad. Gail left at 3 p.m. and I took time to make a cold chicken salad for supper. Framed and planned the fireplace bay before dinner. We are a bit behind schedule but considering the heat, its no surprise. We still have a week and now that most of the platforms are done, the framing will go faster. We are going to change the lean-to section into a screen porch with a smaller living room and a second bay under the lean-to. Its a better use of space for the summer. Supper and TV. Jason went to bed early and Sam decided to pitch a fit over use of the tent so he stormed off. Levi and I went for a walk in the dark with our Arabic lantern. Not much light, but enough to see the road. I hope we can stick it out for the rest of the week, but I may have to ship Sam home on the bus if he doesn’t shape up. Its really effecting our efficiency and work load. Late to bed. Hopefully tomorrow the first floor framing will be done and we can move on to upper level. Need to rent some ladders first.
AUGUST 18,2003 MONDAY
Up early and its already hot and sticky. Jason and I had a bit of a discussion about the labor situation. Decided we might ship Sam home on the bus if his attitude doesn’t improve today. Levi and I finished the framing in the main bedroom and living room. Only the big window to frame. Helped Jason to frame the stair hall. We had to bump it out a bit to compensate for the misplaced corner post, but it will make a nice detail, a little bay under the eve with big windows on the landing. Sam spent the morning setting three joists (SIGH) but he did it in COMPLETE SILENCE, not one word which was a definite improvement. We needed more PT lumber so we went into town for lunch and to do the laundry. Home around 4:30 p.m. for a short rest. Just as we were starting back to work about 6 p.m., it started to sprinkle and thunder. No rain to speak of but temperature dropped. Then at 6:30, the power went out completely all over the hill. Levi, Sam, and I went to dig postholes for the fence, but ended up chatting with Jeff and Adrianna. They told us about the fire. Seems Adrianna was home when it started and went out the door seconds before the roof collapsed. God was definitely watching her. Lights came back on just in time for sunset. Puffy omelet and salad for supper and a very quiet evening. Hopefully the heat wave is broken a bit and we can really move along tomorrow if lumber comes before lunch. Jeff offered us a big load of firewood from the trees he took down for the new house.
AUGUST 19, 2003 TUESDAY
Up early. Sky a bit cloudy, but humid and warm. Levi and I framed the big window. It looks really sharp, although a bit narrower than planned. Finally, got Sam to finish the last of the joists. Went on to putting up the OSB on the bedroom and chimney stack. Levi and Jason went into town to rent a big ladder from Bailey’s. Sam and I stayed to wait for the lumber from Sutherland. WAIT was the operative word. WAIT AND WAIT. Jason and Levi returned from town and we began putting up the bedroom rafters. Lumber arrived at 4:30 p.m. Boy dumped it next to the first pile and managed to crack two of the long rafters. I WILL complain. Finally had to tell Sam off as every word was an argument and finally Jason said “It’s HIS HOUSE, he’s paying for it. Just do it, NOW!!!!” So I stood over Sam and told him each and every step. If he wants to be treated like a child, I will treat him that way. Sam did more work in 2 hours, after I laid down the law, than he did in the last 2 days on his own. It won’t last though unless I keep the pressure on. Finally cooled down around 7:30 p.m. You could feel a front move through. The main platform and the ramp up to the front bedroom are finally done. We decided to do away with the second front door and changed the stair hall. It now goes up a slope to the front bedroom rather than down to the front door. We will use the double doors in the dining room as the main entrance. Jason and Sam will get going on the second floor tomorrow and Levi and I will finish the last of the first floor framing. We are still about two days behind schedule, but should make it to the roof by the time we leave. I’m hoping upstairs will go faster. I set a lamp up in the big bay window and went out after dark with Levi to look. Even unfinished, the house looks the way I have imagined it all along.Its finally getting there!
AUGUST 20, 2003 WEDNESDAY
We have done a lot in a week but are still a bit behind. I am not sure the roof will get done but feel confident we be framed to the rafter springings. Cloudy early morning and we got a good quick start. Finished framing the living room. The diagonal wall of French doors makes a wonderful space with a long horizontal window on the short end wall. Room for a cabinet or bookshelves below the window. The screen porch will be a great addition and just big enough for a dining table, chairs, and some rockers. We will need to plant a bit of shrubbery just at the end of the drive to block the view to Jeff and Adrianna’s, a small detail. Jason finished the ramp up to my bedroom and the stairwell. Plenty wide and generous and the wall of windows on the landing will provide lots of light and air. Another good accidental design change. About 11 a.m., Jason managed to stab himself in the arm. A few minutes panic while we looked for emergency medical supplies. Luckily, Adrianna came to the rescue. Went to town at 1 p.m. for lunch, lumber, and to raid the bank. Bought enough lumber to frame the second story to the rafter springing. Home at 4 p.m. and resumed work. All the rafters laid over my room and we will finish the upper platform tomorrow. It’s starting to look like a real house and we all sat for a bit at dusk and admired the work so far. It really is a wonderful space. My bedroom will be bright and airy, but cozy as well. A light pick-up supper and a night reading. My health is excellent, but my leg a bit swollen. Must drink more water and keep my legs up more. And so to bed.
AUGUST 21,2003 THURSDAY
I must have been tired this morning because the boys were up before I was. A bit cooler and cloudy. Jason and Sam went to work on setting the upstairs joists and deck. Levi and I took a lumber inventory and made a lists of necessary lumber to finish up. Levi and I decided to go cut a good path to the pond. We decided to continue the little cut off road. By 1 p.m., we had cleared a nice curved path from the road to the edge of the pond ravine. Levi cleared trees and brush down the slop to open up the view. The pond is really small now, but the view is nice. Sort of a poor man’s version of the Centaur Steps at Allerton Park. Cleared a nice flat circle area at the edge of the ravine for sitting. I will have to make a nice rustic bench. After lunch Levi took a nap and Jason went into Grove Springs for smokes and I went back to finish widening the path. By 4 p.m., the lumber from Sutherlands had NOT arrived. Had Sam call and he reported back that they claim the delivery is for Friday. Walked back to the house to call back and read them the Riot Act. They promised delivery by 9 a.m. Friday. That will be the last business I do with them. I will definitely write a letter to complain. The place is a joke. Sam and Jason finished up the upper platform by supper. Levi and I finished the pond path and took pictures. If we work like fiends for the next 3 days, we should be okay. Power framing tomorrow. Quiet night of reading.
THE HOMEOWNER WAITING PATIENTLY IN THE SHADE FOR THE LUMBER-TRUCK TO ARRIVE. THERE WILL BE A DORMER WINDOW ON THE SECOND FLOOR AND A NICE TALL ROOF. THAT’S THE FRAME FOR THE SCREEN PORCH ON THE LEFT. AIN’T IT GRAND??!!!
AUGUST 22,2003 FRIDAY
Cloudy and humid early in the morning, but we got right to work and, in one day, the house was transformed. Sam and Jason framed the upstairs bedroom walls and the house became a little piece of Provence. We had to cut down the corner post in the stair way as it was completely twisted, but it allowed me to frame the corner as a big bay of windows. The Sutherland truck was here by 8:15, so we lost no time. Early lunch and a quick trip to town to get joists for the loft room. Jason and Sam got about half the joists set in the little loft before dark. Should finish by lunch tomorrow with no trouble. We also plan to set the porch beams and finish framing the last bits of the upstairs knee walls. A pity I can’t afford another 4 days to a week, as we could surely get the roof done as well. I’m hopeful we can manage another week in early October. Pork chops with apple glaze for supper and early to bed for all of us.
AUGUST 23,2003 SATURDAY
Last day with a full crew and a great deal to do. Levi up bright and early so we shared coffee and an omelet waiting for the others to get up. Told Levi about the beautiful moth that spent the night in my room. When I went to bed it was decorating the lampshade like a big bow. It was about as big as the palm of my hand with four big lobes. It was several shades of velvety brown and beige like it was cut from fine veneer with a mossy green edge. Each lobe had a white eye edged in black. The body was like champagne gold fur with long horns and legs like a spider. I put my finger out and it fluttered a bit and then sat on my finger and let me look it over closely. It was just exquisite! Like a piece of marquetry. Set to work at 9 a.m. Levi and I finished framing and enclosing the bay window on the stairs, installed the little window in my bedroom, and finished framing the big window. Jason and Sam finished up the small loft bedroom and started hanging OSB on the second floor. Paul stopped by and told us about the local swimming hole. Its about 3 miles past Competition on Highway Z, at an old concrete bridge. Jason and Levi think its the place they found late the other night while out driving. Adrianna came over to see our progress and to say how good the place looks from the road. Gratifying to hear. Jon and Roger arrived about 3 p.m. while we were relaxing in the shade. They were completely taken aback at how much we had finished and how good it looks. Roger kept going on and on about all the changes, but its been more than a year since he was here. All the interior finish and the new wing were new experiences for him. We all walked out so Levi could show off all his work at the pond. Jon really liked the view from the seating ring. Sent Jon and Levi into town for supplies and dinner. A simple meal of big sandwiches and veggies and fruit. Jon and Jason put up the main beams on the corner screen porch, which really helps define the facade. At dusk we put a lamp in the big bay window and went out to the road to admire the look of the house. It finally looks the way I have seen it in my mind. Despite the heat, we lit a small fire in the fire ring under the arbor and just sat around talking and drinking and listening to Jason play and sing. I just sat quietly and admired the look of the house with the lights glowing through the new windows. The courtyard looks so serene and peaceful. I came in early to write this by lamplight and enjoy the peace. Jon, Levi, Roger, and Sam will leave tomorrow, but Jason and I will stay until Monday to finish up and close the house.
IF WE ONLY HAD ANOTHER WEEK… AND A FEW DOLLARS MORE IN THE BANK
AUGUST 24,2003 SUNDAY
A bit of a donnybrook last night after I went to bed. Jon, Levi, Sam, and the usual beery drama. Everyone had words, and regrets, and all of them a bit subdued this morning. Rather took the edge off my glorious week. Boys packed up and left by 9:30 a.m. I don’t envy them the ride home. Only Jason and I left and we spent the day puttering. Cleared the last of the brush and weeds behind the house and made a fenced area to contain all the trash. Not an architectural triumph, but its hidden beyond the out house and tidies things up considerably. The yard almost looks like a lawn now. Maybe scatter some grass seed in the fall and spring to fill it in and keep it mowed nice. Jason and I picked up debris and lumber. Decided to go into town to Dowd’s for an early supper before coming back to do last of the OSB and trim work. Jason got all the walls complete, including the big bay window in the living room. Finished up by dark and spent a quiet evening reading and tidying the house. We plan to leave as soon as we can in the morning.
AUGUST 25, 2003 MONDAY
A good nights rest and up early. Jason and I cleaned up the house and stacked last of the lumber under cover and cleared the site completely. We bought a lot of extra lumber, but we can use it later when we come back to do the roof. Took lots of pictures. House and grounds look really good, best ever. Packed up and drove into Lebanon to return the ladders to Bailey’s. On the road by 11 a.m. Uneventful drive home. It was an awfully expensive two weeks, but we made great progress. Jason thinks one more week will see the roof on and whole place closed in and we can work all winter on the interiors. Can’t wait to get back and do more work.
HOW TO FREEZE ON PENNIES A DAY… WITH MISTLETOE ON TOP!
DECEMBER 18-25, 2004
Heaven only knows what possessed Jay and me to attempt Christmas in the Missouri House, but the Fall and early Winter had been extremely mild and we figured it was worth the chance.
The house had now been partially open to the weather for more than a year and I was worried that the damage might be considerable. The neighbors assured us it was still standing, but I figured we better not chance another winter open to the elements. So, we loaded up a U-Haul with all the collected materials and boxes of household goods we didn’t need in Illinois and headed South.
As Jay and I don’t drive, we convinced two guys, Ray and Kenny, that we met at the Homeworks Restore to drive us down. Ray was a good old boy from South Carolina with a slow, easy style that didn’t respond much to suggestions that he get a move on. Ray and Jay were in charge of the U-Haul and in the course of the 6 hour trip, Jay knew all there was to know about Ray… and his family… and his cousins… and the town they grew up in… and most of the population of Beaufort County.
Ray was an amateur electrician and kept assuring me that he could rewire the house so that the electric company would never really know how much juice I was using and I would save a fortune. I assured him that despite the high price of juice I wasn’t about to chance the consequences of defrauding Illinois Power and refused his help, but he kept trying to convince me.
I shared the ride down with Kenny, who made his living as an auction shouter. That’s the assistant that stands on the edge of the floor and hollers “YEPPPP!” every time he spots someone trying to bid that may have eluded the eagle eyes of the auctioneer. Kenny drank a great deal of Coke on the way down and it became apparent that he was augmenting the Coke with something more potent each time he stopped for a pee break. It didn’t seem to effect his driving skills, but nonetheless, I kept a sharp eye on him toward the end of the trip. We all managed to arrive in one piece and unloaded the trucks.
Now, the plan was that Ray and Kenny were going to stay a few days and help out, but when they got a look at the place, they suddenly remembered urgent business back in Illinois and decided to head right back. All in all, we weren’t too sorry to let them go.
The next day, I finally made contact with Tracy Calton, a local carpenter who had been recommended by a friend, and made plans to meet with him about getting the roof on the addition and the whole place closed up tight. The next morning we awoke to a light snow and a serious drop in temperature. And the weather just got worse, colder and bleaker. Jay and I spent all our time cutting wood and stoking fires just trying to stay warm. We tried to get some work done inside, but it was extremely difficult.
Tracy Calton arrived on the fourth day and took a look at the job. He figured, 3 men and, at most, 4 days and agreed to a set price of $1200. He seemed a competent, honest man and agreed to start work as soon as it was fit weather to work outside…”This cold spell won’t last. It’s been so nice til this week.” He figured he could start day after Christmas and be done well before New Year’s.
So, Jay and I decided to try and tough it out. We kept plugging holes in the house with insulation, hung blankets over all the windows and doors, bought a load of firewood, hung up our X-mas Stockings, and said a little prayer to the weather gods for a warm spell. I guess we hadn’t been good little boys ’cause all we got was more Cold and Snow; by Christmas Eve we would have welcomed a stocking full of coal. Christmas Eve Day dawned to snow, bitter, bone-numbing cold, and frozen water. Faced with the thought of no water to wash all those dirty Christmas-Dinner dishes (assuming we could get the turkey defrosted) Jay and I decided to call it quits.
We got Jeff and Adrianna to drive us into town and leave us at a motel near the bus station and we called Jon in Illinois. Jon and Michael agreed to come and get us late on Christmas Day, so we settled into the motel and spent Christmas watching the usual holiday movies on TV and feasting on truck-stop goodies. It was not a page out of Little House on the Prairie, but it could have been worse.
NEW YEAR 2005:
Mr. Calton has encountered problems with materials and the weather and we agree to put off work until Spring. He says he has gotten all the framing on the second floor completed and a roof on the low end of the living room but there is still no roof over the main house. I pay him $800, he agrees to come back to finish as soon as weather permits, and I give him the go-ahead.
After nearly a year and a half on the market, we managed to sell our house in Illinois to a young couple. At the last minute the deal nearly fell through when the young lady got cold feet and the couple broke up.
But its a signed contract, business is business, calmer heads prevail, and the deal goes through. Jon, Levi and I buy a new house, a single-story 3-bedroom Victorian, literally around the corner, on Beardsley Street. It’s more money than I had planned to spend, but still a bargain. Its all renovated with new systems including central air and it has a second house in the backyard, one room down, and one up with a bath, which will make a great rental. It was being offered by two rug merchants from Chicago who had renovated it for a quick flip and had priced it way over the market price for my distressed neighborhood. Their construction loan was coming due any day and they were desperate to sell. So, my realtor and I played a bit of hard-ball we got them to lower the price by 1/3 and we snatched it up. My attorney even managed to squeeze another $1,500 cash out of them at closing due to some technicality in the contract. After more than 18 months, we are finally settled in our new house.
IN MEMORIAM — ROGER DODD
MEMORIAL DAY 2005
The phone rang early this morning about 6 a.m. It was the call we had been dreading for months. Our good friend, Roger Dodd, had finally passed away at home with his family in Mattoon, after a long, valiant fight against the ravages of AIDS. Rest in Peace, Roger.
SPRING 2006 EARLY MAY
We have finally got our act together and Levi, Jason, and I head down to Missouri to assess the damage and status of the house. Much to our surprise, its all good news. There are just two spots on the upper deck where the plywood has delaminated, but we manage to fix them with a few screws. The addition is full of leaves, so we shovel it out. Oddly enough despite detailed plans, drawings, and a model, Mr. Calton had given us a full second story and a high roof so that we now have two huge bedrooms upstairs instead of two little loft rooms. Levi and Jason manage to finish the framing and sheathing and we get a roof on the place after nearly two full years.
Cost of materials is $ 783.00,but as usual we over bought and have lots of left-over materials for our next visit. Levi and I also started clearing brush in the grove between the house and the road. We want to create enough space to park a few cars near the house and open a new drive into the parking area. That way we can close up the old grass lane and have a bit of lawn in front of the main house. We manage to clear enough brush to be sure its a doable project and hope to finish it up next time.
FRIDAY, JUNE 16,2006
Levi, Jon, and I set out for Missouri today to work on the house. Jon can’t stay, but Levi and I will stay until June 28th. We plan to get the windows and doors installed and work on the parking area. But mostly we are going to help our new friends, the Yorks, get settled on their new place on Lot A, up on Sunshine Lane, past Paul’s place.
Ken and Joyce York are from Youngstown, Ohio and, having put all three kids through college, they have decided to give up two crummy jobs to come live “the good life.” They will arrive about the same time we do with all their belongings in one pick-up truck and will camp on their land. I offered them house space, but they want to tough it out. The Yorks are going to come and help us build the library/loggia addition and learn the pole building technique and then use it to build their own house. I helped them design a little pole house, 14’x 34′, which will be simple for them to build. If they have their power before we leave, we will go help them with the building.
Uneventful trip until we hit Fort Leonard Wood when a storm rolled through, driving rain, wind and wild lightening. By the time we reached Lebanon, it had cleared and there was a wonderful rainbow arching over Highway O. We took that as a lucky omen for the week ahead. Arrived at the house about 7:30 p.m. Showed Jon the new rooms upstairs and unloaded the car. We will have to mow first thing as the grass and brush have grown phenomenally over the last month. Drove back to town for groceries and bought a new under-the-counter refrigerator to replace the little cube fridge. $134.00 for the new fridge. Had supper in town and home to bed.
SATURDAY, JUNE 17,2006
Gray partly cloudy day, bit of rain in the morning. Jon and Levi up early for a run into town and then Jon left to visit his grandma in St. Louis on the way home. Levi and I decided to clean out the store room and sort all the tools and materials to get things in order to start work. Discovered all the duplicate tools we own. No one needs 8 hammers, 6 tape measures including 2 50′ tapes, huge handfuls of screwdrivers, boxes and boxes of assorted nails and enough sand paper to wall paper a small room. And I really need to stop buying bargain light fixtures. Where I will put all these chandeliers, sconces and lamps, I will never know. An embarasse de richesse.
The Yorks arrived about 7 p.m. and we finally met face to face after months of chat and email. They are really nice people and I’m sure we will be great neighbors. We had a great chat about their trip from Ohio and plans and agreed to start work as soon as the lumber can be delivered. And we have started off as neighbors by borrowing from each other. The Yorks have a lawn mower, which works really well on rough grass and brush. They just used it to mow their road and clear a campsite. They are going to bring it tomorrow so we can mow. And I loaned them one of our clocks as they had no way to tell time. Hopefully the start of a mutually beneficial friendship. A light supper and TV early to bed. A short hard rain in the night. I hope the Yorks are okay.
SUNDAY, JUNE 18, 2006 FATHER’S DAY
Still cool and a bit cloudy but no more rain. Levi and I decided to work on the parking area and brush while it is nice and cool. We are opening the new drive into the road, just opposite Adrianna’s pre-fire driveway. Its going to lead into a sort of oval area with room for 3 cars and then a path that leads out under the arched tree to the area right in front of the the new loggia. We continued clearing the area we started last time and got most of the area open. We had to cut down two small oak trees that block the way in and a pine tree that is too scraggy to save. There is one tall oak I would like to remove, but we could never get it down without endangering either the house, the power lines, or several other trees. It’s sort of in the gangway, but we cleared enough room on either side so cars can pass without danger. We made a good wide entry point on the road and it really makes a nice difference. There is enough brush and shrubs along the road to insure privacy, but its open enough to be useful and it makes some nice open shade. From the front of the house, you get a nice view out to the road and the cleared woods around Jeff and Adrianna’s house. From the road, you get a pleasant view of the house through the trees. Once we get the library framed, we will clear just a bit more to open the view a little more.
SUNDAY, JUNE 18, 2006
Joyce and Ken came by with the mower about 6 p.m. and we stopped to visit. They had spent the day clearing brush and opened up about 3/4 acre so they have room for their building and some air around the campsite. They were mighty pleased with themselves as they collected more than 40 gallons of rainwater from their tarps and got it safely stored in rubber barrels and totes. Not bad for a little rainstorm, but it won’t last long if we don’t get more rain this week.
The Yorks really liked what we had done today and encouraged us to order the lumber, as they are eager to start building the library and learn the method. They keep calling the place my “mansion” and can’t believe how much space we built for so little money (approximately $26,500 for 1600 sq. ft., materials and labor). It is going to be nice when its done.
A light supper and reading. Jon called to say he won $300 at the casino on the way home and to tell me Mom called. She had a Father’s Day vision of Dad. I will have to call for details when I get back. I’ve been feeling so good since I got here. NO sinus trouble or any GERDS and calm mind and spirits. I really can’t wait to be here permanently. Levi is calm and working hard and getting very tan. He was really a big help today, fetching and toting and even cut down a tree with the chain saw. Clear night and they are predicting a return of hot humid weather. No rain until Wednesday or Thursday. Bed at 11:30 very tired, but happy, healthy and truly blessed.
MONDAY, JUNE 19,2006
Up early, sky clear and already good and warm outside, but not too humid. Decided to layout and dig the holes for the posts before I order the lumber, just in case the plans change. Started with the farthest back corner and of course it was a complete horror. Roots and rocks and that fine sandy soil so dry it was like trying to shovel sugar, but hard as a rock. Levi would use the pick and crowbar and then I would spell him and clear out with the posthole digger. It took three hours to get down two feet, hot, tiring and back-breaking work. Levi took a break to move his tent down near the arbor and out of the construction zone and then started mowing the courtyard and front lawn. I started a second hole, which was an absolute breeze. Soft easy ground, no stones or roots. Down two feet in less than forty minutes. Took my time as it was hot and humid. Being careful to stay hydrated and making sure Levi does the same.
I forgot to mention a disturbing incident yesterday. Levi took his walk to Grace’s Store about 4 p.m. to buy cigarettes. As he went past Adrianna’s barn, her Great Pyrenees, Leo, started to bark, as usual. All of a sudden, four pistol shots went off and Levi ducked and turned to see someone going back into Denny and Charlotte’s cabin. Not sure who fired the gun or why, but not a good thing at all. I will mention it to Adrianna.
Dug the third hole late in the day, not too much work, but really hot and humid so we quit early. Levi made tacos for supper and we spent the evening relaxing, reading and looking at the brilliant sky and stars.
TUESDAY, JUNE 20,2006
Another bright clear morning, predicting hot and humid weather all day. Got an early start and placed the lumber order with T.H. Rogers ($890). They will deliver late today or early Wednesday. Levi started mowing the back garden but its really slow going. Lots of oak starts, blackberry brambles and tons of Queen Ann’s lace. I did more clearing in the parking area. By 1 p.m., it was way too hot and humid, so we took a long lunch break.
About 3:30 p.m., Levi and I set the first three posts for the library and squared the frame for the fourth post and I started digging. Levi went back to mowing. At 4:30, Ken and Joyce stopped to check on us and were surprised to see the posts in place. They spent yesterday and today cutting posts and setting them to make a temporary shed out of their truck topper. We made plans to meet tomorrow morning as soon as the lumber arrives and start framing. With luck by late Friday or Saturday, we should have it done.
Also made plans to go to town Friday afternoon to shop and do washing. Joyce and Ken went off to Grovespring and returned later for the mower. Levi did a great job and the yard looks really good, if a bit shaggy. I will see if I can talk Ken into mowing once a month so we can keep it in control. I need to get the mower here from Illinois.
A quick early supper and Levi and I set the fourth post. The new building will look great and really make a difference in the house appearance from the road. The courtyard will be much more contained and private.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21,2006
Attack of the pinching monster bugs!!!!!!!! I don’t know what these buggers are called, but they are downright MEAN. They look like the scarab beetles in the Mummy movies, except that they fly. The wings fold up and form a hard carapace and six big legs, but the front has two huge pincers with pointed claws on the end. The bugs land and fall on their backs and play dead, but if you try to touch them, they grab hold of your finger and HOLD ON AND HURT, LIKE CAT CLAWS. One bit me last night and one came out from under the bed and bit Levi’s ankle and wouldn’t let go. And they are hard to kill, you got to stomp and stomp and break them in half before they let go. We are gonna try to catch one intact so we can bring it home to the Entymology Department and get it identified:
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21, 2006
Another peaceful and quiet morning, but hot and humid. Lumber delivery arrived at 8 a.m. Perfect lumber and prompt delivery. A nice young man named David did the delivery and we talked about the house and what we were doing and building. I asked him about a carpenter and he said he might know someone willing to do the high work on the roof. I suspect it might be him as he has two kids and could surely use the work. We exchanged phone numbers, so perhaps I will hear from someone.
The Yorks arrived about 11 a.m. and we started work right away, laying out the joists. Ken and Joyce have certainly done some building work before and the work went quickly. By 2:30-3 p.m., we had the platform all laid. Very hot and humid, so we stopped for the day. Invited Joyce and Ken to come back for chicken and noodles at 7 p.m. and to spend the evening. Cleaned up and started dinner. My flour was weevily so I used instant mashed potatoes and milk to thicken the sauce and it worked really well. Very tasty.
CHICKEN ON THE FLY
6 chicken thighs 6 cups chicken broth
1 cup chopped celery 1 sack of noodles
1 chopped onion 1 stick of butter
plenty chopped garlic 6 rashers bacon
basil, thyme, rosemary, instant mash potato
Italian seasoning, Creole 3/4 cup milk
spice and pepper
Poach the chicken with the herbs and pull the meat from the bones and save the broth. Saute the celery, onion and garlic in the butter with the bacon. When tender, add the broth and noodles and simmer until al dente. Thicken the reduced broth with the instant potatoes and milk and add the chicken meat. Simmer on low low heat until heated through and thick and creamy. Stir it carefully and don’t let it scorch or its ruined.
Ken and Joyce came at 7 p.m. for supper and we had a lovely time. Ken ate three big plates of chicken and noodles. Did my heart good to see him enjoy his food so well. Spent the night talking about plans and people and the forums and about Lebanon. The Yorks left about 9:30 and Levi and I sat up talking and reading. We managed to catch two of those bugs in a glass jar. They fight each other like pit bulls. To bed about 12:30, still hot and sticky, but predicting cooler temps for tomorrow and chance of rain.
THURSDAY, JUNE 22, 2006
Another warm humid morning and I think the heat is getting to me and Levi. Both of us a bit cranky and moody. Time we took a slow day and had a bit of rest. Puttered a bit and started framing walls. Got the back wall framed, only to discover I had used 10′ studs instead of 8′ studs. Measure twice!! So we knocked it apart and redid it. Took most of the afternoon to frame the front and back walls.
Paul came for a short visit and we passed the time of day. We were expecting Ken and Joyce, but they didn’t visit. Hope I didn’t make them sick with my cooking. Hope they come tomorrow so we can place the rafters, definitely a two man job. Laid out the side walls and called it quits for an early supper. Afternoon was cloudy and a bit rainy, but no real accumulation, but at least it broke the humidity and its much cooler. Leftovers for supper and then Levi and I hung some OSB until dark. TV, reading, talk and a good nights sleep.
FRIDAY, JUNE 23, 2006
Another glorious morning. Yesterday’s bit of rain has broken the humid weather and it is almost chilly this morning. Ken and Joyce arrived at 10 a.m. to see if we wanted to go to town and do laundry, run errands and go to some yard sales. Got Levi up and going, gathered all the dirty wash and set off.
Got the laundry going. Levi and Joyce went off to Dollar General for a few things and Ken and I walked over to Sutherlands for some ring-shank nails and a bit of male bonding. They had some big beige tiles on clearance, $.79/tile which might work for the hearth in the kitchen. I will think about it.
Went to the Courthouse for a County Map and then went looking for yard sales. Found the Goodwin Hollow Auction out on the Finch Road, northwest of town. They have a weekly Friday night consignment auction and a monthly grocery auction. Its in a big old mill building surrounded by a big yard full of tables of goodies and stacks of treasures, guarded by assorted cats and dogs and, of course, the auctioneers. It was all a bit reminiscent of the old Lamb Auction House in Wilbur Heights back home. I was tempted by a couple of big screens and Ken and Joyce looked at a large stock tank, but we both passed. Hit a few other sales, including one out on 32 Highway East. An older lady and her son moving to Wisconsin after a messy Divorce, very talkative, but nice people. They had sold a lot of stuff we could have used and we should have gone earlier…nice woodstove, two refrigerators, mattress and springs, and all at bargain prices. I bought 3 big floor pillows ($6) and Ken got a gas can, thermos and some heavy log cables.
Back to town for groceries and then home about 5:30. A fine day out and away from the house and we all had a great time. Steak and fresh tomatoes for supper and a quiet relaxing evening. Joyce and Ken will come tomorrow to help with the rafters and purlins. With luck we may get the roof on Sunday and be tight to the weather.
Also saw an ad today: “Work wanted – two man team will do all kinds of work by day or hour.” I may give them a call. Also an ad for a free garage that had to be moved. A one car garage would have been a great solution for Ken/Joyce housing situation, but it was already gone. Got to act quick on those bargains. Tummy a bit wonky, maybe a touch too much sun today so early to bed.
SATURDAY, JUNE 24, 2006
A cool beautiful morning. Ken arrived about 11 a.m. and we went to work framing the rest of the walls. Joyce went to town to get their flat tire fixed and to check out a few more yard sales. She stopped at Smitty’s IGA for some pasta and sauce and after searching the usual locations, couldn’t find any at all. So she asked a clerk….”Oh m’aam, I’talian food is in our International Food Aisle.” Only in rural Missouri would plain old spaghetti be classed as an International Food. I guess I better not expect to find hummus or portabello mushrooms. And yet Lebanon has three Chinese restaurants and a Thai place. Go figure.
Joyce did find a neat bamboo and cane porch chair at a yard sale down at Grace’s Store. Looks great on the porch. Worked all afternoon and got all the walls framed and half the sheathing up. Managed to get the bow window installed and it looks terrific. Tight fit but we got it in with a little persuasion. Stopped at 6 p.m. and stated supper while Levi and the others rested.
Made a big pot of Pozole. Just as we were sitting to table, Mike (Cowbaby on the Forum) arrived for a visit. We all sat around the table chatting and telling stories and eating Pozole and before we knew it, the clock was striking 10 p.m. Had a great time, laughing and joking. Sat up reading and talking with Levi until late and then to bed. Hopefully tomorrow, we will get the rafters and purlins on and lay the metal roofing. I want to get the library done, the windows in my room and the upstairs bedrooms done before we leave for home. And maybe the cupboard in the dining room. All by Wednesday or Thursday. Wish I could stay another week.
SUNDAY, JUNE 25, 2006
Another spectacular, beautiful morning. Slept in a bit, lazed around most of the morning. Fixed the broken glass in the bow window and finished the framing. Levi not very motivated so I did some framing and started to lay out the china closet. Quick hard summer rain about 2 p.m. cooled things down a bit, but didn’t last long. Made a big ladder so we can do the roof work. Adrianna paid us a short visit and we passed the time of day until she left for church. Told us more about the house they hope to buy when they sell their place. I’m really tempted to try and buy their place and add it to mine. Will see what I can manage.
Ken came and got us for supper. Their campsite is really nice and we had a delicious spaghetti supper and then looked over their land for a suitable place to build the studio. Ken showed me his rocket stove, a simple but very effective little stove made with two sections of metal stove pipe of different diameters and an elbow. The elbow is attached to the smaller pipe and then fitted through a hole in the side of the bigger pipe. The space between the pipes is stuffed with leaves for insulation. You build a small fire in the elbow. The outside pipe stays cool but the inner core burns very, very hot and almost no ash. I may have to build one myself.
MONDAY, JUNE 26, 2006
Cool and breezy this morning, almost chilly. Set to work to finish the last of the wall framing and Ken and Joyce arrived around 2:30 p.m. and we got all the rafters and purlins on by 5:00 p.m. Took a short walk to show Ken and Joyce the pond and Blumsville. Hadn’t been over there in two years. The path to the pond needs clearing and Mr. Blum seems to be using my side of the the road for various sanitary functions. Might have to have a word with him about his portable potty chair and other debris.
Got a couple of big trees down and you can see the house through the trees now across the ravine. Decided to treat the Yorks to supper in town. Went into Shoney’s and back home by 9 p.m. Hope to get the roof on tomorrow and last of the OSB on the walls. That leaves Wednesday and Thursday to install a few windows and tidy up.
TUESDAY, JUNE 27, 2006
A beautiful sunny morning, but crisp and cool. Took an early morning walk before breakfast. Levi and I got an early start on building. Levi got all the purlins nailed down and I got all the OSB cut and nailed up. Ken and Joyce arrived about 3 p.m. and we started putting up the roof metal. No problems and all finished by 6 p.m.
Sky threatened rain, but a false alarm. Library looks great. A nice cozy space with great light and just enough room. I’m going to put a big partners desk or table under the bow window with matching wing chairs. Book shelves floor to ceiling on the long walls and the fireplace on the short wall opposite the bow window. Room for my chaise and another comfy chair flanking the fireplace. I think I will put that old gasolier and matching sconces in the room. And keep my eye out for a nice turkey carpet. Joyce and Ken stayed to supper…baked pasta and meatballs and a big salad. They left at dusk so they could get back to camp before it was completely dark. Quiet night reading and early to bed. Hope to finish the OSB tomorrow, set the windows and put up black paper. Maybe set the arch that links the library to the Main House.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 28, 2006
A very bad night, but thank God for good neighbors and even better rural medical facilities. About 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night I was preparing for bed and made the usual visit to “le petit coin.” Felt bloated and a bit sick so I went to bed. But within an hour, I had terrible cramps and felt miserable. Took a Phenogran tablet, but it did no good. So at 2 a.m., I woke up Levi and he took me across to Adrianna’s. Luckily she and Matt were still both awake and Matt drove me to St. John’s Hospital in Lebanon, doubled up with pain. I must say St. John’s is a mighty efficient little operation. Triage nurse took me right in while Levi got me registered. BP was 170/80, fast pulse, but no fever and lungs clear. Told them a GI cocktail usually did the trick. So rather than let me wait for tests and suffer, they made me up a sample and let me rest.
After an hour, it hadn’t helped so the decided to do some blood work and maybe a cat-scan. They were afraid I might be too big for the cat-scan machine and would have to be sent to Springfield for the test. But they decided to weigh me first. So in came the guy with the giant sling scale. “How much do you think you weigh sir?” 280-285 last time I was weighed. The technician gives me this “In your dreams” look and says to the nurse, “You know this scale only goes to 400lbs?” Nurse goes…”Oh he can’t weigh near that.” So they roll me every which way and my stomach is rolling and gurgling and finally they get me on the sling scale. Levi found all this vastly amusing while they hauled me off the table and weighed me. “283 lbs.”
Just as I said. So they pump me full of Kool-Aid mixed with chalk and dye for the cat-scan and off we went.
The cat-scan looked like a giant beige bagel made by GE and they slid me through while I posed arms overhead like Dorothy Lamour in a sarong. The worst bit for me was breathing deep and holding my breath. By 7 a.m. I was feeling better so they dosed me again with liquid Pepcid and let me rest while they waited for the results. Tests didn’t show anything unusual, but the cat-scan shows I have gallstones, but nothing too serious. They sent me home with new meds about Noon and Adrianna came and picked me up and took us back to the Homestead. Spent the afternoon resting and puttering around the house.
THURSDAY, JUNE 29, 2006
Still recovering from yesterday and neither of us very motivated. Hot and humid into the bargain. Levi definitely ready to head for home and civilization. He did manage to finish clearing the last of the brush near the house and the few trash trees left in front of the library addition and the parking area.
I managed to get my bedroom window framed and set in place. Spent rest of the day tidying up the house and grounds, stacking materials and packing. Had hoped to finish the sheathing on the library, but too high and heavy for Levi to manage alone. Will see if Ken and Joyce can finish it after we leave.
Adrianna came by about 4 p.m. and we had a nice long visit. Probably the longest visit in all the years we have been her neighbor. She told us that Denny and Charlotte are very curious about us and our “huge house.” They thought we were building a shed this week and were amazed it was a building for books. “Its near as big as our whole house and just for books.” I wonder if Mr. Jefferson got a similar response to the library at Monticello. Seems Denny has actually not left Origanna Woods in nearly 10 years. It really looks as if Adrianna and Jeff will really be going before the summer is over. I really will miss them and hope whoever buys their place is as friendly.
Joyce and Ken arrived about 8 p.m. and we all sat out in the shade waiting on Jon to arrive. They have been busy cutting and stripping poles and have the building site cleared and scraped. Ken was planning to start layout and dig holes this weekend. Will offer up prayers for cool weather and soft ground. No Jon by dusk, so we lit a lamp in the bow window and enjoyed the peace and quiet and the sliver of new moon.
Jon arrived about 9:45 and met Ken and Joyce and was suitably impressed by the new space and all the cleared ground. Bid the Yorks goodbye as they were anxious to get to camp. With no power, coming home after dark is a bit tricky. Will miss their company, but will write often between now and Labor Day when we hope to come back. Windows, siding and the chimneys will for our main priority and a new wood stove in the kitchen.
Jon told us the news while we packed the car. Rachel had a car wreck the other day right in front of Dr. Savvas’ office. Few cuts and bruises and baby Nicholas ok, but Brendan got a banged up arm and a black eye. Jon says he looks mighty tough. Locked the house about 10:30 p.m. and headed out. Drove as far as St. James and stopped for the night at a motel. AHHHHHH… AC, hot showers and so to bed.
AFTERMATH JULY, 2006
Well, I should have asked more questions about those gallstones on the cat-scan. I had two more attacks in the week after I got home and on the 4th of July went all of a heap in Merry Ann’s diner and they rushed me to ER. Old Dr. Baird was in charge and they gave me the GI cocktail to calm down my system and re-did the cat scan and decided then and there the gallbladder had to come out. Of course Doc Savvas is in Florida but Dr. Wrestler was left in charge and he arranged with Dr. Jones to do the surgery on July 6.
I was really impressed by old Dr. Baird who I had never met but who is a legend in the community. An old style GP who has been here for like 50 years. He’s one of those tiny little English men who go all pink and white when they age and he has the softest gentlest hands you ever saw and a soothing voice. Very old school doctor. He’s actually retired, but works one day a week in the ER and holidays so that his colleagues can have time off. As they were wheeling me up to my room from the ER, he was leaving at the end of the shift and stopped to pat my hand and reassure me. As I got on the elevator, he walked out the door. Three days later he was dead. Seems he had an aneurysm for years that was inoperable and it finally got him. I may very well have been the last of his patients. A very sad and great loss to the community and the profession.
Surgery went very well…all lasers and three tiny little scars. They did have to intubate me which is now my vision of pure everlasting HELL. As I was coming out of the anesthesia, it took three nurses to keep me from yanking the tube until they were sure I could breathe on my own. Sheer misery. Unable to talk or communicate made all the worse because I could hear the 4th nurse on the phone and she was obviously being read the riot act by MOM who had been trying to get info on the operation and had been given the usual run around. The old nurse got off the phone and said….”Your old mom is one tough cookie. I know where you get it now.” It took me about 3 weeks to get back to normal as one of the incisions got infected and I had to stay home for 10 days while that healed, living on saltines, scrambled eggs, jello, antibiotics and Darvoset. And of course it was the hottest two weeks we have had in years. The poor AC ran continually and finally froze up completely. Thank God for same day emergency plumbers. I dread seeing this months power bill.
Went back to work in late July, just in time for the big shake up. After 28 years in a private office, they took it away from me and I’m reduced to a cubicle. I’m not happy but neither is any of the rest of the staff. I bet this becomes a very, very INTERESTING year at work. Time will tell. Hopefully though, I can take some time in September when its cooler and go back to Missouri and do more work.
THE GREAT HIATUS 2
Summer ’06 – September ’07
Again, despite our best intentions, it’s been a year since we have been able to come to Origanna Woods. But, it’s been an extremely eventful year. Most of it was for the good, but it started off badly. Two days after we left Missouri in late June, 2006, I had another serious gall bladder attack and then another on July 4th that sent me to the hospital. “Out she comes,” said Old Doctor Baird and they sent me upstairs to prepare for surgery the next day.
Dr. Baird is a bit of a legend in Champaign. He’d retired years ago, but helped out in the ER on holidays, so that younger physicians might have the day off. As they wheeled me upstairs, Dr. Baird stopped and patted my hand and said, “Don’t worry you’ll be fine.” Then he put on his hat and went out the door, smiling once more.
Two days later, Dr. Baird was found dead in his home of a massive aneurysm. He’d had it for years, quite inoperable, but he had just gone on working, waiting for the inevitable day. I was quite likely his last patient in a remarkably long career. The surgery itself was uneventful, but I got an infection in the wound and spent six of the hottest weeks on record flat on my back at home.
I finally got back to work in September. Unfortunately, life at the Undergraduate Library was not the same as it was in Joyce’s day. The younger generation was in full throat and instigating all sorts of changes in the name of progress. Each day, it became less and less a prestigious academic library and more like a cross between a public library and Hollywood Video. We even had “video gaming nights”!!!! Dean Downs must be spinning in his grave. More and more of my colleagues are retiring early and frankly the idea was beginning to appeal to me as well. I’d like to work another year, until the land contract is finished, but I’m not sure I can manage it. Work is no longer fun and morale is very low.
Mom is not doing well on her own anymore. Her Congestive Heart Failure is getting worse and she has had several mini heart attacks. Finally, Karen and I decided that it was best that she go into assisted living and Karen began searching for somewhere suitable and affordable. Through her contacts as Media Mogul of Putnam, Connecticut’s favorite radio station, WINY, Karen managed to get Mom into Christopher Heights Assisted Living in Webster, MA. It’s a very nice place and, oddly enough, Mom is quite prepared to go without fuss, a sure indication of how ill she really is.
I’ve decided to retire at the end of the academic year. The atmosphere here has changed so that I really can not imagine staying at the Library for another year. I made inquiries and my retirement pay would only be $30/month less than my current salary and with some rent coming out of the little house now, I will be ahead of the game. Also as I have no legal survivor for the pension, I can take my old survivor benefit (17K) in cash. I could roll it over into the pension, but it would only produce an extra $100/month. If I take the cash, I can pay off the Missouri Land Contract and two other notes besides and net more than $500/month in savings. Plus have cash for a well and to finish the house. So with any luck, June should see me in Missouri.
After 31 years, I retired from the U of I library on May 31. No regrets really, and I went with no fanfare. I will miss a few people, but it was time to go. And now the real adventure begins!!!!!
Well despite the best laid plans, the adventure has been put on hold, due to bureaucratic shenanigans. It seems I don’t get the 17k survivor check, UNTIL my final pension is determined and that may take as long as 120 days. So much for summer in Missouri, but a good friend has given me a small loan to tide me over and to allow me to go home to see Mom. Levi and I took the train home to Connecticut in mid-June to visit Mom and Aunt Estelle and Nicky, who had come from Hawaii. Mom is loving her new home at Christopher Heights, but her health isn’t what it should be. She has her good and bad days, but the CHF is taking its toll and I’m afraid we will lose her soon. She’s signed a DNR and admits she is ready to go join Dad, when the time comes. I can’t imagine life without her influence and presence, but I hate to see her suffer and weaken as well. It’s been a joyful visit, full of laughter and stories from Mom and Aunt Estelle, who frankly hasn’t changed a bit, though it’s been 30 years since I last saw her.
Retirement took some getting used to. It was weird the first few weeks, NOT having somewhere to go each day. But I got used to it, mostly because I got involved in a number of local projects while waiting for the Severance Check.
Firstly, at Mom’s encouragement, I started writing again. I pulled out the manuscript of The Girl Who Danced With A Ghost, a children’s story I wrote 20 years ago, and polished it up a bit. My old colleague, Bob Cagle read and edited it for me and is giving me some ideas as to a possible publisher.
I also wrote another much longer piece about a young boy and his mom and little brother. Faced with eviction, the boy buys a derelict farmstead at a tax auction and fixes the place up with the help of assorted friends. It’s a sort of Young Homesteader/Flip This House story. With luck, someone may like the idea and pick it up.
I’ve also been writing articles for Neil Shelton’s e-zine, mostly about the design and construction of small houses and various aspects of homesteading. The articles have been well received and have even generated a bit of business from folks who want a building plan, or more custom designs. Neither gig will make me rich, but it all comes in handy.
I also took on a project for the Preservation and Conservation Association (PACA) our local architectural salvage group that involves creating an interactive map of downtown Champaign. We are going to take the Sanborn Map for 1914, Champaign’s golden age as it were, and make the map hot.
You will be able to click on a building or block of buildings on the map, and an historic photograph will pop up. By living in the Urbana Public Library archives, I’ve been able to dig up the most amazing pictures and managed to fill in all the holes in the urban landscape caused by fire, urban renewal and the march of time. Some of the lost buildings were absolutely incredible and I now know more about Downtown than most people want to hear.
The City got wind of my project and at PACA’s urging, the Mayor made me a Commissioner on the City of Champaign Historic Preservation Board. We get to put our oar in any time someone wants to mess with an historic structure. Strictly an Honorarium, but the title opens doors to the most fascinating people and I’ve discovered all sorts of tidbits of local history. So all and all, I’ve been keeping busy waiting on my severance pay and hanging out at the café’s with Tito, Millie and the usual suspects.
The 17k finally arrived and I have cleared away a good deal of debt, including the balance on my land in Missouri. The Homestead is now officially mine lock, stock and unfinished house. Now if the world goes to Hell in a Hand-basket, I can always refugee to Origanna Woods. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the hottest summers on record with near drought conditions in Missouri. So I’m going to hold off until September to start work, hopefully under cooler conditions.
AUGUST 15, 2007
Tito’s friend, Dan, has returned from Costa Rica unexpectedly. Basically, he got mugged and lost everything, which definitely took the bloom off life in Central America. I told him all about Missouri and basically offered him room and board if he would come work on the house with me and Levi. “My very own Walden,” was his reply, so it’s pretty much a done deal.
Tito would love to come too and paint while Dan writes about life in Costa Rica, but Tito is involved with working at Radio Maria and loving it. And he has two art shows planned for the Fall, but maybe he will join us later.
Dan has an interview for a Fulbright in mid September, but we will leave right after that. I can’t wait to get back to Origanna Woods and work on the house. The Champaign house is overflowing with all kinds of goodies for the Missouri house and we will need a truck to haul it all down there. Furniture, doors, windows, another fireplace unit and an electric garage furnace and sixteen crates of books salvaged from the library is just the beginning of the truck load.
SEPTEMBER 9, 2007
I bought a car today for Missouri. I saw the ad in Craig’s list and Tito and I went to check it out. It’s a 1988 Oldsmobile Custom Supreme Cruiser station wagon. It’s a deep wine color with real bench seats and the backward facing third seat in back, so the kids can puke over the tailgate when they get carsick. Only 112,000 miles as its been garaged for nearly 15 years in Wisconsin. And a real steal at $900. Leaks a little oil, but only on long trips and it runs like a top. It’s just too, too Brady Bunch for words. But I can get in and out without help, heaps of room for the dogs and chair, and the back is big enough to hold sheets of plywood and lumber. It’s better than a pickup. So fingers crossed, barring an Act of God, we will be off to Missouri on Sept. 24th.
FALL OF 2007
THE HOUSE TRANSFORMED
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2007
The truck is packed, the car ready and we have finally got a full crew of people ready to go, although there have been some last minute substitutions. Brandon has agreed to drive the car down so Dan can drive the truck. Levi decided to not go with us this morning for reasons of his own, but Brandon brought along a young guy named Richie, who’s been living on the streets and is willing to work in exchange for room and board. A total unknown, but we will give him a try.
Finally got on the road about 11 a.m. The trip was uneventful, but Richie is a real chatter-box. We arrived at the house just at dusk to a total mess. The big oak next to the outhouse is completely uprooted and crashed across the yard. It missed the porch by about a foot. The branches are holding the trunk about 8 ft. off the ground in a big arch and it’s not going to be easy to cut things away and get it safely down.
The woods everywhere are devastated as if God simply waved his hand 10 feet below the tops of the trees and cut them all off. There is a great deal more sky and the woods seem more open though they are littered with broken branches and dead standing trees.
And the house has definitely had squatters and is all torn up. Drawers are emptied out, beds torn apart, food and dirty dishes, beer cans and trash all over the place, and there is an odd list of things missing. All the power tools are gone of course and they took all the tape measures (how low is that!?!!) and most of the hammers. One of the red gas cans that we use to haul water is gone and I hope the thieves put it in their car. They also took the dining room clock, the old blue enamel coffeepot and some books. They left the TV, VCR and all the good silver and other valuables. Go figure??
We managed to straighten up and make up enough beds, so we could all sleep. Emptied the truck in the dark as we have to return it first thing in the morning and get Brandon on the bus by 7:40. We all collapsed into bed, but at least we are all here. Oh yes, we brought Wheeza, Duchess, and Mint along too. What’s a country house without a few hounds?
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2007
Managed to get Brandon to the bus on time and the truck returned. Dan and I stopped in town to buy groceries and got home to start cleaning up and organizing. About mid-afternoon, Denny and Charlotte from next door pulled in. Although we have lived within 100 yards of one another for 8 years, it was the first time I have ever met Charlotte and probably the most conversation, I’ve had with Denny. Poor Denny is dying of untreated lung cancer and is not doing too well at all. It seems they are having a bit of a feud with Jeff and Adrianna’s tenants.
The new tenants keep a huge pack of assorted dogs that keep Denny awake at night and Denny thinks they are keeping too many horses on too little pasture and they are neglected. I gather they have already had the Sheriff and Animal Control out to take a look and there is a bit of bad blood. I heard them out, but will judge for myself. The visit seemed to smack of getting in the first shot with the new neighbors so I won’t rush to an opinion or raise the flag quite yet. Dan, Richie and I all took a walk down to the pond and then to the abandoned farm before supper with the dogs. Wheeza had herself quite a frolic in the pond, chasing frogs. A quiet night planning work and so to bed.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2007
Dan and I started work on making and installing windows. Most of them need new putty so we set up a work table in the court yard and I got to work. We went and bought the first load of lumber at Lowe’s and started with the upstairs windows. In the early afternoon, we had a visit from Johnny, the youngest son of the family that who lives up on Sunflower in Bone’s old house. It’s amazing what that family have managed to create out of that filthy old shack. Johnny’s 19 years old; a nice kid and a real talker though he has a sort of Cajun/Texas accent that can be a bit tough to interpret and a definite tendency to repeat himself…often…. But he came over to offer to help in exchange for a daily pizza or two. Now that’s a medium of exchange I can deal with and as good a deal as the Dutch got for that handful of beads in exchange for Manhattan.
Johnny and Richie seemed to hit it off and the two of them went off together to cut brush and pull branches in the parking circle and stack it for firewood in the courtyard. Richie is a bit of a mixed blessing. It seems he is a recent inmate of The Cunningham Children’s Home and he definitely has some issues, beginning with A.D.D. I will give him a chance, but he isn’t the most conscientious of workers and has spent a lot of time running round the woods in various stages of undress playing “NINJA” with a plastic sword and a black kerchief ’round his head. It’s just a bit unnerving, but Danny just smiles sardonically and takes it in stride. How do I manage to attract these people?
This is Johnny’s family’s place. I wish I had a picture of what it looked like when they first came, but imagine the worst tumble down ruined shed you ever saw and multiply by 4. Old Bones, the previous owner had died in the place and it was the proverbial tarpaper shack buried in years of trash and garbage and wrecked-you-name-it. They shoveled and hauled and cleared the land and moved into that shack and started work. Two years later they have this fine little house, some beautiful open pasture and garden space and the nicest little log barn you ever saw. A place to be proud of and the best of neighbors. Oh yes and a few dogs too…14 at last count.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2007
Johnny came early to help out and brought along his sister, Samantha. Sam is a year younger than Johnny, I think, and “a big boned gal,” as Mama used to say. She has curly hair in the style of Shirley Temple and definitely thought our Richie was the dog’s dinner. I’m going to have to keep an eye on that situation as I don’t intend to be the cause of any shotgun weddings in Origanna Woods. Johnny and Samantha helped out with the raking and brush clearing. Ken & Joyce have promised to bring their chain saw and help us clear away the fallen tree, which is blocking the yard and then we can finally mow the weeds around the house. I couldn’t believe the change in Ken when he came in the door. He has lost a ton of weight and shaped up and he looks 10 years younger, at least, and very, very healthy. The beaten city-man I met a year ago is long gone. Joyce is looking pretty good too and the rough country life seems to have agreed with them. They spent the winter in a tent improvised over their house frame. The walls were built of pallets and sacks of leaves were used for insulation. It’s amazing they didn’t freeze to death, but they seem to have thrived. Ken is interviewing tomorrow for a job as a reporter at the local paper in Lebanon. I hope he gets the job.
Later in the day, we finally got to meet Jack, the new tenant at Adrianna’s. We got his side of the dog and horse feud with Denny. Seems Jack and his family had to move from their rented place in Ava with little or no preparation and the first few weeks here were a bit disorganized, considering the well pump was out and they were hauling water and feed. He seems a very nice man and I hope we can all get along. We also met Jack’s dog, Draco, a short fat bandy legged French bulldog, who seems to have taken a shine to Miss Mint. Draco looks a bit like a pot-belly pig and has a definite Napoleon complex. He seems to think he owns the house and lets himself in and makes himself at home on the chairs and beds. He snores like the dickens when he isn’t snuffling about. He really is the funniest little dog, but Duchess doesn’t seem to approve of him at all. She gives him the cold shoulder when he pays his respects. But Mint seems to like his company.
Dan got the window in the big bedroom upstairs installed and the upper window in the stair bay is complete as well. It looks really good. A quiet night of reading and so to bed.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2007
Got up early and went into town to run some errands. We stopped at the public library to check email and check-in at home. It’s really a very nice little library, created out of the closed K-Mart. No news from home. Checked out all the stores on Commercial Street and discovered a bunch of resale/charity shops. The best one is a church run place, called “The Free Store,” where oddly enough, everything is free. Mostly clothes, but some household goods and furniture and a very pleasant group of people. Had a long conversation with a lady who lives out on Rte. 66. Seems it is being used as a reroute for some work on I -44 and the big trucks are tearing up the roadway. She told me how the stress so weakened a local bridge near her home that the mailman and his truck fell through into the weather and drowned. Now that’s the sort of news that catches the public’s attention on the 10 pm news.
Chicken Bonne Femme for supper. Dan is a delight to cook for and the best company I’ve had in years. And he’s a great worker too. The house is really starting to shape up and I couldn’t be more delighted. Richie however is spending most of his days and nights hanging out at the Coopers and generally being a pest. I don’t think we will keep him on much longer, Ninja skills or not. And so to bed.
Chicken Bonne Femme
Bonne Femme means good wife in French and usually means any dish made with simple at hand ingredients. Take a chicken and cut it into the usual pieces or just use a bunch of chicken legs. In a big pan, heat some oil and brown the chicken with lots of garlic and a big chopped onion and plenty of chopped celery. Add basil, thyme rosemary. black pepper and a good splash of white wine if you like. Throw in sliced unpeeled potatoes, some chunks of carrot, turnip and mushrooms. Cover it all with some chicken broth or water. Cover and put the pan in a medium oven (350) and let it cook until the chicken is done and the veggies tender and there is a lovely nice thick brown natural sauce au jus. Serve with crusty brown bread and butter and a simple dessert.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2007
A beautiful crisp fall morning. Dan and I got the window into the gable end of the house and finished the framing in the little upstairs bedroom. We took a drive to Grovespring for a break and to buy supplies. We are using a ton of putty repairing all those old windows. Bought a nice fresh pork roast at the grocery for Sunday dinner and a supply of flypaper for the plague of flies at the house.
Later in the day we had a visit from Steve, Betty’s other son and his son, Steve, Jr. Betty rarely leaves the house now and is confined to her wheelchair and her oldest boy had a stroke last year, so the Steves came up from Texas to help out. All four of them, plus their friend Jeff, are living in Betty’s tiny one bedroom house. The two of them offered to help with the drywall and said they will lend a hand with the big fallen tree. Young Steve is 16 and learning to drive, a big kid with a curly black ‘Fro (“The chicks love it dude.”) and a great disposition. Old Steve looks a bit like Willy Nelson, with all Willie’s habits as well. Seems I will be up to my ears in workers when I want them.
Dan and I started to frame the French door and new sidelight on the porch. Looks really good. Dan took a late walk and had an encounter with a bow hunter. Bit of a dispute about whose land they were on and access to the grass lane, but all was resolved without bloodshed. A late night visit from Ken and jambalaya for supper.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2007
An absolutely gorgeous morning with a light breeze and we could just hear the church bells. The Claxton church is closest so perhaps it was their bell. Had a leisurely breakfast on the porch and putzed away the morning. By mid-afternoon, Dan and I had managed to finish hanging the French door from the living room to the porch and we put one of the old 6’ side lights next to it. Plenty of light in the living room and a bit more wall space as it’s a single, not a double door. We also closed in the end gable of the porch, which makes the house look somehow much more finished.
Ken and Joyce came with their chainsaw, but it had spark plug problems, so the big oak is still arched over the yard and holding up the clean up. I cleared out the front bedroom and got most everything stowed away so we can start wiring. Placed the fireplace unit in the corner and it fits nicely near the window without taking up a lot of space. Dan, Ken and I took a long hard look at the fireplace in the living room and we decided I was losing a great deal of space in that huge chimney shaft. If we put in a beam, we can eliminate the bay partition and push the fireplace back into corner. I lose the utility closet but double the size of the bay and open up the living room visually. And we can floor over the upper shaft and add the space to the little bedroom upstairs. Maybe a low wardrobe closet with a big bunk on top in the upper shaft. If we put a tiny window in the side of the chimney shaft for light and air, it would be a great place. I will give it some thought.
We had just finished supper (roast pork and root vegetables) when Jack and Cindy (Adrianna’s tenants) came to visit. Heard all about their moving adventures. They are definitely HORSE people, big and rangy and can easily imagine Cindy jumping a six bar fence in full cry at the lead of the Quorn and Pytchley. Very very YOICKS!! About an hour after they left, young Steve arrived with Jack and Cindy’s 14 year old son, Dillon. Dillon is easily the biggest 14 year old boy I’ve ever seen. He could pass for 19, not only in size, but intelligence, manner and maturity. He’s home-schooled, very bright and a published poet. Dan and I will have to pull up our literary socks with Dillon around. He’s a bit like Tito too, full of mischief, a merry heart,and sardonic wit. The boys sat around playing cards and chatting until late as it was pouring down buckets of rain. Finally stopped about 11:30 and so to bed.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2007
Another beautiful morning in Origanna Woods. Spent the morning installing all the windows in the lower stair landing. It looks absolutely wonderful, lots of light and adds great presence to the courtyard. I can’t wait to see it lit at night. Drove to Grovespring for more putty and nails and had a great lunch at the Café. Huge taco salads and drinks, with fresh salsa and sour cream. Less than 10 bucks for both of us.
Granny’s Café is in a remodeled garage, linoleum floors and mix and match tables and chairs. There are lace curtains on the windows and gas wall heaters. The kitchen looks like a home kitchen and not a commercial space at all. The place would never pass code in a city, but the food and service are great. They even have a little sliding window so they can serve ice cream and pop to the kids in town.
Returned home and built a small shed roof over the downstairs bay. The house is beginning to look more and more like its original inspiration, Carl Larsson’s Sundborn. Dan and I think a golden-fall-leaves yellow might be a good house color with white trim and falun red window cases and doors. The Richie situation is not working out and we may have to send him back to Champaign. He spends all his time hanging out at the Coopers and causing small incidents and I don’t need problems with the neighbors. And he really hasn’t done a lick of work and is getting more and more sullen and vaguely violent. Far too interested in ninjas, pointy sticks, machetes, and random acts of destruction to inspire me with any sense of ease. Dan is far more patient with him than I am.
Today Richie took Mint to the Coopers and while there, he decided she had worms (she doesn’t) and medicated her. I was NOT AMUSED and warned him off about ever doing it again. I realize NOT considering consequences may be part of his psychosis, but there is a limit. I don’t need the stress and had no intention of taking him to raise. A quiet evening. Chicken pot pie for supper and so to bed.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2007
Went to town early to do some banking and check email and such at the Library. Brought along a huge pile of wash and ran into Ken & Joyce at the Laundromat. Ken got the job at the Lebanon newspaper and will start next week and Joyce’s sister got word they have the contract on 5 acres down at Whitley Farm, down near Hartville, another of Neil Shelton’s developments. Totally inspired by Ken and Joyce, they will be coming to live here as soon as they can sell their house in Ohio.
I picked up groceries and other necessities. When we came home, Dan and I began to build that icon of rural landscaping, the pallet fence, at the far end of the courtyard.
This isn’t our fence. I forgot to take a picture of ours, but this is a fine sample of the Genre and an inspiration to us all. Notice how neatly it has been cobbed together and the care taken in using pallets that are all of the same shade of aged pine. Most folks build their pallet fence willy-nilly without regard to the visual condition of the pallet. I like the little stair step effect as it goes downhill and the care taken not to disturb the natural vegetation. Just wait until the daisies fill out. This beauty is somewhere in Nova Scotia.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2007
Dan and I got an early start and went to the Grove for breakfast on our way to Lucky Lumber down at Mansfield. Café breakfast was enormous. Dan had an order of French toast and a half-order of biscuits and gravy that would have sunk a ship. It all came on a huge platter, mounded high and the half-order was enough for the two of us and a small dog. Plus grits and Texas toast, scrambled egg, and sausage sandwich for me. And endless coffee. Total cost …$8.79. Value: PRICELESS.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2007
Dan and I got an early start and went to the Grove for breakfast on our way to Lucky Lumber down at Mansfield. Café breakfast was enormous. Dan had an order of French toast and a half-order of biscuits and gravy that would have sunk a ship. It all came on a huge platter, mounded high and the half-order was enough for the two of us and a small dog. Plus grits and Texas toast, scrambled egg, and sausage sandwich for me. And endless coffee. Total cost …$8.79. Value: PRICELESS.
Despite my earlier vow never ever to do business with Lucky Lumber again (see early chapters), everyone told me that they have improved enormously, so we drove down to Mansfield to have a look and take another chance. Very glad Dan and I wore our manly seed caps and dirty jeans and didn’t shave, as Lucky Lumber has got to be the “BUTCHEST” lumber yard I’ve ever seen in all my life. I swear you could smell the testosterone in the air and we got a bit of attitude, until they realized I wasn’t just some old retired city slicker out for a bargain. I know a hawk from a handsaw, as they say, and I can dish lumber with the best of them.
We certainly gained points when we started loading it into the Oldsmobile. We were obviously not the fastidious sort who think you need a truck to haul things. The boys in the yard pitched right in, happy to see how much weight our old bus would take. We bought 18 sheets of ½ inch T1-11 at $16/sheet, way less than the going price in Illinois, 5 sheets of bead board for the porch ceiling and some corrugated metal so we can close up the chimney shafts temporarily and keep out the rain. $417.00 total, but this will make the house look nearly finished from the road. High time, too! We drove out of the yard riding a bit low and loaded to the gunwales, but we got home safely.
Unfortunately when we got home, we discovered that Wheeza had disappeared. She wasn’t pleased that we wouldn’t take her in the car as she loves to ride. Johnny says she was down at Gracie’s Store earlier, but he had shooed her back up the road toward our house. We searched all over and no sign of her and Richie ,of course, tells three different stories. Hopefully she is out in the woods teaching us a lesson and will come home at supper time.
Dan installed ceiling rafters in the porch and started to put up bead board and siding. Looking really, really good. By Sunday, we should look down right respectable. Steve and Steve, Jr. showed up with their chain saw and managed to get the oak tree partly cut away so that it isn’t quite so dangerous, but their chainsaw went wonky too, so the oak is still there and in the way. OAK: 2… CHAINSAWS: 0. Maybe the third try will be the charm. Johnny & his family are going to take a whack at it tomorrow.
We drove around at dusk, looking and calling for Wheeze. No one’s seen her and we didn’t find her anywhere. I’m so afraid that as old and stiff as she is, that she is down somewhere and hurt. But Duchess seems as clueless and concerned as we are about her Mama Wheeza and I think if Wheeza was hurt, Duchess would have found her and brought us to her. Duchess just sits on the porch and looks sad, waiting on her Mama. I sure hope she is okay and she comes home or we find her. Said a little prayer, passed the word to the neighbors and trust in the Lord. Time will tell and so to bed, a little triste.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2007
Another beautiful morning, but Wheeza is still gone. Talked to Jack and Cindy and they are of the opinion that Denny may have shot Wheeza if she came on his property. They lost two dogs in the last two months and Denny has threatened to shoot any animal that comes on the place. No way I can prove it, but I’m really afraid I won’t see Wheeza again and I don’t know how I will tell Jon. I will have to watch Mint and Duchess and make sure they stay close. Just my luck after 10 years of peace with the neighbors to arrive in time for a feud. Maybe Wheeza will still turn up.
Dan and I finished the siding under the porch and got all the siding done on the lower front of the house. It’s quite a transformation and you can finally see what the house will ultimately look like. Johnny and Samantha came by to lend a hand and we heard more about their history. Talk about all trifling and confused. Richie laid around all morning and even Johnny’s parents were after him to help. About 2:30, I found him drilling small holes in the library studs and when I told him to put the drill away, he ignored me and I BLEW. Told him just what I thought of, in spades, and said he could either learn to do as he was told or pack his bag and I’d take him to the bus station. Richie gave me the sullen silent routine, so I hollered for Dan who was up on the roof and told him to get out the car. We loaded Richie and his bag into the car and took a very quiet ride into town. We stopped at the Free Store and got Richie some fresh clothes, so they would let him on the bus. He probably hasn’t bathed in 5 or 6 days and was reeking filthy. I bought him a ticket back to Champaign and left him at the bus station. Even Dan agreed that we had done all we could for him. Dan told me that Richie was actually on probation and the cops had been looking for him at his parent’s home in Casey. Richie had called home from the bus station. Quiet dinner at home and a night of reading.
Dan is already talking about spending the winter so he can work and finish his book. Fine with me. I’d love to stay if we can get the house tight and ready in time. Sure would be nice, especially if Tito could join us too.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2007
Another fine morning, but humid. Up early and headed out for Mansfield to get the rest of our siding at Lucky Lumber. Took both dogs to avoid any other possible problems with Denny. Still no Wheeza and I’m resigned to the idea she is gone for good and probably dead and buried nearby. Sure wish I knew what happened for sure. Stopped for breakfast in Grovespring. Uneventful drive to Mansfield. The yard staff was impressed we had already installed the first batch of siding. Definitely earned some Butch Points today. Stopped at the FS in the Grove for some fence posts to make the dogs a kennel. Picked up some nice pork chops for supper.
Spent the afternoon putting up siding and finishing the trim on the lower front and porch. It looks absolutely great and Dan and I are really pleased with the look of the house, particularly through the trees and parking area. Beautifully framed by the trees. Will try to finish the gable end tomorrow and sheath and cover the chimneys. Rain in the forecast for Sunday or Monday. Quiet night reading and early to bed.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2007
An unseasonably warm morning, but beautiful. Up early and out working in the yard when Jack came by. Told me his shepherd pup was nearly poisoned yesterday, but saved by a dose of ipecac syrup, vomiting and some powdered charcoal from the Wal-Mart pet department. The situation is getting out of hand and I am keeping the dogs close by.
Finally managed to text Jon about Wheeza. He was sad, but understood and hopes for the best. Told us to stay safe. Jack loaned me his cell phone and I called Tito and Millie and PACA. Bob Swisher answered the PACA phone and it was good to hear he is out and about after the heart attack.
Dan spent the morning hanging black paper upstairs and tidying up various bits and pieces. He moved all the boxes of books into the library, while I did the washing and yard work. We went to town about 4 p.m. to grocery shop. There was a big meat sale at Smitty’s so I stocked up. Bought pizza for supper and brought a super size one to pay Johnny for his work. Our new fridge is at their house and they will deliver it tomorrow or Monday. It came FREE from a lady who is closing out a trailer park or so Johnny’s folks told me. WINK WINK!?! It looked to be in good shape and runs well. It will be great to have a full size fridge and retire the two dorm fridges. Quiet Saturday night of TV and reading. Tummy a bit off and a sore throat. Took an antibiotic and dosed myself with lemon and honey. I sure don’t need to be sick when everything is going so well.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2007
Another fine morning. Throat still a bit sore. Made us a big breakfast of pancakes and bacon and fresh fruit and plenty of hot tea. Went for a walk with Dan to Betty’s and back and then Dan decided to go down the grass lane and I went back to the house. He was gone for more than 3 hours and I was starting to worry. Finally he came walking up the road from Gracie’s market. He’d walked all the way down the grass lane and crossed the fields to the Gardiner Church, but got a bit disoriented and went the wrong way on the Redbud Road and down the wrong way on Amazon Road as well. Finally he met a man named Gary who lives in a house built like ours on posts. Gary gave him some cold water and set him on his way correctly. Turns out that the dead end of Amazon Road is the front gate of the guy who backs up to the York’s place. Poor Dan ended up walking all around and crossing fields to eventually get to TT and Gracies.
About 5:30 Johnny Cooper came running over for help catching one of Jack and Cindy’s horses that had got out of the pasture. Johnny’s feeding and watering while Jack and family are gone on a trip. Got the horse put up and we all went riding in the car to see where Dan had walked. Drove on past the Gardiner Church and just followed the roads. Lots of old abandoned farmsteads and some really beautiful scenery, any number of hardscrabble farms and trailers and a few nice new houses. But talk about RURAL!! Very hilly and several fords in the road and one really ancient wooden bridge barely wide enough for the car. Finally came out on Rte. 5 about ½ way between Grovespring and the fire-station at O Hwy.
Then we went to look for Orla. If Orla exists, it must be really small or we just haven’t gone far enough down the road to get there cause we still didn’t find it. But we saw two wonderful abandoned farms. One from the 30’s, a sort of English cottage/bungalow style with a big chimney and Arts and Crafts detail. It sits high on a bank with big oaks behind it and the remains of a fine front flower garden. Even in October, there were still roses left on the front porch arbor and lots of asters and daisies in the tall grass.
The other was barely a frame with a few boards, but must have been great in its day, a very large, vaguely Gothic Revival house in the AJ Downing manner. Old balloon framing and long narrow windows and a carved sun over the front door. The front is two story and there is a long wind in the back. A couple of big oaks and the remains of an orchard, but its in the middle of amuddy pasture and farm lot now. It’s nearly a ruin, but magnificently sited on a hill with long valley view. It must have been a real showplace.
Got home around 7:30 and a quiet night. Throat still bad and a bit wheezy too. I may have to go to the clinic in Lebanon if I’m not better tomorrow. Took some penicillin I had and hot lemon and honey and early to bed.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2007
Morning started out beautifully, but around 11:30 the skies opened and it rained all day. Dan managed to finish the black paper on the upper story. Ken & Joyce came by to use the power saw. I set electrical boxes, but ran out before I was done. Dan and I cleaned out the store room and sorted light fixtures. We put up the backer board for the kitchen hearth and put up all the insulation in the kitchen ceiling. We started to put up the ceiling panels, but the room isn’t remotely square, so we stopped as we will need to some measuring and fitting. Pozole for supper, which Dan loved. It’s a pleasure cooking for him. A quiet evening and a bit chilly. Still feeling a bit ill, so I will go to the clinic in Lebanon if I’m not better tomorrow. Can’t be sick, too much to do and we want to have the siding and wiring done by end of the week. And so to bed.
In a heavy kettle or crock pot brown about a 1 ½ lbs of pork shoulder or boneless pork ribs cut into chunks with a whole head of chopped garlic and a big chopped onion. Add a big bunch of cilantro, lots of chopped green and red pepper and at least two good sized chopped hot hot peppers, chipotle’s or ancho’s are best. I like to add a small can of tomato paste and sometimes I throw in a small jar of hot salsa too. Add two cans of white or yellow hominy or a mixture of both. Add enough water or chicken stock to cover it all and let it simmer very slowly all day if possible. Actually, it is best if you let it cook all day and then let it sit and develop in the fridge overnight and then reheat the next day. When you are ready to eat, serve this up in big bowls with some warm tortillas, sliced radishes, chopped green cabbage, sliced limes and plenty of hot sauce. Folks can add what garnish they like to the bowl. This dish is not for the weak. It should be fiery-hot and washed down with cold beer or lemonade.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2007
Another nice morning, but I am still feeling a bit sick. Breathy and nauseous, so I had Dan take me into the clinic. Managed to get an appointment with a Dr. Dennis Hite, a fine old style GP like my own home doctor, George Savvas. Dr. Hite started med school in ’56 and we got on like a house afire. Talked about polio and my health problems. My BP was up a bit, but no fever and he agreed it was just tracheatis. Lungs were clear. He put me on 5 days of Zithromax. Spent the rest of the day running a few errands. Home to a quiet supper and early to bed. Chilly and a bad night with a bad stomach ache.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2007
Cold clear morning, but it warmed up. Felt better once I got up and moving, but still a bit puny. Worked on a wiring scheme for the big wing until the Cooper’s arrived. Forgot to mention that last night the Cooper’s brought us the new refrigerator, a full size GE in great shape. A real blessing. And Mr. Cooper got most of the fallen oak cut up. Johnny and Samantha started to clear the brush, so I can mow. Dan and Johnny put up siding on the gable and upstairs main façade. House is looking finished and BIG. We finished around dusk. Really chilly tonight so we lit a fire in the dining room. A quiet night reading and writing and early to bed. Hopefully I will sleep good tonight.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2007
Crisp and cold fall morning, but it warmed up nicely. Took a short walk and then headed to town to go to the library, do laundry and buy lumber. On the way down Highway 5, we stopped at a house that was selling wood-burners, or so the sign said. It was that nice brick house, just a few doors past O that is set off the road and sells Jack Russells and fresh veggies in the summer. A real fine place owned by a Mr. Lowell Douglas. The wood-burner was an outside furnace, but Mr. Douglas had an old Earth stove he would sell us at his rental house out on HH. He rode out there with us while we heard his life story. Mr. D. used to be a County Commissioner and he filled us in on Evergreen and the Empire Ranch and its owner, “ole Blaster.” According to Mr. D’s description, “Blaster” is an old style rapacious land baron turned corporate raider/leverage buyout czar. The kind of guy that would have been played on Old Time Radio by John Dehner or William Conrad. We got all the stories about Mr. D’s battles with the old curmudgeon and along the way he showed us ORLA, which does exist if you know where to look and RUSS and told us lots of local history. He even knows Jeff and Adrianna and most of our neighbors. Mr. D’s rental was a cozy place on 5 acres and the stove was a beauty. All heavy steel with stout squat legs, a fancy scalloped edge and a porcelain Earth plaque on the door. We bought it for $150. It weighs a ton so we will have to get Ken York to come with his truck and bring some strong young backs to move it. It ought to heat the whole house nicely and probably drive us out of the kitchen. Went on to town and did wash and Dan went to the library to finish his Fulbright essay and send it out. I had a long phone chat with Jon about the Champaign house and money situation and my plans. All well there. Got home and asked Dillon and Young Steve to help with the stove on Saturday. They also agreed to help with the high work on the roof and chimney. They were all Gung Ho to help out. Really good kids. Mint managed to literally chew and claw her way out of the spare room. Chewed almost through a window mounting in the French door and then chewed around the door frame, until she managed to dislodge the sheet of plywood we nailed over the door to the dining room to keep her inside. Mint and Duchess were sitting on the porch like a pair of Houdinis when we pulled in. I will have to come up with a fool proof way to keep her inside so she doesn’t go running next door and disappear like Wheeza. Pizza for supper and a quiet night of TV. I’m hoping we can get the trim up and the porch ceiling done tomorrow and the chimneys and stove done on Sunday. Will definitely concentrate on insulation, wiring and blocking up the last of the soffits and gables next week. I would like to be able to do dry wall and ceilings at the start of November and get the outside painted before it gets too much colder. Plenty to do tomorrow and so to bed.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2007
Another crisp clear morning. Had a hearty breakfast and Dan spent sometime chopping wood while I did housework and a lumber list. Drove into town and got more trim lumber at TH Rogers and priced stove piping. The price of triple wall pipe and fittings is sky high. Over $1000 estimate at Ivey’s (to code and top of the line). MFA can sell us a kit for about $115.00, but 4’ of triple pipe will be another $109 and has to be special ordered. Dan and I decided we can probably retrofit a safe chimney using some of the extra triple wall pipe from the living room fireplace and fabricate some fittings and a storm collar. Then we went to Grovespring to buy some cattle wire for a dog pen. Returned home to discover Mint had escaped again. We had locked her and Duchess in the library and nailed a sheet of OSB over the door. Mint found a small gay in the wall sheathing under the bay window and chewed a hole big enough to climb out. There she sat in the driveway, proud as the devil and old fat Duchess with her head sticking out the hole, looking disgusted.
Built a wire pen to keep the dogs in, but I’m betting it won’t work. Might have to resort to a dog cage for Mint. Mortared the hearth in the kitchen for the new stove. Goulash for supper and a quiet night doing accounts. We have spent $700 for materials and fixtures in the last month.
With luck we can have the place buttoned up for under $2500. Then spend a bit more slowly and frugally while we do interior finish. I hope to get a lot done tomorrow and hopefully pick up and install the stove. Not so cold tonight and so to bed.
This is the new stone hearth in the Kitchen. We filled the old fire hole up with stones and then poured in concrete and then laid down some nice flat stones to make it even with the floor. The little stone wall on the right hides the edge of the ramp up to the dining room and we covered the wall with cement board and will probably put more stone work or some rustic tiles on the cement board. The mortar is still wet in the picture, but it will dry a light gray. The new stove will sit here and look real pretty.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2007
A cool cloudy morning. Ken arrived about 10:30 to go get the stove so we rounded up Dillon and headed out. I staid home and did yard work. The stove arrived with no trouble and Ken will loan us his compressor so we can sandblast and refinish the stove. I will need a few fire bricks as well. Gave Ken the windows and screens I got free from PACA to use on the front of his house. Young Steve arrived and he, Dillon and Dan began work on sheathing the upper chimneys. Old Steve turned up with his friend Jeff, a carpenter and soon they were all swarming over the roof and buttoning things up. We put little galvanized roofs on the chimney shafts and now they look like big dormers, but shed the water beautifully.
Then Jeff and Dan tackled the front soffits and fascia and trimmed the roof metal in front. They also installed the front cornice so we can finish trimming out tomorrow. Jeff will do the chimney stucco for me later this month if I can swing the money and Old Steve says he can do the drywall and insulation on the dining room ceiling. He suggested we sister in extra 2×6 joists for the insulation and to make the dry-walling easier. And he agreed that I should lower the back bedroom ceiling as well to make it easier to heat the room. We finished up about 5pm and went into town for groceries, concrete and two more sheets of galvanized roofing. Taco’s for supper and a nice sunset drive home. Nearly hit a deer on the road just this side of Evergreen.. It’s the season to be more careful. Quiet night at home reading. Jeff is coming tomorrow to help do the gable trim and porch ceiling. We should look mighty good by Monday. Not bad progress for less than 3 weeks of work. Gave Jeff $40 for his work and he acted like it was way too much. He’s a nice guy, seeing hard times and a good carpenter so it’s a pleasure to employ him, though I suspect he may dring a Bit. Lots to do tomorrow and they are predicting a sunny day, but possibly rain on Monday and Tuesday.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2007
An absolutely perfect day in the Ozarks. Sunny, slight breeze, clear sky. Late breakfast and than Dan and I concentrated on cleaning up the courtyard and all around the house so we could finally mow. Young Steve and Jeff came around Noon and we started to put up the bead board on the porch ceiling. Jeff figured out how to raise the diagonal wall in the living room so that we can keep the high shed ceiling in the living room, but have a flat ceiling on the porch. There were a few issues considering how un-square the house is, but we managed. Probably would have probably gone a bit faster if we had had the proper lumber, but Jeff is a real saver and insisted on doing the job with what we had on hand. Norm Abrams may not approve of our methods, but we “got ‘er done.” Steve, Sr. joined the group and by dusk the job was done, although we were all a bit wacky and a bit lubricated. The porch looks great and once it has its screens and trim, it will be a beautiful place to sit out. Now that the porch and chimneys are tight to the weather, the house is much warmer. Once we get some more trim up and the last of the soffits and fascia in place, we will be in fine shape. We also got the grass cut and finally trimmed off the extra long rafters on the back of the middle wing. We will concentrate on the trim tomorrow and wire and insulation this week. If I can keep the pace going and the money on track, I might actually have a real house this year. A late supper and night of reading and so to bed.
That’s Dan holding the panel up on the ceiling . Old Steve is the one standing on the bench in the shadows and the boy with the big black afro is Young Steve. I took the picture and I’m not sure where Jeff is at the moment.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2007
Rained cats and dogs last night, but no leaks in the new roofs or walls. HOOORAY! Small leak in front of the dining room fireplace. One of the roof screws cracked the edge of a purlin and I think it is the source of the leak. A little roof tar ought to fix it. Little Draco spent the night with us. Its really funny watching him jump on and off the bed while Duchess, who is twice his height, has to struggle. She was so pissed off watching the athletic little French man show off. Dan and I started wiring, while Johnny cooper watched and chatted our ears off. Got the living room and small bedroom and the porch wired and working with only one small wiring goof that was easily fixed. We went into Lebanon late in the afternoon to pick up more wire and plugs and to arrange for my pills with Dr. Hite. Called Jon and discussed how he and the home crew will handle the bills while I am down here. I will have to go home in early November to do some finances and attend a Preservation Board meeting. Take-out Chinese for dinner. Returned home and placed the rest of the electrical boxes upstairs and worked out the wiring schematic. TV and early to bed. More wiring and trim work tomorrow if its sunny.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2007
Beautiful morning and up early. Danny and I continued the wiring upstairs until we ran out of wire and fixtures again. So we went back into town to use the library, get my meds, buy more supplies and some lumber for the small partition upstairs. Called home and talked to Karen. Mom back in the hospital, legs swelling badly and covered in sores, but other vitals are good. Called Mom at the hospital. She was in good spirits, but her voice is so raspy. Dan got all his Fullbright paperwork done. We got home around 3:30 and finished the front façade trim and Dan got all the upstairs partitions finished, except of the doorway to the hall in the small bedroom. Jeff delivered a load of sand for the chimney stucco. He dug it out of the sand pit on Betty’s place, but we will have to screen it first to get it nice and clean. I can’t wait to see the chimneys done. Dan plans to finish the partitions and wiring upstairs in the morning and finish the trim on the gable end of the house and the fascias on the long façade in the afternoon. By Friday, I hope to have the two main facades all done, the chimneys stuccoed and the wiring complete. We will need to clean up the new stove and install it this weekend as they are predicting a severe drop in temperature my Monday. Hopefully next week, we can manage insulation upstairs and start to drywall as well. I will have to get Jeff to layout and build basic stair stringers so we can go up and down with greater ease. Quiet night of reading and TV and so to bed.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2007
Another bad night with stomach cramps. Took the usual meds and a pain pill and managed to control it. I can’t imagine what is causing the problem. Maybe it is still an inability to digest beef, but it’s been more than a year since the gall bladder surgery. A wet rainy morning and a bit humid and Dan and I both slept in. A late start to work after 11am. Danny finished framing the wall upstairs. He had to cut away the stub of the post between the two bedrooms, but once it was gone, Dan got the wall straightened and we had enough space for the bedroom door framing. After lunch, Danny finished running all the wire and we got about half the connections made. Jeff came by to sift the sand for the chimney stucco. We discussed the materials for the stairway as well. It will be a straight run with 7 ¼” steps and 7” risers. I think instead of a banister, I will do a board wall with cutouts, like old style shutters. It may make the stair hall too dark and closed in. If so, I will do a simple open banister. I can get some nice vintage balusters from PACA. By late afternoon, it was threatening rain and tornados and severe thunder storm warnings all around us. Simple cream chicken and pasta for supper. Spent the evening figuring materials for the stairway. Dan and I will go into town early for lumber so we can finish the wiring tomorrow afternoon. Windy at bed time.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2007
A good night’s rest and a gorgeous morning, though still windy. Quick breakfast and into town to buy groceries and lumber. I met an interesting lady on the street. She and her husband make custom motor tricycles. She was driving a great one when we stopped to talk. Beaucoup chrome, tow trunks in the back, a heated contour seat. She had just sold one like it for 30K. a bit rich for me, but what a RIDE. We will have to visit their shop sometime. Tito would love it. We bought the raw lumber for the stair stringers and steps. The 2x12x16’ were nearly $30/piece—total was $112, for a simple staircase frame. That’s what I get for not shopping around or taking the time to go to Lucky Lumber. Returned home and Danny finished all the wiring, except for the porch and one wall of my room, but all the circuits are up and running. Went out at dusk, before dinner to look at the house all lit up. It looks terrific, very homey. The small hobnail light in my room looks wonderful and the living room chandelier is centered perfectly in the bay window. I can’t wait to see the library and gateway lit as well. I think we will need a little lantern over Tito’s mural when we put it up over the bay window so you can see it at night. Poulet blanche for dinner and a relaxing night. Windy and a little rainy.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2007
A cool, crisp fall day, but the sky is clear and the sun is out. You can feel the trees are just about to turn a riot of color. There is one little tree near the road that has gone bright yellow, but that is it so far. Duchess and I took an early walk and then I had a late breakfast with Dan. He read my ghost story this morning and we talked about the story. He had a few questions and suggestions, but really liked it as a kid’s story. Denny and Charlotte came by as they had heard Richie was gone and wanted to take a look at the house as we have done so much in 3 weeks. Denny asked about Wheeza and said Paul had told them about her disappearance. He seemed genuinely curious, so perhaps he didn’t have anything to do with Wheeza’s disappearance. Maybe she did just go off to die on her own. Seems likely now. Jack came over later for a short visit and took a long look at the house. He said it really was an amazing place considering what methods and materials we had used. He said it had great style and he and Cindy can’t wait to see it finished. Neither can I!!
Danny finished up the last little bits of wiring and hooked up the final circuit. We still have to hook up the staircase light and a few other fixtures, but we need some 3-way wire. I spent most of the day wire-brushing rust off the new woodstove. It looks much better now and is ready to be re-blacked, but my arms are so sore and achy from the vibration of the drill. Dan finished up all the windows and fixed the porch door so it doesn’t stick anymore. Jeff was supposed to start the stairs, but didn’t show up. Maybe tomorrow. If not Dan and I will try to lay it out on our own. It got a bit chilly around supper time, so we lit a fire in the dining room. Baked acorn squash with crab and corn bread stuffing. The dining room looked really good by fire and lamplight.
STUFFED ACORN SQUASH
Take an acorn squash and slice it in half and scoop out all the seeds and slice a bit off the bottom so it will sit flat on a cookie sheet or baking dish. Oil the inside and set aside.
Make a standard batch of bread stuffing (yes I use generic Stove Top) and add some chopped green onion, plenty of flaked crab meat and a good shake of Cajun spice. Heap the stuffing into the hollowed out squash and bake it in a 375 oven until the squash is tender. You might want to cover the tops with a bit of foil so the dressing doesn’t dry out or you can put a strip of bacon over the top so it’s self basting.
You can also do this with eggplants and I also use a stuffing of hot Italian sausage topped with provolone cheese at the end. Even little kids will eat squash this way!
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2007
A great sunny warm morning. Dan and I started to frame the fireplace in my bedroom. Got most of the framing in place and then started work on refining the living room fireplace. We took out both of the partitions that surrounded the fireplace and made the old utility closet and then repositioned the fireplace unit itself. We pushed it into the corner and flanked it on each side with rustic 5×5 posts that have been sitting outside aging for just this use. We supported the front beam with a big 5×5 brace that is sprung from the corner near the French door. It makes the living room look twice as big, but creates a nice inglenook as well. The big bay window seems less isolated and the whole room makes more sense. The dais has room for two good sized armchairs and my chaise can face the fire from the lower level. I’m going to frame a small loft over the inglenook area and one step up from the little upstairs bedroom. It will be just big enough, I think, for a double bed.
Went into Lebanon for dinner and to do the wash. Called Jon to check in and to send some pictures of the work. Returned home to a quiet night and early to bed. Very, very windy, but it’s supposed to be 80 tomorrow.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2007
Wild wind all night, but a beautiful warm morning. A good breakfast of pancakes and Dan and I decided not to wait any longer to start the staircase and began to lay it out ourselves. It took a bit of figuring, but we finally got the stringers laid out and cut. It’s the first staircase for both of us, but it came out straight and level. The top step is a bit short, but not enough to make a problem. The staircase comes out 2 steps into the dining room arch, but I plan to round the first step into the arch to finish it off. We mis-figured the size of the treads and needed 2×10’s instead of 2×8’s, so we went into Lowe’s to get 2×10’s for the treads and some 2×4’s to frame the loft over the inglenook. Supper at Subway and then we worked on finishing the staircase. I will do the curved first step with a kerfed board in the morning and then frame up the supporting wall under the staircase. The staircase is just the right size and looks great and a wonderful convenience to be able to go up and downstairs with ease. A quiet warm evening. We will finish the stairs and fireplace loft tomorrow and try to install the stove Tuesday before the predicted cold weather. Dan and I hope to get the house tight and livable by mid-November so Dan can work less on the house and we can both do more writing and designing. With luck we can manage it as planned. It would be great to spend a leisurely winter, improving the house and writing and doing all kinds of projects.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2007
Morning dawned cloudy and cool. Took an early morning walk to the pond and made some notes of all the downed and damaged trees in the area. If I get them cut down, there will be a nice open grassy area between the road and the ravine edge and a good view of the pond. Also the removal of a few dead damaged trees along the cutaway lane will create a pleasant spot for a little guest house. Nothing big, maybe 16×24 at most. A small cottage or dog trot. It would be a very quiet restful spot.
A big omelet for breakfast with Dan and the we started work on the little loft over the inglenook. Johnny C. came to help just as it started to rain around 11:30. The rest of the day was cold, dreary and windy. Completed the loft, which is only about 5 feet square, but nearly 12 feet tall. I’m thinking a couple of tiny square windows , up high would be really cool. We wired in a single candle sconce and it occurred to me, we could hide the doorway behind a bookcase and make the room a little oratory. Tito could paint us some faux mantegna’s and we could have our very own Camera de Sposi. A fun artistic conceit.
Maybe this scaled down. A tiny mirrored closet with gilt columns in the corners and that rococo love seat with the gimpy leg I got at Homeworks.
A bit of reupholstery and a tasteful crystal chandelier. Or maybe a gothic organ loft. Very Addams family. I can see this…….Maybe not.
Johnny C. was very talkative today as he and his aunt and uncle have not been getting on. The usual confused domestic ructions, but Danny listened patiently while they worked and I played some opera to drown it out. Thank God for Diana Damrau singing the Queen of the Night’s Holle Roche or I might have committed mayhem. Lord, but that boy can talk a blue streak. Finished up the loft and got the chimney pipe from the living room fireplace raised to just below the roof. If we get a couple clear days maybe Jeff can help us get it through the roof and weather-tight. Then we could use the living room fireplace. After lunch, Dan and Johnny moved the new stove into the kitchen. The rock hearth is uneven in spots and we will need to shim up one stove leg with a good flat stone. We tried to attach the old stove pipe, but the elbow was too old and came apart. We will go buy a new elbow tomorrow and try to set up the chimney pipe so we can use the stove. Johnny went home around 3 p.m. and Dan and I got most of the under-stairs closet framed and enclosed. Wind is really strong and we were aware of the few open fascias, the open east gable, and the broken glass in the bay window. First clear warm day, we will go back to outdoor work and close up the last of the holes. Finished up at 6 p.m. and blocked the living room archway with a bit of tapestry to keep out the drafts. A good fire in the dining room soon had us fairly toasty and we had a good supper or red beans and rice, bread, jam and hot tea. Quiet night tending the fire and reading while Dan typed in the dining room so he could enjoy the warmth of the fire.
Oh yes, we also had a visit from one of Jack’s other dogs, a huge black and white Dalmatian-Great Dane mix by the look of him. An enormous dog, or good sized pony, depending on your viewpoint, but Duchess defended her ground and sent him packing. She puts up with Draco, the little French Bulldog, but this one was just too big. Jack moved most of his dog pack to his Dad’s house in Mississippi this past weekend and it’s very quiet over there. I rather miss the Quorns and Pytchleys as next door neighbors, especially with the Hunter’s moon next week. Wind still fierce at bedtime, but tomorrow is supposed to be better, though cloudy and cool, but no rain.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2007
A cool crisp clear morning. This became perhaps our most hillbilly day to date. Up early and a quick breakfast. Dan and I figured out what lumber and supplies we needed to finish up the gables and soffits, fix the broken windows and install the new woodstove in the kitchen. Headed to town and decided to stop at Army Surplus to see if they might have the stove parts or some sheet metal we could use. I’ve been past that place thousands of times in 9 years, but never once stopped before today. I stayed in the car with the hounds while Dan went to have a look around and negotiate any deals. He finally tracked down the proprietor, a stalwart, extremely taciturn old boy in camouflage, who leaned casually against a truck and munched an apple, while Dan poked around and asked questions. We found a chimney flange and a large piece of sheet metal that we could use and after a bit of dickering , we got him to agree to $5. Frankly, the junkyard cat, a huge yellow tiger was more forthcoming. I’ve known New Hampshire farmers who were absolutely chatty compared to this old boy. Then we headed for Lebanon and picked up the lumber we needed, but had no success with 12-3 wire, which Lowe’s doesn’t sell by the foot. They wanted $30 for a 25-foot box, which was more than I needed. We had better luck at MFA finding an 8-inch stove elbow, but we completely forgot window glass. Stopped again at the Army Surplus on the off chance they might have a stove grate. No such luck, but Dan persuaded our laconic friend, the proprietor, to part with an old metal bedstead, which we can adapt into a stove grate. Another big sale, $2.50, which combined with our previous $5 purchase, probably made a red letter day, profit-wise. Got home about 2:30 and after a quick lunch, started to set up the stove. Managed to cut a huge hole in the kitchen roof and reframe for the stovepipe without mishap, but then we managed to break the new elbow and couldn’t get it back together, without mangling it. Finally got the pieces back together and tried to secure them with some plumber’s strapping and sheet metal screws. But we could only find a phillips bit for the drill, the screws were standard and they weren’t self-tapping. It was now 4:45, so we jumped in the car and flew to the MFA in the Grove to buy a new elbow or some self-tapping screws and a standard bit. We thought they closed at 6pm, but alas they closed at 5pm. So we headed for Hartville, figuring that the bustling county seat of Wright county would have an MFA that staid open late. Wrong again, Hartville on a Tuesday evening at 5:45 was devoid of any commercial activity, except for the liquor store, the gas station and a high school car wash at the grocery store parking lot. Even the Halleluiah Sawmill and Lumber company had closed for the day.
So back home we went and managed to borrow a standard bit from old Steve, up the lane. It was getting cold and dark, but Dan was determined to get the stove pipe in place. We managed to repair the elbow and cut out the sheet metal for the roof, but then we noticed that the lengths of stove pipe were made in such a way that they would seem to leak smoke, as there were obvious gaps.
We pounded and twisted and rearranged them and finally concluded that we hadn’t put them together incorrectly and that by some quirk of physics, they don’t leak. Dan got the big hole in the roof covered with metal and installed the stovepipe and the mangled flashing, but it we too dark to see on the roof, so we left it as it was and will pray it doesn’t rain tonight. In the morning, Dan will look it all over and screw it all in place. A generous lashing with roof tar should take care of any leaks and a home made storm collar and chimney cap ought to finish things off. We might use a section of the 3 wall chimney we have in the shed to take care of safety issues, vis a vis the nearby dining room roof. We also have to find just the right flat stone to level the stove so it stands straight.
The pipe is installed, although at a somewhat jaunty angle, a few degrees off the perpendicular, but we will screw if all down tomorrow and fire it up for a test in the afternoon and with any luck have some dependable heat by tomorrow evening. After all, our cobbled installation is no worse then many I’ve seen in the neighborhood and most of my rural neighbors seem to have managed for decades without fancy 3 wall stainless steel pipes. We ought to fit right in. All and all, it was one of those days, full of mishap and misadventure, but ended with some small sense of accomplishment.
Chili Frito Pie for dinner washed down with beer and black coffee. A dinner fit for any King of the Ozarks and his loyal retainer. A quiet night in front of the fireplace and early to bed.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2007
A bright crisp morning with a clear sky and plenty of sun. Up earlier than usual and took the dogs for a walk down to the pond and back. Carried back a small load of kindling and a few logs:
When e’re you come home, Bring some wood or a log.
Tis every man’s task, Save your slut or your dog.
A quick breakfast and then we drove to Grovespring for stove couplings and screws. We left Mint in her pen alone anmd surprisingly she was still there, waiting patiently, when we got home. Johnny Cooper arrived with a gift of a sack of assorted groceries– bread, crackers, juice, pasta –and then went to work splitting logs. Dan went to work finishing up the stove. By 1pm, the stove was all set up and the roof sealed up tight and Dan lit the first fire. The stove worked like a dream and in 45 minutes, the house was comfortably warm, except for the far front wing where we still have to close in the soffits and gable. But the dining room and bedrooms were comfortable, even in shirt sleeves and the kitchen was quite toasty.
This is Dan with the new stove installed and the homemade grate he fashioned from an old iron bed.
I started to clean out the kitchen cabinets, scrubbing them out good and Dan put in some new shelves so they were more useful. Then we set them up as an island in the kitchen to separate the working area from the eating space near the stove. Then we built a low shelf on the back side toward the kitchen as a work surface for me. It’s right next to the cook-stove, but hidden by the island. Put a temporary plywood top on the island and I will tile it later on this week.
A late supper of kielbasa, boiled potatoes and kraut. It was barely 45F. outside, but the house was nice and warm with just the stove going. It burns very little wood to a very fine ash. No waste at all.
After supper, I got Dan to paper-line the new shelves and I finally unpacked all my china and glassware and moved all the groceries and food into the old long counter cabinets and freed up the brown pantry cupboard. Dan and I sat around the stove talking and reading until late, warm and comfortable and so to bed.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2007
A cold, cold morning about 40F, but sunny. Dan had forgotten to bank the stove, so it was out , but the logs all burned completely to fine ash. Dan got up and relit the stove and we went out for a quick walk in the sun, while the house warmed up. Karen called while I was making breakfast to say Mom was back in ICU. Her legs had improved and they were going to send her home, but last night, she suddenly went quiet and unresponsive and they thought she might have had a stroke, but her vitals were fine though she was extremely dehydrated, tongue cracked. So now it’s the other extreme, so they got her fluids up and she improved a good deal, but they are keeping her until she stabilizes. I hate to think of her this way, so weak and low, after such a lively robust life. I pray she finds some peace and comfort soon, either with us or with God. A nice breakfast next to the stove and Dan went to work on the gable and I did more kitchen work. Levi called to let me know Karen had called there. He says Jay has moved in with his boss, but left a check for $100. Levi was in good spirits and I told him about all the changes in the house.
Dan and Johnny Cooper worked on closing up the gables, soffits and fascias on the garden side of the house. Weather went cold, wet and dreary and we stopped work early. Beef noodle soup and peach crumble for dessert. Feeling a bit tired and achey so I took it easy all evening and drank lots of tea and lemon to flush my system. Tv and reading and early to bed. Will try to close up the soffits and fascia on the back of the main block tomorrow, which will close up the last of the big holes in the house. With luck, we can concentrate on insulation and panel work next week and finish the siding on the stair bay. I need to get Steve to give me a solid estimate on the drywall job.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2007
Cold, wet, dreary morning outside, but warm and toasty in the house. The stove staid banked all night, radiating heat and a few twigs and a log had it going when I got up. Just after breakfast, young Steve and Jeff turned up and they helped Dan do the soffits on the back side of the main house. That should block up the last big hole in the house and make us relatively weather tight. Jeff approved our staircase and made one suggestion to strengthen it a bit and prevent any bounce in the future. After the soffits were done, they came in and did the kitchen ceiling. It got a bit lively with 5 men, 3 dogs and a hot stove, but they got it all up and it looks great. The white ceiling makes the room much brighter even in late afternoon, But I’m short one panel.
This is the staircase bay with it’s double height windows and the little shed roof over the bump out.All the crew at work… supervising is work too… Young Steve on the left and Old Steve looking jaunty in red. That’s Jeff shifting the ladder and Dan in his lumberjack cap.
We might pop in some windows on that long blank back wall in the spring when we finish the siding.
We went to Lebanon to try and match it, but as it was all bought 5 years ago on clearance, no luck finding a match. Lowe’s had a similar pattern, but the color and spacing are off and it’s a thinner panel. It might work, but I will see if I can piece thelast bit with the off cuts of the original panels and some extra molding. I can always paint it all to match. And I need to get a small piece of old pressed tin ceiling to do the square over the stove. Did the grocery shopping and called home. No news, mom about the same. Quick supper in town and home to a quiet night of music and reading. Lots of good auctions this weekend, but money is tight until the first. Clear sky and a brilliant full hunter’s moon, and so to bed.
AND WE BURIED HER ON HALLOWEEN
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2007
The saddest day of my life. When we went into town tonight, I discovered a voicemail on the phone that had come earlier in the day. It was my sister, Karen, trying to get me and I was very afraid to call back. My dear, dear mother had passed away this afternoon around noon, our time. Karen had tried to call so that Mom and I could talk one last time, but because of the bad signal, I hadn’t gotten the message. When Mom had been passing away, I was outdoors in the sunshine, cutting firewood and talking to Dan while he worked on the soffits. It was a beautiful warm day here, but oh how I wish I could have spoken to Mom one last time to tell her how much I loved her and cherished her care and opinion. She was the best and most devoted of mothers and I can’t believe I will never hear her voice or laugh or see her smile once again. I just sat there in the car in front of the Laundromat, sobbing and crying with Danny trying to comfort me. We must have made quite a sight on a busy Saturday night. The car loaded with lumber, dirty wash, dogs, and me bawling like a baby. Mom would have appreciated the dramatic effect. When I had calmed down, Dan and I made plans to go back home. Dan has never been to the east coast so it will be a bit of an adventure for him, though a bit dreary. His time with me in Missouri is a bit more than he reckoned. We will drive back to Champaign tomorrow and then leave Monday for Connecticut. The visitation will probably be Tuesday night and the burial on Wednesday. Then again Wednesday is Halloween, hardly the day you want to bury your mother. A bit too macabre even for our family, but then again Mom would have appreciated this dramatic effect, too. We stopped to tell Steve and his family about Mom’s passing and they will look after the house while we are gone. We will probably be gone ten days as I will need time in Champaign on the way back to settle finances and get things back on track. I called Jon to tell him the news and Levi called in tears to wish me well. So the new week and the month in Origanna Woods begins on a very somber note, but all and all, Mom is at peace now, no more tears or pain. Back with Dad, Pepere and Memere, no doubt watching over us tonight and wishing she could tell us what lies ahead in that other world.
Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.
Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast!–
Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest!
Good night Mom and good bye. I love you so much and will miss you more. I am the product of two wonderful loving parents and for that I am truly grateful.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2007
Despite my sorrow, I slept decently and woke to an absolutely splendid fall day. The weather is supposed to hold all week and hopefully will continue fine when we return. We are so close to finishing the house, only Mom’s death could tear me away from this peaceful place. Dan and I tidied the house, put away our tools and materials and left Jeff and the Steves in charge. We got out of town about noon and an uneventful trip home. Good to see the house and Jon and Levi. No changes worth mentioning, except that Levi’s mom has had another breakdown and she’s been institutionalized for the interim. Probably more to the story, but I didn’t ask. Levi has decided not to come East with me, which is probably for the best. I talked with Karen, who told me about Mom’s last day and the final arrangements. Mom has already been cremated so once more the actual presence of death has eluded me. I had hoped at least to see her dear face once more, but it isn’t to be. None of it seems very real yet and I’m a bit more concerned with the logistics of travel than with her actual demise. Maybe once I’m there, it will seem more real to me. Early to bed as I must get up early to go see the bankers and hopefully be on the road by noon or we won’t arrive in time. The visitation is Tuesday night from 5-8 PM at Gilman’s Funeral Home in Putnam. We will be cutting it very close on travel time. Karen was able to intercept Uncle Beau and Jeannie at Penn Station in New York City. They were just off a cruise ship and on the way to Richmond by train when Karen got in touch. They came as quickly as they could from New York, but arrived too late for a last word with Mom. So I am not alone in that respect. And so to bed.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2007
Up early and went to see Tom Ludwig at American General. Seems I’m in better shape than I thought, now that I actually own my land outright and can claim the asset. Not to mention my 20-year-old car. Long story short, Tom gave me a very good rate on a 4-year line of credit note for 6K. More than enough to go home, settle current bills and probably finish the house. I will certainly be able to finish the siding, trim, stucco and primer painting and do most of the insulation and drywall. If I really squeeze the money, I may manage the decks as well. Thanked Tom for his kindness and condolences and headed out of Champaign by 12:30 PM. Car running well and Danny proved to be an excellent travel companion. We talked when we felt the need, discussing the scenery, the state of American roadside architecture and the craze for overly complex houses. I told stories about Mom and Dad, Michael Tompkins and various family members. Sometimes we just sat quietly, enjoying the ride in companionable silence. I even read aloud from Cleveland Amory’s Who Killed Society, though I had to stop a good deal to explain references to people, places and events that Dan had never encountered, but all and all it was a restful way to travel. Night travel is always a little weird, particularly in unknown territory and it got a bit triste, all things considered. We stopped in Somerset, PA, a tiny town and the Dollar Inn was cheap and clean, but utterly undistinguished. I’d hoped to be farther along, but with luck we should arrive in time tomorrow.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2007
A crisp cool morning. The Pennsylvania Turnpike not as boring a drive as usual, due to the emerging fall colors and improvements to the roadway. Not much of interest along the way, a few intriguing houses and barns and we passed a short school bus being driven by a pretty blond Amish girl in traditional dress and gauze cap. Rather an anomaly and she smiled and waved as we passed her by.
The Delaware Water Gap was breathtaking and we stopped for a quick lunch and gas in Allamuchy, NJ. We stopped because the name caught our eye. Allamuchy is a tiny village, but it had a charming combination café and general store and a truly amazing historical vestige, a completely full service gas station with a polite attendant. He filled our tank, cleaned the windshield, checked the oil and thanked us with a smile and wished us a good trip. I was so taken aback at this return to my youth that I nearly forgot it is proper to tip the attendant, but I remembered at the last minute to tell him “Keep the change,” just like Dad used to do. The attendant was 60 years old, at least, and has probably been working there all his life.
Dan had his first experience of the Mighty Hudson and the wild head rush of being sucked across the George Washington Bridge, a small metal cog in the behemoth that is NYC traffic. He coped very well, helped along by the Spanish language music station on the car radio. He translated the songs and ads while we sailed along the Bruckner and Cross Bronx Parkway, neither of which was under construction, something I thought I would ever live to see.
Traffic on I-95 was light and we arrived in Putnam with 45 minutes to spare. Checked into the King’s Inn and changed clothes and finally found the funeral home. Danny left me there and went back to the motel to rest, but promised to join us for supper at Karen’s house.
Gilman’s Funeral Home is a typical example of the species, New England style. It’s a good sized Queen Anne Victorian with a spacious corner lawn, next door to the Putnam Catholic Academy and the Diocesan Home for Retired Nuns. Lots of oak inside and tasteful semi-Victorian wallpaper and flowered drapes. A few rosewood chairs and sofas and the usual vaguely art deco neo-Egyptian torcheres.
There are no longer any Gilmans involved in the business. The Gilmans sold out in the 90’s to a big conglomerate that made the fatal mistake of NOT joining or contributing to local interests. They made a meager $200 contribution to local charities, instituted all sorts of changes in local customs and totally misunderstood their primarily French-Canadian Catholic clientele. Business revenues fell dramatically and after a few years struggle, they decided to sell out and go to less traditional markets. Luckily for us, the conglomerate was bought out by a charming young man, Mr. Robert Fournier, a good canuck from Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Mr. Fournier is that rare thing in the funeral business, a man with a sense of humor and an honest love for his job and a real sense of compassion. He was quiet and dignified and thoroughly professional, but he also knew how to schmooze the guests and family and smooth over any little contretemps that might occur. Of course, being the family we are, it was a given that something out of the ordinary would occur before the evening was over.
Mom’s casket of ashes was beautifully displayed on a small stand in the big bow window of the best front parlor. She was surrounded by the usual floral tributes, lots of fall colored mums and some sunflowers and not too heavy on the ferns, filler and gladioli. Someone had sent a fine wall display of white roses and another of peace lilies. There was a large copy of Mom and Dad’s wedding portrait over the marble casket and a copy of the last picture of Mom and Dad together, taken at the horse show where Dad rode in the pony cart as A.J.’s chaperon.
Both are fine pictures, but in hindsight, this pair of portraits may have contributed to the unfortunate occurrences later in the evening.
The family had formed up in the usual receiving line. I was first as the oldest child, which seemed appropriate. Unfortunately most of the mourners were total strangers to me, so Karen was constantly popping out of line to make introductions. There were actually very few relatives in attendance from any side of the family. Mom had pretty much outlived the older generation and a good part of her own as well. A few had managed to make their appearance, but many had sent their regrets. Cousin Madeline Chartier, age 91, and still sharp as a tack represented the old guard and Aunt Georgette, Uncle Roland and Mary LaFlamme covered for the younger set. I hadn’t seen cousin Mary in 40 years or more and it was hard to believe that this frail quiet old woman, attended by her granddaughter and a great granddaughter, was all that remained of the brash lively redhead of my childhood. Only her eyes gave her away, still sparkling and full of mischief. The family is sadly decimated and the crowd would have been as meager as soupe au ris, if not for all the local business people, who came to offer condolences to Karen and Gary. Being local media moguls, active Rotarians and tireless charity workers is a sure way to ensure a good turnout. Everyone from the Chief Selectman to the Bank President and the Head of the Board of Realtors came to offer condolences. The whole staff of the radio station was there, except for the few on the air and there was even a contingent of students from the Science Academy where Karen and Gary are mentors. Self proclaimed members of the geek patrol, they had put on their best suits and come to encounter death, perhaps for the first time and to give their mentors their undiluted support. It was very kind of them and we were truly touched. It was in the midst of all these comings and goings that the clergy arrived.
My mother had a rather tenuous relationship with the Catholic Church through most of her adult life. It’s a long rather complicated story involving personal decisions on my mother’s part and some of the stricter practices of the church regarding family planning. Mom had always been a spiritual woman, though not one given to hide-bound ritual. But the religious niceties had to be observed in some way and so the parish priest had been asked to attend. This was not the local Putnam priest, but the current priest at Sacred Heart in Wauregan, the little mill village where Mom was raised and the location of the family plot.
Sacred Heart, in its glory days, had boasted a huge French Canadian congregation, mostly mill workers and local farmers. Beside the Church there was a fine, big rectory, an excellent grade school and a nunnery. Unfortunately, over the years, the parish had grown poorer and poorer. The school had closed and eventually was torn down and the nunnery had burned to the ground, luckily after the nuns had long since gone elsewhere to teach or retire. Most of the congregation had gone elsewhere as well and those that were left were old and frail and incapable of putting much life into the parish. On a whole, the American Catholic Church is suffering from a lack of new priests and many parishes are forced to close or combine with nearby churches. A once vibrant church with a Gallic congregation and priest, where the Mass was said in French as often as it was said in Latin, was now a poor shadow, presided over by a pair of Polish priests, shared with three other parishes.
The priest who had been sent to attend my mother’s obsequies was not at all the sort of priest we were used to at all. He was rather diminutive with a soft round face and fluff of thin, colorless hair. He had slightly popped, rather doleful eyes and he was wearing the old fashioned black-sack-suit and overcoat that made one think of Barry Fitzgerald. Mr. Fournier, the Funeral Director, helped the good father with his coat and Father P. (I never did get the name but it was long and full of zeds) took out his stola from his coat pocket and draped it over his neck. His stola was obviously hand woven, perhaps in some small workshop in his native Poland and was in various shades of crème and beige in a vaguely Art Deco pattern. Later that evening, my sister Lisa said it looked like a remnant of upholstery goods. It was a decidedly different look than the splendid silks and embroideries of the old Sacred Heart and it struck both an ascetic and snazzy air at the same time. Father P. opened his over-sized missal and with a tentative little smile, cleared his throat and said…
“Let us pray for our dear Brother, Ferdnande, who has gone to live with our Lord Jesus.”
A silence fell over the room and the family shuffled a bit in the receiving line, dumbstruck by what we had just heard. Firstly, Father P.’s voice was high, a bit flutey and very, very Polish. It was obvious that English was not his native language and that though he was making a valiant effort, his pronunciation, grammar and syntax were hopeless. And to make matters worse, he was obviously confused as to the gender of the deceased. My Mother’s full name was Fernande Lygia Bouthillier Chenail and all her life, she had suffered with what most people considered “a boy’s name.” As a child, she was taunted with references to Ferdinand the Bull and in grade school right through high school, she invariably turned up on the boy’s gym roster or enrolled in Mechanical Arts instead of Home Economics. In high school , the boys had been delighted to see such a pretty girl on the P.E. List and each year Mom would go to the school office to straighten out the mess and reclaim her gender. To confuse the issue even more, she had married my father, Emile G. Chenail. Now Emile is a good French male name, but to the non-gallic eye and ear, it looks like Emily. All of this was very much a family joke, but no one had thought to mention it, either to Mr. Fournier or Father P. To give Father P. the benefit of the doubt, my mother’s ashes in their elegant green marble casket were no clue and the two photographs of the happy couple only confused the issue. In Poland, Fernande would have been the male half of the couple and Father P. thought he had come to bury our father. Blithely, he went on, coming down hard on the personal pronouns and making suitable references to your Father, our Brother and devoted Husbands. We all cringed at first, but eventually, one of us got the giggles. OKAY, it was me… my sister Karen tried her best to give me, THE LOOK, as it had been long administered by our mother, whenever we misbehaved in public. But it was hopeless, I tried to stop, to cover my giggles by coughing, but I could just imagine my mother in heaven, looking down in righteous indignation, that once again at the very last moment, she was on the wrong list. I knew that she was laughing too, my father teasing her as he always had when some stranger at the door asked for Fernande Chenail and refused to believe that my pretty diminutive mother was the person in question.
Father P. went right on to the end, never once questioning the gender of the deceased. At the end, he came and shook our hands and offered his sympathies and not one of us had the heart to correct him. Karen gave Mr. Fournier a look from across the room and handily passed the buck to him. I watched Mr. Fournier help the good padre into his coat and hat and then gently whisper in the little priest’s ear. Slowly the light came on and his eyes opened wide as he looked first at my mother’s little green marble casket and then at all of us.
“Ich Matka? Chrystus!!!”
And blushing furiously, he dashed out the door.
We all tried to maintain some decorum afterwards, but it was hopeless. We were still sad, we were still grieving at the loss of our dear mother, but once again, she had seen to it that the family traditions went on. She found a way to remind us that life is just as much about laughing as it is about crying and that eventually there is little you can do to control what the Fates or God send your way. There was no doubt that Mom was physically gone from this world, but she could be sure that no one would forget her either.
The rest of the evening was anti-climatic. Most of us went back to Karen’s for a late supper and to catch up on the family news. I met my sister Diane’s newest beau, a poker dealer at the Casino, where she works. I heard about my nephew Leo’s third tour in Iraq, his new wife and the new business he has started with a friend. They are building custom race cars and Leo assures me his grandfather is constantly whispering in his ear from the hereafter. Leo’s brother, A.J., is busy at technical college and is planning to join his brother in the business after graduation. And Amanda, my niece has recently left home and gone to work with her Aunt Johnna, my baby sister. Johnna is managing a swanky riding academy in Killingworth, a very toney place indeed. Dan heard lots of family stories and as always Karen and Gary were gracious hosts and Uncle Beau kept us all in stitches as we rehashed the evening’s events. Dan and I went home a bit merry after a cocktail and went to bed early, as the trip had finally caught up with us.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2007
Woke up in time to go to the funeral home and join the cortege. It was as beautiful a day as you could wish for a funeral. It was sunny and warm enough that you didn’t need a coat, but cool enough to be comfortable and appropriate to the season. Most of the trees had turned and the world was a riot of color. The leaves were slowly drifting down from the trees and rustled quietly as we walked along. Kids were outside playing and the streets were busy and it was really impossible to be very sad on such a gorgeous morning. It was just the sort of scene you imagine in your mind’s eye and Mom would have thoroughly approved and enjoyed the beauty of the day, despite the sadness of the occasion. Dan and I were the first to arrive and we chatted with Mr. Fournier and his aides, while waiting for Karen and Gary to come from the radio station and for the others to arrive. When we were all there, Mr. Fournier led us in some prayers and we all had a last good bye with Mom. I said the Balcony scene speech one last time for Mom and we all went out to the cars for the ride to Wauregan and Sacred Heart Church. They went down I-95 to Danielson and then down the Wauregan Road to Barn Hill and over the bridge to the Church.
It was all so changed I barely knew the way and Wauregan is so shabby now. You can still see the beauty that was once there, but it’s well hidden. They carried me in the back way and I went out front to greet people as they came in while the girls waited for Diane to arrive, late – as usual. There was a good crowd in church. More of the family was there, including Angie and Tutu. I was glad to see them as they were so close to Mom and we always had such fun with them. Angie is looking a bit old and is now permanently on oxygen, but her youthful beauty shines through. Tutu never changes, but her eyes were filled with tears as they carried Mom into church and we took our places in the front pew. There was a lady deacon, who did the readings and an old man filled in as altar boy. He knew his business though and really went to work with the censer. Father P. was replaced by his equally Polish compatriot, another Father P. This one looked vaguely like Lon Chaney, Jr., but his English was fairly good and only slightly accented. Obviously someone had had a word in his shell-like ears and he was very careful with the personal pronouns and he had no doubt it was our Mother, he was burying. He gave a nice eulogy considering the language barriers and the fact that he never met or knew Mom. When the service was done, he led the way out to the church steps and the bright sunshine, but drove his car to the gravesite. The rest of us followed the hearse on foot and I couldn’t help but appreciate and enjoy the beauty of that old cemetery. The fine old tombstones, the blaze of autumn colors, the rustle of the leaves and smell of pine needles filled the air. We all gathered around the family monument. Nothing so vulgar as a grave was evident, just a little square of green indoor/outdoor carpet, mounted on plywood, covered the hole for Mom’s ashes. Her casket was placed on a stand and surrounded by flowers. Father P. had a little trouble with his prayer book and lost his place, frantically searching for the familiar words in an unfamiliar language. He soldiered on and finally reached for his final peroration, but once again Fate took control.
“Let us now depart in Peace, for Fernande has gone to Jesus, HE is with his LORD.”
But we didn’t laugh. It really didn’t matter. Mom was gone now for good, but despite our tears and sadness, we knew she was safe and happy and free from pain. We all stood and chatted for awhile and it wasn’t until later in the day, that I realized we hadn’t actually seen her buried. When we walked away, the little green marble casket was still on its stand, surrounded by flowers and the beauties of nature and warmed by the bright sunshine. Dan and I drove up Allen Hill so I could show him the family farms on our way to the restaurant and the funeral lunch. Allen Hill is greatly changed, the four or five big family farms of my childhood are now all broken up into house lots. My great grandfather’s house is gone completely and all the other family houses now belong to other families. But it was nice to drive through the gorgeous countryside and talk with such a good friend. I feel truly blessed to have this new friend in my life and I hope we can spend a long time together.
Karen had naturally arranged a fine lunch at the same restaurant where she had her wedding reception. There was a nice gathering of family and friends and everyone talked and told family stories. Dan finally met Tutu and she tried to fix him up with Johnna. Toots was crazy as ever and kept us all laughing. After lunch, Dan and I went to the hotel and just relaxed. Karen expected us for supper and as it was Halloween, she wanted help with the hordes of trick-or-treaters, who would come that night. And Uncle Beau and Jeannie were leaving that evening to get a train to Richmond and continue their trip. At dusk, Dan and I walked to Karen’s down Grove St., listening to the sounds of Halloween all around us. As we got to the house next door to Karen’s, we met a couple of kids discussing the treat they had just been given.
“Lemon pie?!! Who gives out lemon pie??”
We had to laugh and when we told Karen about it, she explained that her neighbor was the local Hostess bakery man and annually he handed out all the day old fruit pies he could get his hands on. Now that’s a good frugal Yankee and a bargain is a bargain. Karen had made a big shepherd’s pie and salad and we all ate too much and handed out candy and admired the costumes. Gary got us all a bit tiddly on Manhattans and Uncle Beau told a raft of stories about college adventures he had in the Caribbean Islands and Central America in the late 60’s. Dan and he had a great time talking about places they had both visited. Dan also got a lesson in Canuck idiom and vocabulary, learning the fine points of “grenge”, “t’quette” and “laloush”. Don’t ask. Basically these words all describe degrees of tackiness. Around 8:30, the party broke up and we all saw Uncle Beau off to the train. We made him and Jeannie promise to visit us in Missouri, some time next year, when the house is done.
Dan and I walked home, a bit drunk and a little giddy, and we sat up late telling outrageous stories and just letting the stress of the last few days fall away. We fell asleep in our beds, still dressed and slept like logs until morning.
THURSDAY, November 1, 2007
Dan and I slept in a bit and then went to do the laundry and have a late breakfast. We met Karen at noon and went to Christopher Heights to sort a few of Mom’s things and to get the things she had promised me. It was odd entering the room where I had seen her last, but she was gone. Her things were still there, but there was no life or spirit in the place. No sense that she was just around the corner and would be right back. Karen and I emptied Dad’s bureau/desk and we looked at papers and other things we found in the drawers… jewelry, watches, old rosaries and clippings. I also took the old black and gold teapot, a silver jam pot and an old painted tin that Mom always kept on her bureau. There was a box Mom had packed with a new clock, a Christmas present she never sent to me, some books and the blue enamel berry bucket. I also took a picture frame with old photos of Dad and Mom on their wedding day and the five shot composite photo of me as a baby.
Dan left me and Karen alone for a bit while we took one last look around. At the last minute, I spotted Mom’s orange La Crueset chauldron and the matching saucepan, the one she always used to burn the carrots. They were under the sink and had obviously not been used in years, but those two old pots held so many memories. Karen said I could take them if they meant so much to me. I showed them to Dan and told him they were the source of all my “bonne femme” skills and I was hoping there was still some magic left in them yet.
We packed the car, just managing to get Dad’s bureau inside. Karen and I said our goodbyes in her backyard and we headed out. As the car was full, we decided not to go to Champaign as there was no room for Levi or the dogs, so we headed for Missouri. We stopped to visit Johnna at her new stables. It’s a beautiful old place in Killingworth, very swanky, with several fine old stables and miles of white board fence with some great trees. There’s an old Cape-style house from the 1920’s that the owners are rehabbing and a smaller cottage for Johnna and Amanda. Johnna was gone with a new client, but Amanda showed us around. She is so grown up and poised and I’m sure she will go far. Their employers are a charming couple. He’s an administrator at a psychiatric hospital. They were both at Mom’s wake and we chatted for quite awhile about Missouri as horse country and about my house. I invited them to visit the next time they went through Lebanon on the way to the National Show in Oklahoma. The stables are on North Roast Meat Hill Road, a fabulous name. It seems that in the late 18th century there was a large cattle farm there and one winter night, the barn caught fire and all the cattle were roasted alive and the whole area smelled of roast beef for weeks and hence the name.
We finally took off and headed for NYC and the Tappan Zee bridge, intending to avoid the rush hour traffic on the George Washington and then head south through New Jersey. We decided to drive part of the way along the old Boston Post Road, Route 1, and were amazed to discover that there is a trailer court right on Route 1, in the heart of upscale, elegant Westport, practically next door to Turkey Hill Road and Martha Stewart. It’s hidden behind a tasteful fence and hedge, but I still couldn’t believe it.
Dan and I wanted a real shore dinner so we stopped at a place called SWANKY FRANK’S and had a wonderful and truly greasy seafood platter…fried clams, shrimp and scallops, French fries, onion rings, hush puppies and cole slaw. Delish!!
We crossed the Hudson on the Tappan Zee, just at dusk and headed for the New Jersey Turnpike.
After all that food, I dozed off and woke up a few hours later. I asked Dan where we were and then noticed the road signs all referred to the Ocean. I got out the map and instead of being in western New Jersey driving west on the New Jersey Turnpike, parallel to the Pennsylvania border, I discovered we were “down the shore” cruising the New Jersey Parkway. We were just outside of Atlantic City. OOOPS! My bad, but an honest mistake. So at 9:30 pm, we set off along old Route 40, which wanders across the Jersey flats and links Atlantic City with Philadelphia and Wilmington. Route 40 must have been a very busy and popular route in the 1930’s – 1950’s as it is lined with old motels, defunct diners, aging restaurants and night clubs. Many of them were still open and operating as “gentlemen’s clubs”, Italian family restaurants and plain old Honky-Tonks. The whole highway has a rather seedy air is if it was populated by retired gangsters from the days of Prohibition and we kept expecting to meet a truck running black market meat or bootleg gin. By midnight, Dan and I finally stopped in Aberdeen, Maryland, just outside Baltimore and spent the night at a Red Roof Inn.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2007
An absolutely beautiful fall morning and Dan and I set off across Maryland, heading for West Virginia and Kentucky. We bought a sack full of fruit, juice, bagels and cream cheese for breakfast and ate on the road. Danny must have a tape worm because he just ate and ate all day, supplementing the groceries with BBQ sandwiches bought in various little BBQ shacks along Route 60. Nothing really of interest until we arrived in Huntington, WV. The home of the University of WV, Huntington is an old river town, built on the bluffs of a steep narrow valley. The university buildings are mostly modern and in two parts of the city. The two campuses are linked by an overhead tram system, a sort of futuristic Chicago Loop with small egg shaped enclosed cars. They glide along overhead on narrow tracks, avoiding the surface traffic, and zip around the modern university campus and older Victorian river city buildings. It’s really all quite surreal and we were tempted to stop and park and try it out.
Instead we drove on and arrived in Lexington, KY around 7 pm. I decided to look for my friend Branner, but I only had his email address. I couldn’t find his phone number and he wasn’t listed in the phone book. I remembered though, that he lived on a corner opposite the Transylvania University campus in a federal style house. He had once sent me some pictures of the house and I thought I could find it if we looked. I also knew he was within walking distance of the downtown Hyatt where he used to work. So we started to cruise old town Lexington, hoping we might spot the house. Well, believe it or not, we found the house on the corner of 3rd and Broadway, right across the street from the Library at Transylvania U. Unfortunately, the house was deserted and there was a “For Rent” sign out front. Branner just graduated and has interviewed for a couple of great jobs. I hadn’t talked to him in about 3 weeks, so it is possible he got a job and moved. Just wait until we touch base and I tell him how I tracked him down. Lexington is a wonderful city with blocks and blocks of federal and mid-Victorian houses and commercial buildings. It’s a little shabby and rundown, a bit like Mobile in the 1980’s, but I’d love to come back here and take a long look around in the daylight. Dan and I went on west a couple of hours and spent the night in Elizabethtown, KY. We never did find any decent BBQ and the Days Inn we stayed in was incredibly tiny, the rooms like glorified closets and a very busy rail line ran right next to the parking lot. Dan and I were giddy from all the junk food and pop we consumed and sat up talking and laughing until we finally crashed.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2007
I was NOT A HAPPY MAN this morning, although the day did eventually improve. I suppose I caused part of the problem myself. I should have known better than to believe The Bank when they said the transition would be seamless. HAH! Again I say, HAH!! I went to use my cash card this morning for the first time in a week. What with hotels and the price of gas, I had nearly used all the cash I had with me. The bank card wouldn’t work and I got a message that the card had been deactivated and was no longer valid. Then it dawned on me that the bank merger back home had probably gone through on November 1.
My hometown bank had been bought up by a bigger bank, but the state banking officials had made them divest of a few branch banks and mine was one of those that had been sold off. I was obviously stuck in the transition and rummaged in my briefcase for the stack of unread mail I hadn’t bothered to read what with travel and mom’s death. Sure enough there was a letter from my new bank, The FREESTAR BANK, telling me that the change would occur on November 1. The real glitch was that my old cash card was now void and I should have received the new card and interim checks last week. Of course, I hadn’t been there to receive them.
So Dan and I searched for a pay phone and I called the Freestar Bank and got the manager. She was very sympathetic to my plight, but was adamant that there was nothing she could do and I really should have read the info they had sent. Her corporate hands were tied and although I’ve banked with the old company for decades, I had been sold off in the merger, like so much cattle and Thank You Very Much for your money, but TOO BAD and GOODBYE. So off Dan and I went off to find a local bank that might cash an out of town check. We tried the local branch of Chase Manhattan. The manager there was very sympathetic, grieved at the loss of my Mama, but not at all willing to risk the funds. We tried PNC, “the friendly bank”, but friendship only extended to depositors. We tried the Cecelia Bank, which we thought surely was owned by the Mafia or a spelling challenged Cosa Nostra, but it turned out, they were named for a small town nearby. But Cecelia wouldn’t help us either. We tried to cash a check at Kroger and we tried the Wal-Mart, figuring Sam Walton would understand. Not even Wally-World would help us on our way. By now it was nearly 10:30 am and time was running out, it being Saturday and the banks closed at noon. And then the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine came to brighten our day. There on the far side of Route 60 in Elizabethtown, KY was a brand new CHECK EXPRESS LLC with a bright yellow banner that said:
“WE CASH ANY CHECK, ANYTIME, FOR ANYONE”
Our prayers were answered at the mere cost of 10% of the amount of the check. Behind the desk was a charming young lady named Whitney and despite the fact that she was new to the job, she set right to work to get us our money. When she heard we were from Missouri, we were home free.
“Where are you all from in Missouri?” she asked.
“Lebanon. Out in the country.”
“Why, I know where Lebanon is. I’m from Sikeston myself. Still have family there.”
“Why my best friend is from Caruthersville, but his Aunt Tooter lives in Sikeston. His name’s Barnett.”
“Well, I know the Barnett’s…….”
That was the clincher. As always in the South, the deciding question is always, “Who are your people?”
Miss Whitney got on the phone with my Bank to verify funds and after a bit of chat and a little high-handed attitude on my part, the folks at FREESTAR BANK, suddenly discovered that they could find my balance after all and were willing to verify funds. In less time than it takes to fry hushpuppies, I had some ready cash and Dan and I were back on the road in quest of good BBQ. We drove back onto old Route 62 heading for the River. We drove through Sonora, a tiny village full of antique shops and a vintage Victorian main street right out of the movies, but no visible BBQ. We tried, THE SPOT, outside Clarkson. They advertised BBQ with classic neon, but they were closed for the season. In Leitchfield, we found BBQ sandwich, but one bite told us it wasn’t home made, so we soldiered on. Caneyville…..Millwood….Do Strip…all had café’s, but none of them had the genuine article.
Even Rosine, the hometown of Bill Monroe and self-proclaimed Kentucky Capitol of Bluegrass, left us un-fed and unsatisfied.
To make matters worse, despite traveling through the heart of Bluegrass Kentucky, we couldn’t find one decent radio station that played either bluegrass or gospel. We longed for the days when Loretta and Boo Lynn could drive around rural Kentucky and Tennessee guided only by the sound of Patsy Cline on the radio and the blinking light atop the tower of hundreds of little AM stations. For awhile we got back on the Wendell Ford Western Kentucky Parkway, a real mouthful, but at Paducah, we got back on the two lane black top. From past experience, I knew that Ballard and Carlisle counties and the Highway from the Cairo Bridge to Memphis were lined with BBQ places of all sorts and sizes. You could feel it in the air. At a dusty crossroads, I had Dan pull into a small gas station. At one time it had been a BP station and the signage was still there. But the Proprietor must have had a falling out with British Petroleum, because all the corporate signs had been whitewashed and hand painted signs proclaimed the station, simply, Ken’s Place. What really caught my eye was not just the improvised signage, but the stacks of oak and hickory logs and the ancient oil drum BBQ next to the station. Ken wasn’t cooking today, but he thoroughly understood our need for BBQ. The real stuff still falling off the bones, not that shredded mess on a bun we had seen so far. Ken agreed that the road to Memphis was paved with BBQ, but for his money, there was really only one place to go, Wickcliffe, KY, the last city before the bridge to Cairo.
“You know the Indian Trading Post gas station ?” asked Ken, leaning in the car window. “Just before the bridge?”
“Sure I know that place. There’s a café across the road that sells BBQ sandwiches.” I replied.
“Closed up, NOW,” said Ken, with a disapproving look. “But right next door to the Trading Post, there’s an old BBQ shack, practically in the river and what that woman don’t know about good BBQ ain’t worth knowing. She just took the place over and half of Ballard County is eating there. I been 3 times this week myself. Trust me, you won’t find none better.”
Obviously, this was the voice of the true connoisseur and we headed straight for Wickliffe. When the Trading Post came into view, our noses and souls were uplifted by that heavenly smell concocted of oak fires, sizzling pork and beef and drizzlings of home made sauce. The air was thick with it and you could feel the fat in the air. It was only 4pm, but we had waited all day, so an early supper was definitely on the cards. The menu was extensive, BBQ pork and beef, tenderloin, hocks, hams and shoulders. Chickens and cat fish. Combination plates, slabs and whole hams all the appropriate side dishes as well at reasonable prices. The actual cooking took place in a Morton building next door, where the secrets of BBQ could be kept well hidden from prying eyes, but the service window was 4 deep with devotees waiting for their orders. Dan and I ordered a whole slab of porkribs and a chicken and a bit of smoked ham, just to sample it. It came with a big side of potato salad and a couple of cold cokes. We laid it all out next to the car where we could stretch out, indulge ourselves and admire the view of the Mississippi. Dan admitted he’d never had this kind of BBQ before and like a preacher leading a sinner to the water, I led Dan to BBQ glory. It was superb, blissful, succulent fall off the bone, melt in your mouth, pure un-adulterated gustatory GOOOODNESSSSS!!!! It was the essence of FOOD, the very basis of NOURISHMENT and like Manna from Heaven, it gladdened our souls and left us greasy and satiated. Full as ticks, we had found the Grail at the very last minute. Carefully we wrapped up the few leftover bits like Holy Relics to sustain us across the River and set off for home.
It’s been nine years since Jon and I first made the trip across southern Missouri from the River to Laclede County. Then it was all 2 lane blacktop, much of it in bad shape and the trip was grueling and took hours. Now Route 60 is almost all 4 lane divided highway, brand new, the grass barely coming up on the Parkway. In less than 3 hours, we had gone from Sikeston to Mansfield with a stop at Willow Springs. That quiet little town now has 3 exits to the highway and a Snappy Mart with an in house McDonalds. On a Saturday night it was jumping, full of cruising teens and hunters on the way home after a day in the fields. At Mansfield, we headed north up Route 5, our old stomping ground and we finally managed to find a good bluegrass gospel station, KTTK, 90.7 FM, in Lebanon.
But there was one last adventure in store. As we drove past the Courthouse in Hartville, the radio playing a lively song in praise of Jesus, Dan noticed the flashing lights of a police car behind us. We pulled over and dug out our paperwork, while the officer took his time coming to the window.
“Were we speeding officer?” we asked innocently.
“No sir, no. You have a headlight out. Did you know that?”
Dan got out to take a look and I could hear him telling the Officer about where we lived (he knew exactly where Grace’s Market was located) and how we were coming back from my Mama’s funeral. The officer came back to the car and leaned in.
“Sorry to hear about your Mama. You all take care and go straight home. But get that headlight fixed tomorrow. Take care now.”
And with a jaunty salute, he took off into the night. Wouldn’t you know a journey of nearly 3000 miles round trip and the only car trouble and interaction with the Law takes place virtually in our own back yard. I think it was the Gospel Music that saved us from a ticket. We got safely home to Origanna Woods. The lights were still on, glowing through the trees and finally coming home was just as I’d imagined it would be nine years ago when I first bought the land and started to build the house. Tomorrow we will rest and start a new chapter here at Origanna. They are predicting cold weather later this week and there’s plenty left to do before snow flies. But it will all wait for a good nights rest and so to bed.
It’s been nine years since Jon and I first made the trip across southern Missouri from the River to Laclede County. Then it was all two-lane blacktop, much of it in bad shape and the trip was grueling and took hours. Now Route 60 is almost all 4 lane divided highway, brand new, the grass barely coming up on the Parkway. In less than 3 hours, we had gone from Sikeston to Mansfield with a stop at Willow Springs. That quiet little town now has 3 exits to the highway and a Snappy Mart with an in-house McDonalds. On a Saturday night it was jumping, full of cruising teens and hunters on the way home after a day in the fields. At Mansfield, we headed north up Route 5, our old stomping ground and we finally managed to find a good bluegrass gospel station, KTTK, 90.7 FM, in Lebanon.
But there was one last adventure in store. As we drove past the Courthouse in Hartville, the radio playing a lively song in praise of Jesus, Dan noticed the flashing lights of a police car behind us. We pulled over and dug out our paperwork, while the officer took his time coming to the window.
“Were we speeding officer?” we asked innocently.
“No sir, no. You have a headlight out. Did you know that?”
Dan got out to take a look and I could hear him telling the Officer about where we lived (he knew exactly where Grace’s Market was located) and how we were coming back from my Mama’s funeral. The officer came back to the car and leaned in.
“Sorry to hear about your Mama. You all take care and go straight home. But get that headlight fixed tomorrow. Take care, now.”
And with a jaunty salute, he took off into the night. Wouldn’t you know a journey of nearly 3000 miles round trip and the only car trouble and interaction with the Law takes place virtually in our own back yard. I think it was the Gospel Music that saved us from a ticket. We got safely home to Origanna Woods. The lights were still on, glowing through the trees and finally coming home was just as I’d imagined it would be nine years ago when I first bought the land and started to build the house. Tomorrow we will rest and start a new chapter here at Origanna. They are predicting cold weather later this week and there’s plenty left to do before snow flies. But it will all wait for a good nights rest and so to bed.