The House is Dead – Long live the Farm!

Cedar in a hard hat
I spent three days with Dad putting shingles on the house last year, when we had no idea how little time it had left.

It was a house. I have walked out of many doors without a second glance backward. It was my family’s home for more than two decades, an old farmhouse with more problems than most women would have put up with. It was a home, and it came tumbling down. I listened to my father telling one of the men about it, while I was picking blueberries from bushes I planted a few years ago. The last time I will be able to do that, I believe.

Dad explained the history first, as he always does.

“It was part of the old Moses Farm. The big house was over there,” he gestures to the West. I know this without seeing him, I have heard it so many times. “This was the aunt’s house,” he goes on.

It was a dairy farm, back then. There was a big barn out behind the house, but it had been gone, burned down, for forty years when we moved in. The foundation was covered in weeds, but off to one side is where the horseradish grew best. There was a truck garden, too, that earned the spinsters money, and that is where our greenhouse and garden were now located as well.

The dairy farm, and an old New England custom, is what brought the house down, a hundred and fifty years after it was so carefully constructed right over an active spring. The spring kept the milk fresh and sweet until it was sent to market. There was a dumbwaiter in the floor where the big tin cans could be lowered into the cellar and put in the cold water. Also, in winter it was a source of water when the shallow hand-dug well froze over. It had been long filled in and rarely bubbled up when I lived there, but we always had a damp, if not wet, basement, because of it. The stone foundation and dirt floor of the old part of the house meant that the sills and beams would eventually rot.

When I came to the house as a teen I didn’t worry about that. I was more concerned with the fields, forest, and streams outside. I would lay up in my attic bedroom, which sweltered in the summer and froze in winter, reading and listening to my radio. Later, coming back to the house as an adult, I learned more about the house’s faults. It had been renovated in the sixties, by someone with no money and less sense. The wiring we uncovered as we replaced walls was terrifying. Often three-foot chunks of salvaged wire, it was simply taped together. We had a dead short in the kitchen that led to the breaker box spitting arcs of blue electrical discharge. Dad came home, I told him what it was doing, and he said, “nah, can’t be.” He walked downstairs, and I watched from the top as he threw the breaker back on – and jumped back a little when it arced.

There were memories in every inch of that place. My third daughter was born there, upstairs, with the midwife running late and the baby coming early. The midwife made it just in time. My son came home from the hospital at a day old to that house. My first two daughters were both toddlers when we moved back in with Dad, and don’t remember any other home. It wasn’t a big house, and we were often cramped, but it was happy. The kids played inside and out. I canned, cooked, ran a business, and tried to mother best I could.

Cedar Sanderson
Homework at the Kitchen Table

The kitchen was the heart of the home. Every bit as big as the living room, it was dominated by a heavy table in the center, and that was where we gathered. Guests came and sat and drank coffee (or smaller ones, milk and juice) and talked, while I got together the meal. If you had been at that table more than once, you weren’t a guest, you were family, and you were welcome to pitch in and help. I always appreciated the conversation of someone I didn’t get to see often enough, while I worked. I taught all four of my children to cook in that kitchen, even my son, from the time they were old enough to stand on a milk crate to reach the counters, and hand me things to help.

The last few years at the farm my bedroom was just off the kitchen, and it was also my office. Because we had shut off cable, the only place to watch a show was on my computer. We didn’t watch a lot of television or movies, but when we did so, everyone piled on my bed to be able to see the monitor. I’d sit with my back to the wall, and a pile of kids around me, on my legs… Dad would come sit on the edge, or in my office chair, and it was messy, but fun.

I moved away in the spring. At first we thought it was a temporary move, but then my Dad knew he needed to be able to offer his parents a place to stay, as they were no longer able to be on their own. When the house was examined for repair, the true damage to the sills became evident. We had known for years that part of the Eastern sill was shot. The man who sold us the house had camouflaged it with two-by-twelve board, and because a home inspection was not done before purchase, this went unseen. What we didn’t know was how far the rot had spread, up even into the support beams. The house was dying.

Farm House
Strangely emotional at the sight of it all in a heap.

I came back in the late summer to visit, and watch the house come down. I arrived too late to see the initial collapse, but they had just brought it down when I pulled into the drive. The chimney still stood, amazingly enough. We had been expecting that, built without a proper foundation, to come down almost since we moved in. Swarms of wasps darted around the heap of the broken house. They had been nesting in the attic and walls for more than a hundred generations, one summer to the next, and now they had lost a home, as well. I stood and watched as the excavator bit into the bones of the house, cracking the brittle wood with abandon, and lifting piles into waiting dumpsters.

It was just a house. I grew up a military brat, moving more times than I can remember as a child. Houses came and went. This one was a little different, as difficult as it was to live in at times, it was my home, and my children’s, and the memories will always be with us. The moisture in my eyes was just from the dust of the old wood and plaster. It certainly wasn’t me crying over a house.

Cedar's farm story
The kids stand where the living room used to be.
Also blogged over at http://www.cedarwrites.com. 
I will not be posting any longer here at the farm blog, this is the swan song for my time as a farmwife. Maybe I will have my own place in years to come! 

Time Travelers

A simple canvas tent for shelter from night, and sun.

My father and I went to the 1750s this weekend, getting away from the hurry and scurry of the twenty-first centry for a time. He does this several times a year, I much more rarely. We traveled to Charlestown, NH, where the living history museum called the Fort at No. 4 is located. It was there during the French and Indian war, when we were still British subjects, not yet American.

All the inner and outer bark is scraped off until the pole is white and smooth.

The day was hot and sunny, but we needed to make new poles for the tent, so we brought along several saplings from our farm, and after cutting them to length we peeled them. Sitting in the sun for the time it took to do this led to sunburns for both of us.  Peeling the poles keeps bugs from hiding under the bark and eating the wood, shortening the life of the poles. They will eventually become too dry and brittle to use, and we will repeat this process, but Dad’s last set of poles lasted six years.

The tent only takes three poles and guy lines.

The small wedge tent Dad uses only takes three poles, two uprights and a ridge pole, to use for sleeping in. The guy lines hold it up and in the desired shape. Today we were using it for shade, so two more poles lift up one side of the tent into an awning. You can see Dad’s project for the day, the other blue bench that had broken. We weren’t spending the night, so various baskets hold lunch and tools.

Strung mushrooms drying. They would have taken a couple days to dry completely.

Preparing flax to dye and spin.

Flax and wool were the most common fabrics here in New Hampshire. Cotton would have been rare and very expensive, as flax and sheep can be grown quite well here, but not cotton. Flax making was a long, intensive process involving collection of the raw material, leaving the stalks soak in water until the outeer layer rotted away, and then chopping the stalks with a wooden device that resembles a manual paper cutter without a blade. The strands of fiber were then combed and bleached to make the hank she is holding. Finally, the flax would have been spun into fine thread, dyed, and woven on a  loom that would take up most people’s living room.

Child Reading

The only big windows opened into the center area, as the Fort was used in a time of War. Outer walls have small heavily shuttered windows and gunslits. Around the Fort buildings, inside the palisade, are the gardens.

Hand-dipped beeswax candles

Dad’s nickname is “Beekeeper” because he keeps bees, and because he makes candles. It was too hot to dip candles, at high temperatures the wax just remelts the previous layer and all runs off the wick. We dip in the spring and fall. Most of these went into the shop on consignment at the Fort, but a few pairs we sold and bartered with.

Stepping back in time a few centuries.

Serendipity

We were in Maine yesterday, Johann and Glady and Cedar. I had a face painting gig in Kittery, and took the kids so we could have some fun afterward. About 11:15 am, when I was done with the even, we piled in the truck and headed for Fort McClary on Kittery Point to let the kids burn off some energy and see the ocean. It was in the low fifties, and overcast, so I didn’t want them to go in the water. I was expecting the Fort to be deserted, so when we pulled in and the parkinglot was overflowing I wondered what was going on. Turns out we had stumbled upon a French and Indian War encampment. Dad re-enacts as a member of Roger’s Rangers, so we got all excited. I called Dad, who was green with envy. We spent a couple of hours exploring and talking to people and letting Johann run amuck in the Fort and rocks surrounding it. Finally, we got to watch a mock Battle between the British and Scottish troops on one side and the French and Indians on the other. The French were camped on the hill above with the Indians, and they also arrived from Marseilles aboard a jolly boat that had a nifty little cannon. I actually shot some video of the battle, which you can see here.

Glady had the camera through most of our adventure, so some of these shots were taken by her.

The Blockhouse at Fort McClary

Part of the French EncampmentBritish soldiers guard the harbor

Ready, Aim...

The kitchen in the upper part of the camp.

Indian preparing for battle

Redware pottery for sale - I bought Dad a handle-less mug to replace one he broke.

View of the harbor from the BlockhouseKitchen at the boat camp.

The French Jolly boat, fresh from Marseilles

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