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This old f-ing house

We could have had clean, fresh, functional and efficient. Instead, we got character and the greatest test yet of our 30-year marriage.

| 16 Feb 2022 | 01:48

When the time was right for me and my husband to purchase a house, we needed to have “the talk.” I told him how, since I was a child, I dreamed of living in an old house. My husband, a carpenter and restorer of old homes, had other ideas. “No way. Never. Over my dead body,” were his exact words, if I remember correctly. Two months after we started house hunting, we went into contract on our 93-year-old farmhouse, which is not to say our notions of what is desirable, pleasing, or even acceptable in a home have come into accord. In fact, coming to terms with this wonderful old place has been the greatest challenge of our 30-year marriage. In short, its shortcomings are what I love best, and these are the very things that make Max crazy. And not in a good way.

To wit: 93-year-old windows. I know what some of you are thinking, and yes, you’d be correct. In winter they are drafty as hell, and forget about getting them open to let in a summer breeze. I suspect that function went out with the Eisenhower administration. But the morning light that comes through them is magical, like waterfalls on my living room walls, dancing, spectral things, interspersed with prisms. Practical? No. Phantasmagorical? You bet. Are we swapping them out for more energy efficient models? The debate rages on.

Original doors: we’ve got plenty of them. Are they terrible? Yes. Our front door, in fact, has the original lock. Rusted out and hanging by a couple of antiquated screws, we have to leave the key in it, on the inside, to let ourselves out. Not a terribly sensible thing, I know, but oh, that century-old lock set! They don’t make ‘em like that anymore! Besides, the door doesn’t really close all that well anyway. But you should see the beveled glass! Max likes to point out that beveled glass and a broken lock won’t stop a home invasion. My retort: Yes, but beveled glass!

Plumbing: The water stays inside the pipes, and really, what else matters? Sure, it gurgles and glugs and makes doing a load of laundry while taking a shower nigh on impossible. Just another good reason to not do laundry, I say!

Well water: Packed with minerals, it stains the toilets brown, leaves hard water marks on glasses and countertops and shower stalls, and sometimes it smells pretty funky. Max refuses to drink it and wants to get a water filtration system. I say, this is water the way nature intended, brown and stinky! (I think I may be losing this one.)

Uninsulated powder room: All the convenience of a second bathroom, with none of the comfort, this little WC comes in super handy for those after coffee emergencies, but thanks to its inhospitable climate in both summer and winter, no one likes to use it unless absolutely necessary, forcing us all to go upstairs to the master bath. The big win here: there’s only one bathroom to clean, and even Max can’t argue with that.

Wood stove of indeterminate age: Cranky and fussy, and prone to belching out billows of black smoke, this old beauty is the heart of the house. I’ve never been a winter person, but now I count the days until that first frost to fire it up. I must admit, the trade-off here is a sooty coating on literally everything, and daily dusting and vacuuming has become a way of life. But trade it in for a newer, cleaner model? I say, it ain’t broke. Max says, there’s soot stains on his toothbrush. It’s a toss-up.

An acre of property: What realtors like to call Mature Plantings, in our case is really nature gone wild. Once a thriving farmstead, the acre is now populated by aging pines and sagging black walnuts, which shed their limbs and drop their fruit by the barrel full. In their defense, they provide cooling shade in the summer, and plenty of kindling in the winter. Max’s argument: if one of them falls on the house, shade and kindling will be the least of our worries.

In conclusion, I can say, in some respects, Max is right. If we’d bought a newer home, we’d most likely have none of these issues. We’d have, clean, fresh, functional and efficient. Instead, we have a house with character and history. A house with a purpose. A house with a soul. A house that breathes in and breathes out... even if it is through drafty ass beveled glass windows.

Uninsulated powder room: All the convenience of a second bathroom, with none of the comfort.