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Old Stone Houses and Other Strange Addictions
By Jane Hieb

Maybe it was the story of the Three Little Pigs and that last house they built---the one the big bad wolf couldn't blow down that fostered my addiction. I believe their house was actually made of bricks, but in my young mind I remember thinking stone would have been even better. And I still feel that way. Not even the heftiest of wolves could blow a good old stone house in. For most of my life I have lusted after stone houses and now at last I have one��or it has me. That is the thing about addictions---freedom is not a word that comes easily to mind when you are the victim of one. For me the problem becomes two-fold, because along with my love of stone houses, I am also afflicted with a life-long passion for old houses. I love them and I cannot resist them---especially really worthy old homes that have long been neglected. They cry out my name and I am helpless (some would say hopeless). But I make few excuses for I believe it to be a mutated gene of some sort---something I obviously have inherited and so I do the best I can.

Through the years, my enduring mate (himself not suffering much of my affliction, but daring enough to humor his wife) and I have restored five badly neglected, but truly worthy old homes. However, not until two years ago did we become the owners (slaves??) of an old stone house. And a fine house it is!! I believe many a bat, coon, coyote, possum and other assorted wild life would attest to this. Lots of barn swallows too. Though it was built in the mid-1800's, only the valley's wild creatures had inhabited it for the past 52 years. No windows or doors were left intact to bar anything needing shelter. Still, the brave little house with its two and a half foot walls and ancient maple trees standing guard, stood firm and stout offering what ever comfort it could.

It took me nearly a year to convince my husband that it would be a fine project and during that time I had made peace with the house and its wildlife, but alas, most of our friends who came to see it that first year, would suddenly appear pale, eyes frantically darting here and there, mouths hanging open and would often be overcome by a scary sort of hyperventilating as they stumbled through the forsaken rooms. "Oh my word! (gasp) oh good grief! (gasp) I can't believe it!," they would cry. Sometimes I truly fretted for their mental health. And I knew for certain they had made a judgement about ours. We worried that our family might begin to inquire about the process of committing deranged loved ones to an institution. And seen through their eyes, I could almost understand. The house was a bit of a challenge, filled as it was with old packing crates, parts of barrels, cracked fruit jars some with ancient bits of food still clinging and rusted tin cans along with at least a ton of various types of manure. And there was the gaping hole in the kitchen which looked down to a massive cistern---a clever contrivance which would have offered the house Frau running water practically right there at her finger tips with but the push or two of a pump handle, but definitely a little daunting for our visitors.

Despite years of neglect, the four walls stood straight and proud. We learned that the house had been built by German Stonemasons who had come to the new land hoping for a better life, and bringing with them some finely honed skills. Modern-day engineers who have studied their work are keenly impressed. In our house there are no sagging floors or rotting timbers and only a few cracks in the mortar. The size of the huge lintels over the doors and windows is to me, at least, purely astounding. And so we began the challenging task of persuading the courageous wildlife refuge to become once again a happy home for a family of two-footed creatures.

What our skeptical friends could not know is the pure satisfaction of rescuing these neglected old gems. They probably would never quite grasp the sense of accomplishment one feels as dirty, crumbling walls suddenly take on new life with but the additions of some good old joint compound rubbed into the wounds and a coat or two of fresh paint. Old floors, hopelessly neglected and scuffed take on a proud shine with a little sanding and a few layers of polyurethane. Lawns once littered and weedy grow lush and green with a few days of attention and small packets of seed quickly become glorious seas of color. Suddenly the old house nearly sings.

It is true; restoring old houses requires endless hours of work, but offers so very many satisfactions. I love to walk down a stairway, letting my hand glide along the banister, and wondering just how many other hands through the centuries have touched this very same wood. How many feet have tread the steps? What styles of shoes were on those feet as each step brushed the wood helping to wear the paths so smooth? Often I think I hear the old timbers whisper their thanks and sometimes I stand quietly just listening as I admire the tenacity and the antiquity of these shelters. These are the times when I'm almost certain I hear the faint laughter of children in the kitchen and the quiet murmuring of lovers in the bedrooms from so long ago. Sometimes I talk to my houses offering encouragement and promises of more nurturing to come. Of course this may be why my family and friends worry some about my mental state, but no matter. Restoring old houses has been one of the greatest adventures of my life and one that will undoubtedly continue for several years---possibly decades---addictions are sometimes like that. 


Next --- Let the Stone House Renovation Begin

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