Category Archives: My Old House

This is the story of our first home. A glimpse of our life in Maine.

Deep Fried Tomatoes & Baked Potatoes

Devil Dog on My Porch (Prt. 5)

It’s Not Only The Moose Watching (Prt. 4)

Closing – Not a Naked Dance (Prt. 3)

Our Dream House (Prt. 2)

From the Beginning (Prt. 1)

One of my favorite moments of  housework landed me sloped on a ladder, clinging to the house in hopes of stilling my shaking limbs.  After witnessing winter’s fury, we decided to wrap the entire house in an insulating foam board.  This after we squandered weekends chipping clapboard siding that saw centuries turn.

The foam had a silver paper on the outside, similar to aluminum foil.  By now it was summer and I never gave the silver paper a thought.  The sun reflected off the paper turning my face into a beefsteak tomato – deep fried with blistering skin.

I, the tomato, stood on the ladder clinging to the foam covered, very reflective wall like I was a cat hanging by her claws.  I held boards, John zipped them to the wall.

Now Maine is a funny place in the summer.  On a Thursday, a slumbering town of 20,000 people who spend their winters in hibernation, can suddenly grow to 40,000 people on a warm sunny Saturday morning.  It’s the weekend invasion.  For every one Maine license plate, you see three Massachusetts plates, two Quebec plates, and one New York plate.    Streets that see more snow plows than cars suddenly fill with joggers, bike riders, and can you believe, an occassional blond roller-blader possibly misplaced from the West Coast.  After all, Maine is ‘Vacationland’.  Very few are brave enough to winter January, February, and March.

For two seasons I looked at summer people with contempt.  While I worked my muscles into knots, they enjoyed vacations.

I will never forget one very tanned summer guy.  He jogged past our house each morning, looking at us with a mix of amusement and disbelief.  Very few realized such foolish determination still existed in America’s youth.

On the day my faced burned to a beefsteak, he jogged up to our front stoop and stood for a moment jogging in place.  After a once-over glance, he said, “Looks good.  Like a baked potato!”  And he jogged off.

John and I jumped off our ladders and stepped back for a gaze.  Sure enough.  Our little porchless cape looked like a giant baked potato.

Devil Dog On My Porch – Dream Houe, Part 5

“Really?  The house is still standing?”  John asked into the phone with me hanging on his shoulder listening.

“Ok, we’ll be up on Saturday morning.”  He hung up the phone.

We both sat with a thump.  Shaking out heads in disbelief, we kept murmuring, I can’t believe the house didn’t fall.

Finally I grasped that our entire porch, the porch that wrapped around two full sides of our house fell to the ground.

“The porch is what sold me on the house.”  I said as if it mattered.

 

Ice built on the roof, slipping between the porch and the house, finally tearing the porch from the house.  I just couldn’t believe ice could take down a porch large enough to simultaneously hang a hammock on, host a dinner party on, and cultivate a flower pot garden on.

I underestimated the ferocity of a Maine winter.  By the time my blood thickened to ice-crystals and snow covered my first floor windows, I had learned my lesson well.

Unearthing the house from the collapsed porch was worse than the fact that it fell.  We didn’t need more work!

In our early days of home repair, we hadn’t learned the trick, “If something is destroyed, cover it and begin again.”  No, we stripped the house naked, redressing her in lovely layers of new.  We left nothing of her old self except her bones.

Aviation cable pulled the second floor peak to a semi-straight tilt.  We jacked first floor beams to an almostbutnotevenclose to level.  We replaced windows.  We removed ceilings and let Hedgehog nests rain on our heads.  Neighbor’s cheered when the old chimney fell.  We pulled up two hundred years of cat-pee soaked flooring.  Our hands filled until nails, insulation, and siding ran into the street.

One long evening, my cousin and I sat on the second story floor playing cards while we waited for John to return with building supplies.  The entire front of the house was removed.  From our interior post on the floor,  we talked to people in the street passing by.

Nothing halted our determination.  Not even hunger, although I consistently begged for lunch breaks.  For the longest time we had no water in the house.  We took no showers over the weekend.  We worked.  We caught rain water to brush our teeth.  We trudged through miles of muddy field, cutting through a patch of woods to use a port-a-potty at the baseball field.  We worked, always holding the hope that one day we would rebuild the porch to its original shabbiness grandness.

I regret we never did.

We did build a little half porch/stoop in the front of the house.  I obsessed over every floorboard we cut and nailed.  I wanted to seal the wood in a clear water sealant, so we could enjoy the pureness of a porch.  John and I even worked in socks to keep a mud-free porch-ette.

Mud is a season in Maine.  When the snows melt, you’re up to your armpits in mud.  Maine mud can consume cars, small children, and possibly pets.  It’s not to be taken lightly.  Mud season found us laying a porch.

Every board was perfect, clean, and waiting sealer when an old woman and her dog rounded the corner, heading right for our house.  We put down our hammers and nails, ready for a break and friendly chat.

I stood regally as a dirty, smelly woman could stand, waiting to receive visitors, but before I could yell GETYOURMUDDYBEASTAWAYFROMMYPORCH!!!, her devil dog jumped, planting all four muddy paws on my sacred floorboards.  Clear became opaque as mud splattered my socks and sent my nerves into an IwannakillsomeoneNOW frenzy.

“You may as well go back to where you came from.”  The voice of the devil dog’s mother said.  “You won’t like it here anyway.”

Her disturbing words broke my death gaze from her dog.  An old woman stood before me adorned in at least ninety years of meanness.

I only had one other conversation with her.  She and her devil broke loose when I was planting flowers on the hill just below my once grand porch.  She stopped long enough to frown at my dirt covered front and say, “You must like to be dirty.  I hate dirt under my fingernails.”

The walking piece of unlovable female history and her devil were known far and wide in our region.  Not long after our second collision of personaltities, she was found alone in death.  Rotting too long in her home before someone finally found her.

Till today I regret my short encounters with this old woman.  Although mean as a nest of scorpions, she was alone in life and death.

It’s not only the Moose watching…Part 4

I am convinced if it were not for the young and verifiably insane, we would accomplish little in our world; however, if it were not for the wisdom of the mature, the young wouldn’t live long enough to enjoy the reward of their zeal.

A long, long time ago when inspiration struck, I began a series titled “My Dream House.”  Many of you probably thought my dream ended when a rambunctious realtor encouraged my husband and I to dance around the closing table naked; however, I continued to dream.  In fact, my dream blossomed when warmed with the sweat of hard work and watered with the tears of frustration.

Today, as hearts are breaking and a country is grieving, I will continue to share my dream. My soul is heavy with thoughts and prayers for the people of Japan.  I want to share in their sorrow and one day rejoice with them as they rebuild their lives.

Hope lives.

But for today, I’ll travel back to my early days of marriage – days consumed with our dream.

If you are new to this series and have way too much time on your hands, you can read the following links and catch-up.

Closing – Part 3

Dream House – Part 2

Dream House – Part 1

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Because someone had to finance our dream house, my husband and I worked as many hours overtime as possible.  John did electrical work that took him all over Westchester County, NYC, and Connecticut.  I worked at a nuclear power plant.  We were workhorses until Friday night when we became racehorses, speeding our way up to Maine, only to return dirty and tired Sunday night.

Our neighbors kept watch over our house by night.  By day every person living within a five mile radius knew exactly what was going on in and out of our house.  News in our town traveled faster than CNN correspondents.  By the time we went from the closing table to the front door, our neighbors already knew our basic life history, family tree, and probably our social security numbers.

Sadly I now realize they also identify my birthmark.  You see, I thought our house was in the wilderness.  Compared to the city, it was; however, we did have a neighbor directly across the street and one at either end of our field.  My city naiveté convinced me that no-one really lived in those houses buried under more snow than they have in the North Pole, not in the winter anyway.

So I hopped into the back seat and changed out of my house buying clothes and into my work clothes.   Our new house was so filthy, I didn’t want to mess up my nice clothes.   Unfortunately I was under the watchful gaze of one moose and at least two neighbors, Mrs. Cravitz included.

About ninety seconds into our home renovation, Mrs. Cravitz poked her head in the front door and said to my husband, “So I hear your dad was a dairy farmer?”

John and I were in two different room, but our eyes quickly found each other.  Till today he can still hear the thinking look in my eyes, “How did she know that!”

During those early days of dreaming and working, I learned a lot about small town life in a America.

I learned you leave your doors open and people may snoop, but they won’t touch.

I learned the UPS man will leave your package on the kitchen table when you’re not home.

I learned there are no secrets in life.

I learned a small town will sometimes watch you, often laugh at you, but will always come to pull your rusty clunk of a car out of a snow drift.

I learned that chickens sense property lines.

I learned that people were born in my house, died in my house, and loved it long before I was born.

I learned to respect history and to avoid family feuds.

I learned life does have a slow pace.

And one dark night after a long day of work, John and I learned that neighbors look out for you.  After each putting in several hours of overtime, we met somewhere for dinner and headed home to relax in the last few minutes of the day.  We didn’t expect a phone call from Maine.

In the days before voicemail, I rarely checked my answering machine.   John checks.  He’s always waiting for news, wanting to know what he missed.

After the beep, a heavily accented New England voice tore into our New York apartment.

“Uhm, Hi John and Trish.  I’m calling because, well, something happened to your house.  Call me.”

Click.

Silence stretched to Maine and back.

We sank to floor, afraid to hear.

…………………………………………………………………………….to be continued.

Closing – Part 3

The following is Part 3 in the ‘My Old House’ series and is linked to Mylestones’ Flashback Friday.

To read Part 1, Click HERE.

To read Part 2, Click HERE.

I ran the three steps it took to get around in our tiny New York apartment, throwing clothes and toiletries into a bag as I went.  With nervous energy bubbling from my lips like the foam atop a cream soda, I allowed thoughts of our first home to cloud my mind and judgement.  Suddenly I doubted my style sense, not knowing what would be fashionably appropriate for a home closing in Maine.  I settled on a pair of black slacks and a green silk sweater leftover from the days when I could use my brother’s employee discount at the GAP.  I decided on business casual.

Looking to FringeMan’s pile of jeans and t-shirts, I inquisitively asked what he’d be wearing to closing.  After all, we were purchasing a semi-condemned house without any hope of running water or electricity.  We must look good, so as not to offend the four sellers who were about to hold our mortgage for next four years, while we toiled and teared to rebuild.  We had exactly forty-eight months to make our new home bank-worthy, but until then, we were fully prepared to write four separate monthly checks to cover our owner-financed money-pit.  With the wiles of a new wife, I redressed FringeMan in an outfit that reflected pride in our New England Cape and a hope for a fully sheet-rocked future.

Stepping into the title company’s office, four sets of seller’s eyes greeted us – three elderly and one not.  Then there were the spouses, the ninety year-old lawyer, their realtor, our realtor, and the title company’s presiding man of the hour.  Plaid flannel was the choice of the table and the only other person who had dressed for the occasion was the deaf and partially blind lawyer who went to school prior to the Great Depression.  Grandpa made our ‘business casual’ outfits look like outdated office wear.  His bow tie, extra-large glasses, and brown plaid three-piece suit in a nylon/poly blend brought the crowd’s fashion to new and uncharted territories.

Conversation buzzed around the table and had little to do with money or legalities.  I learned that one owner was born in our soon to be bathroom; however, at that time they used outdoor facilities.  Another owner, the youngest, lived in a blue tarp and wood scrap shack in the woods.  They still visited the outdoors when their bladder spoke and cooked on a wood stove.  Grandpa lawyer was simply along for show…just in-case we city-slickers tried to pull a fast one.  He smiled crookedly in a corner; the proceedings commenced.

While we were signing no less than four thousand papers, the seller’s realtor lead a side-show that caused a wild distraction.  We could have unknowingly agreed to hand over our future firstborn as collateral.  It is with great sadness that I hesitate to mention her name, because perhaps in knowing her name, you might also capture a glimpse of the person within.  She would have made an excellent gypsy or circus owned fortune-teller.  Before the ink on our last signature could dry, she exploded from her chair looking to FringeMan and I.

“Now you must dance around the table naked.”  She insisted

I feared for the lawyer’s heart and the loss of my previously modest lifestyle.  As graciously as possible, given the situation, we declined the dance until the last board of sheet-rock was hung and all the siding was repaired.  On a cold winter’s day in Maine, nakedness bowed to production.

In the bizarre hours around the closing table, our dreams became reality and we embraced the challenge of demolition.  We prayed the naked dance would be far in our future and we gained unexpected family in the sellers.

My Dream House, Part 2

This story is more than the saga of our first home.  It is the record of young love and the realization of a dream.  If you missed part one, you can read it HERE, otherwise enjoy My Dream House, Part 2.

February1998

We arrived in Maine with a Canadian cold front.  I hadn’t seen snow so deep since a bad New York winter in my early childhood and I had never witnessed snow banks that rose into the overcast sky with the pride of pyramids.  They lined curbsides, driveways, and doorsteps.

This wasn’t the Maine I knew.  The Maine of my vacation memories was an August Maine overflowing with beach combers, campers, and mosquitoes.  I doubted there was life outside a plow truck in this February Maine.

Being Valentine’s weekend we decided to spend a romantic mini-vacation in a bed & breakfast.  I had never slept in a bed & breakfast and it seemed like the quaint, New England thing to do.  The Victorian House Inn welcomed us into her cold rooms with a hug reminiscent of grandma’s.  Her wallpapered rooms and antique furniture gave you a feeling of nostalgia that warmed, despite the breeze blowing through her wrinkles.

Kathy, the Inn’s owner, greeted us like she’d known us before we lost our first baby tooth.  We had no idea that as she sat and sipped coffee with us the next morning, she’d become the cheerleader that would propel us to achieve our dream.  She and her husband had beautifully restored a classic Maine cape in Wells and encouraged us to risk the comfortable.

I was mildly concerned that our dream house, located in the western town of Limerick, population 1,603 after I delivered my first child, was a little ‘too far out’ in my estimation.  By this I meant, too far from civilization, Wal-Mart, and fast food.  I couldn’t even cook!

We met our realtor, Ron Hack, and proceeded to forge a path through the snow to our house that barely rose out of a drift.  According to our paperwork and strict family history, she was estimated to have been built between 1780 and 1800.   There’s no doubt she is female because she birthed generations from her pot-bellied womb.

the house for blog 1

Her missing clapboards reminded of me of teeth lost with age.  Her lead paint peeled and chipped revealing wrinkles and crevices so deep only the harshest of elements could have weathered her.  Her green shutters hung to her shoulders like gray hair too often dyed blond.  I looked down at the porches’ slatted floorboards and doubted if they had been replaced in the last hundred years.  Thankfully my pre-pregnancy body was still light, merely causing creaking instead of cracking.

With the force of his entire body weight behind his shoulder, Ron managed to push the front door open.  He tried his best to talk FringeMan and I out of a huge mistake, but it was as if we had succumbed to our dream and were unable to breath and move in reality.  I saw white ruffled curtains blowing in the warm breeze with sunshine painted walls.  I saw a porch that wrapped two sides of this home with wicker seated love.  I envisioned bedrooms filled with whispers, giggles of children, and secrets of age.

Our realtor saw a dilapidated old house in need of demolition.  Eventually I photographed it with a disposable camera, but even the developed pictures didn’t erase the images seared on my soul.

I saw this house as more than fire stained walls insulated by mice and hedgehogs.

Limerick 16The three chimneys in this home provided opportunity for every volunteer in town to become not only trained, but seasoned firefighters.

Limerick 22She was not brought to her knees begging by fire and would never lie down in defeat despite recommendations she be torn down and buried.

Limerick 28She still had life to give – life nurtured by dozens screaming from her walls.  I heard them whisper hope to me.  The realtor said the field mice burrowed in ever nook and cranny were speaking to me; however, I saw this house as more than a kitchen whose cooks had never known an electric stove.

Limerick 21It mattered little that the sink drained to the ground from a pipe sticking out of the wall.  So what if the neighbors saw remnants of a spaghetti dinner staining the snow red.  She was more than a home whose electric capacity was limited to a single lightbulb that hung from the ceiling.

Limerick 31

She was my dream home.

To be continued at the closing with a shocking suggestion from the seller’s realtor….

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Dream House, Part 1

The story of our first house cannot be told in one post.  In fact, our first home is a book in itself.  I will start at the beginning.

We were young, too young almost, fiercely stubborn, and just a little bit stupid.  After honeymooning in Maine, we looked at this rugged wilderness land as something to be cajoled and ultimately concurred.  My mind swam with scenes of ski lodges, warm fires, and New England history.  We were naive.

Our first appointment with a realtor was in January of 1998 in New Hampshire.  We left New York with an excitement that the affects of caffeine cannot mimic and headed straight into the worst ice-storm of that New England decade.   Between us, FringeMan and I have enough self-motivation to do some pretty stupid things.  I’m not sure what we expected, but it was not an empty realtor’s office.

Our spirits only slightly dampened, we decided to forge a path in the ice that led to Maine.  Maine winters can be much like an embittered woman deprived of chocolate, and Mainers are some of the most rugged people I have ever met.  They are more pig-headed than FringeMan and I combined and to them, weather is a fact of life, like the sun rises and sets each day.

Maine did not disappoint.  We stumbled into the hands of the most competent realtor I have ever met and although we did not take his advice, we will be forever grateful to him.  Most first-time home-buyers start with a price-point and we were no exception; however, ours was a reverse price-point.  We asked if we could start at $10 thousand dollars and see what was available.  To his credit, our realtor didn’t blink an eye, didn’t spit his gulp of coffee into our laps, and didn’t questions our sanity.  He doubted, but consulted the ever wise, all knowing computer anyway.

What we found were a few shacks that rivaled the dwellings of your average New York City homeless person’s, an abandoned ice-fishing ‘cabin’, and a few mobile homes whose parts seemed to have walked away years ago.  When we reached the $40 and $50 thousand dollar mark, we were afloat in choices, but I had to look no further.

By this point, we had long left our seats and were hanging over the realtor’s shoulders.  When a house popped up on the screen, it was love at first site.  Being freshly wed, I knew love when I saw it.  Grabbing FringeMan’s arm, I exclaimed with a longing that should be reserved for the marriage bed, “That’s my dream house!”

My Dream House

My Dream House

As a seasoned realtor filled with life’s experiences, he cautioned against too much excitement.  Armed with a map, several MLS listings, and passion, we set out in search of our dream.

Limerick 35

This house was everything we had hoped and oh, SO MUCH more.

That’s it for this installment of My Old House.  See you next time for a peak inside.

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