Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Mountain House at High Acres

When my parents bought the farm in the mountains there was much discussion about building a house, not just what to build, but how to build it. The location was not an issue. There was an apple orchard located on a peak of the farm that offered a 270 degree view of hills and valleys that included three states. And, although the sunsets were spectacular, the winds could also be quite stiff at times. But my parents had their heart set on that house site. Stanbury, the farm overseer, just stood there, scratched his head, put his cap back on, and said, "Well, we'll have to nail the shingles on real tight."

Now my mother, being very practical, found a grand old Victorian house in our home town they were razing to make room for a bank. She took it upon herself to purchase the home and have the company tearing it down number the pieces (that is the windows, the staircase, the doors, doorways, arches, and any other architectural pieces worth saving). Then she informed my father it was up to him to get it transported to the farm. My father's response was, "Then what?" "We'll use the pieces to build the house," was my mother's reply. 

So the numbered pieces were loaded and transported up to the farm. As it was being unloaded, Stanbury stood there, scratched his head, looked at my Dad, and said, "What ar we supposed to do with this?" Dad looked at him and smiled, "Build a house." This where it got interesting.

If my mother thought the grand home that was torn down was going to be replicated on the farm, she was sadly mistaken. Several weeks later when we went up to the farm, I was a little taken aback to find a large 2 story plain square building on the house site. When we entered the structure, I was surprised to find the grand staircase in the main hall, as well the ornate archway leading into the great room which had all the windows stacked on the floor. Perhaps, I thought, it was going to take some time to come together. I could tell by the look on my mother's face this was not what she had in mind.

"Where are my white columns?" my mother asked quietly. My father pulled her aside for a conference, where he explained that due to the exact location she had chosen to build, unless they had done some very expensive excavation, which was not in the budget, the footprint of the house was relegated to it's square shape. "But, it's so plain", she said. "It just looks that way now", my father assured her. "We just got started. Give it some time."

A month or so later we went back to check on the progress of Mama's house - and it had progressed. There was now siding - rough hewn siding (that Stanbury proudly told her came from Poplar trees from the farm). All the large windows with their casings were installed, as was the enormous formal white front door with its fancy facing and side windows. A small portico had been built over the door, and there in front were Mama's white columns. However, all of this was overshadowed by the barn red color Dad had the house painted. And, this much red with bright white trim made a statement. Mom was less than thrilled.

But we loved the house. It had large rooms and plenty of space for our many friends who came to visit. Mom busied herself decorating. Dad had his back deck to serve cocktails while we enjoyed the sunsets. The furniture was fairly eclectic from the full size church pew that served one side of the long kitchen table to the mahogany chairs in the small den to the old iron beds in the bedrooms. But one thing was consistent - none of the house was finished on the inside. It was always a work in progress. 

We were always sanding and stripping the ornate moldings, adding insulation to the rooms (there was never enough), paneling rooms (it was not unusual to be in a room with bare insulation showing between the studs), or painting or staining some surface. And yes, Stanbury was right - we were constantly having to replace shingles. It never ended. When Mama sold the farm, the house still had unfinished rooms - and that was 30 years after we built it.

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