Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Mama's House

 When my parents bought High Acres, the farm in the mountains of North Carolina, they immediately wanted to build a house on it. The location was not an issue. The house site offered a 360-degree view of hills and valleys that included three states. Although the sunsets  and sunrises were spectacular, the winds could also be quite stiff at times. But my parents had their heart set on putting their house on top of that hill. Stanbury, the farm overseer, just stood there, scratched his head, put his cap back on, and said, "Warll, 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, that was tearing it down, number the pieces (that is the windows, the staircase, the doors, doorways, arches, mantles, and any other architectural pieces worth saving). Then she informed my father that 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. 

The first time we saw the house dried in, my mother asked quietly "Where are my white columns?". 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 its 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."

The first thing one saw when they entered the front door was the staircase, not the grand gently curved one that Mama had purchased from the Victorian home. Rather a very rustic straight set of stairs. There was no curve and the long treads had been cut to fit the narrower steps.  Even though the ornate balusters were used on the new stairway, the 'grand' design was definitely lost in the translation. There was the ornate archway leading into the great room where all the unused windows, as well as the weights and cases, were 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.

"It just looks this way now", my father assured her. "We just got started. Give it some time."

A month or so later we went back up 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 on the farm. All the large windows with their casings were installed, as was the enormous formal front door with its fancy facing and side-beveled windows. A small portico had been built out over the door, and there in front were 4 of Mama's white columns. 

However, all of this was overshadowed by the barn red color Daddy had had the house painted. And this much red with bright white trim made a statement. Mama was less than thrilled.

It wasn't long before the house was finished enough for us to move in. We loved the house. It had large rooms and plenty of space for our many friends who came to visit. Mama busied herself decorating. Daddy 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 - no one room of the house was ever completely finished. 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 on at least one wall), 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 thirty years after we built it. 

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