New Life for Old Timber

“There are two ways of attacking a restoration project; one includes a complete job done as a single operation, and enough money to pay for it; the other, a gradual process by trial and error, and largely through one’s own effort manually – we chose the latter. And today, when reviewing the past, this choice seems the more justifiable, as much might otherwise have been done to destroy the quaint atmosphere of the place.

“The second summer saw Tim Bissel with a couple of his boys brushing on the first coat of paint. The weathered siding drank it in like blotting paper, but the house began to emerge with a silvery sheen from beneath the maples. With this emergence began a succession of visits from those who had formerly shared in the life of the old house. Some of them made nostalgic pilgrimages; others came inspired by curiosity; still others offered assistance and advice.

Just when Myra Waldo entered this friendly surge from the past would be impossible to recall, but as her great-great forebears had kept store in our house we mutually began to assume a vicarious relationship, however, tenuous, and she was soon known to us as Cousin Myra. From our first contact we felt that she belonged to the house as much as the stately paneling belonged to the dining room and parlor. Even her appearance evoked a kinship with the house; it revealed itself perhaps more as a spiritual relationship with the period in which her forebears lived ruggedly and wrought beautifully.

“We would find Cousin Myra lingering a moment at the massive front door, her deepset eyes affectionately following the grain of the old pine, etched in deep lines by the impact of the weather; with her strong, capable hands she would be fondling the brass knob that moved the amusing see-saw latch, a unique contrivance much like the rocking beam of an old side wheel river boat. It was then that her faded gingham dress, trimmed about the neck with a bit of heirloom lace, and her square toed, low heeled shoes, seemed to belong quite as much to the old doorway as the huge granite stone with its soft velvety carpet of moss.

On the few occasions that Cousin Myra did wear a hat it must have been taken from an attic trunk, for it was always in keeping with the style of an earlier generation. It would be tilted to the back of her head and resting on a bun peremptorily drawn up for convenience. The graying, tawny hair, however, remained unruly, and rebellious strands framed in her face and the back of her neck. But there was always an impressive dignity whether she appeared with marked pride holding a gigantic Paul Neyron rose from her garden or chuckled with quiet glee over the foibles of the male population of the town.

“When I needed someone to jack up the sagging floors before proceeding with the repair of the walls and ceilings, Cousin Myra recommended Ward Thomas as one who understood old houses. Ward was not only carpenter and plumber but the undertaker as well. His roots too were deep in the soil of New England, and although aging, he had preserved the powerful frame of earlier life due, perhaps, to the necessity of retiring between jobs to tend his hardware. Repeated appeals failed to obtain his help.

He was enjoying the comparative ease of his shop where he could tell his men off to their work each day, and set his books in order, or dig down in the basement to bring out a choice engraved lamp globe, or a piece of hardware still in stock since his father’s days. This below-floor stock was reached through a trap door that opened behind the counter, and only favored customers of Ward could gain access to it.
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