New Life for Old Timber

Last but not least, a nicely turned earthenware jug, and a few ham bones, were recovered. As the silt diminished a second pump had to be added so that the man at the bottom could work free of water. The vein had opened up and water rushed in with a freedom that the silt formerly held back and the bottom was cleared at last.

“Only one who has been down in a well can know its penetrating chill, especially when descending with the light clothing coincident with warm weather. Besides high rubber boots, rubber jacket and hat, the man at the bottom fortified himself internally with plenty of warming comfort. Its aroma ascended to the air at the crown of the well and attracted the attention of three surprised kittens, Patty, Doodle and the Blond.

In spite of the activity of the men, the noisy pumps, the slop and the mud, they returned again and again to sniff with evident relish. Doodle, the largest of the three, craned his neck over the dark abyss so far that he almost fell in when a neighbor’s dog suddenly joined the enchanted circle. While he and Patty scampered off to the kitchen for safety, the Blond, smallest of the three, arched up into a ball of fury, and defiantly held her vantage point. The dog, more used to telltale fumes, left in evident scorn.

“Unused for many years, the old windlass was still in place under the lean-to roof. The rope for the well bucket had once been closely wound around the broad wheel, and a pull chain still hung within easy reach to check its too-rapid revolution. From the evidence produced, it was clear that the well had been used to keep food cool.

It was also evident that meat and milk let down beside the bucket had often landed unceremoniously at the bottom, and I wondered how many times the bucket had to be drawn up and emptied before the water was drinkable again. Perhaps such small deflections from the sanitary path were ignored in those hardy days of the survival of the fittest; perhaps charcoal was thrown in to sweeten the water.

“The well was but a step from the kitchen door and could be reached on rainy days without getting feet or clothing wet. But this concession to domestic convenience was all the house offered; not even a kitchen sink or drain pipe had ever been installed. Against one wall was a table-like trough which served to hold dishpan and dishes, and at one end of it was a hole through which excess water might drain into a bucket. The plank wall back of this excuse for a sink was covered by an accumulation of grease which had become so hard that no amount of washing was adequate to remove it. After I had scraped it off a solution of lye had to be used before paint could be applied.

“The kitchen, large and high-ceilinged, was blessed with nine doors. One led to the cellar, another to the front hall and one to the adjoining bedroom. There was a door to the backstairs, and in passing on around the room were the doors for the broom closet under the stairs, the pantry, the milkroom, and the large entry door. The ninth door opened upon a little passageway past the chimney breast and dutch oven, leading on to the dining room. As the kitchen enjoys two windows, the only space for the range was in front of the great fireplace which had to remain closed. There was no question of an electric range as electricity was not yet available. For years we used the soft light of kerosene lamps to read by in the evenings and candles to go to bed with.

That period was indubitably one of romance, enhanced by contrast with the life in a New York City apartment. The children of our guests were eager for bed when allowed to lead the way with a lighted candle, and as there was a wide choice of style and size among the candlesticks their selection became an added inducement. When electricity eventually came with the new cement highway, we were content to remain for a few years longer with our lamps and candles, our oil-fed kitchen range, and the iceman who filled the box. We were not, however, as ‘sot in our ways’ as the old lady on the hill who waited three years before she decided to drive down in the buggy to see the new street lights in the village.

“Paperhanging bore no affinity to the techniques I had learned during the early days in the art schools here and abroad. I had, however, seen it done from time to time, and fortunately had made mental notes of its intricacies. As the house stood wide open during most of my operations as a paperhanger, people were popping in and out, singly and in groups, and I received plenty of coaching.

“There is undoubtedly great social significance to wallpaper; the lure of new designs and the look they give to rooms is irresistible to most people. But in spite of pride in my new vocation the day finally came when I had to lock the doors and get on with the job. The first problem had been to find a table long enough to facilitate pasting the strips but narrow enough to move readily from room to room through the many door and passage ways. It was solved, however, when a large painting arrived from the city; the long thin match boards of the case served as a removable top for the table. With the rest of the lumber I made up the stretcher and leg ensemble narrow enough to pass anywhere that it was needed.