by Pat Stelzer
After happily jumping into home ownership, signing our lives away and hoping we’d done the right thing, we were surprised to find out that we’d been given almost immediate occupancy of the house. First step was to clean the house and start to move small items from our rented abode to our new home. My two children stayed with my mother so that I could really clean and get ready for our move, so I found myself alone in my “dream” home on an early October morning. The sun was shining and my energy was at its peak!
Work down from the upstairs, that way the downstairs wouldn’t need to be cleaned a second time. Starting with the bedroom that was to be the “master bedroom,” I began by cleaning the windows and then began to dust down the walls and the woodwork. There were quite a few cobwebs draped in the corners, not unusual for an older home. As I dusted down what we thought was the large closet, the only one in the upstairs, the walls of the closet began to wobble and tilt toward me! I was about to be crushed by a closet and no one was there to help me. As I backed away, horror struck, the entire closet lurched forward, and then tumbled to the floor.
In wide-eyed amazement, I stared at a heap of corrugated cardboard box material that had been erected to serve as a closet! It had been braced by narrow pieces of wood similar to lathe strips, and had been wallpapered to match the rest of the room. It even had a door that I thought was real. No, we did not open the closet when we toured the house, being respectful of the then owners’ privacy. There was no closet, great discovery number one. So much for having someplace to store our clothes.
Because it was warm outside, all I had to do was open the window on the back wall of the bedroom and toss the huge pieces of cardboard out into the back yard. In opening the window, I realized it had no counter weights to hold it up. I had to stick a piece of wood from the former closet in the frame to hold the bottom pane up so I could dispose of the cardboard. Discovery number two, none of the windows had counter weights. I had never lived in a house with windows like that. I didn’t realize at the time that it was probably due to one of two reasons. The people who built the house were either too poor to put the weights in, or maybe too stupid. A third possibility was that the house was built before they used counter weights, but that was beyond my scope of knowledge or comprehension at the time.
Totally ignorant about early building techniques and the value of some aspects of the old house, I made a few rather nasty comments as I tried to clean the upstairs floors. Cracks between the wide boards made it impossible to dust them with the traditional dust mop. The strands of the mop kept getting snagged on square head nails that had worked slightly upward and on the rough edges of some of the boards. Some of the cracks were also repositories for dirt, not dust, dirt. The only way to clean them was to use a sweeper with a narrow attachment so I could pull the dirt from between the boards. A third major discovery—an old house wasn’t going to be as easy to clean as a newer one. Years and years of dirt had worked down into the cracks and crevices of my old house and I might never be able to make it look as clean and shiny as a newer home.
The downstairs had secrets to reveal, too. Almost more than I could take in one day, but I had to finish because we were moving in the following weekend. A small cupboard under the sink almost did me in. Thinking I would have a cupboard to keep cleaning items in, I opened it and found that it was the chief residence of those who intended to share our new abode. Mouse droppings coated the bottom shelf, and I almost sat on the floor and cried. What would I do with all my “stuff”? Deciding not to give in to my inclination to beat my head against the wall, I got a pencil and a pad of paper and sat in the middle of the kitchen floor to make a list of things I needed to get in order to clean the kitchen properly. Putty knife, ammonia, disinfectant, and mouse traps. I laid the pad on the floor and put the pencil beside it, then made a trip to the necessary room. When I came back, I made my fourth major discovery, quite by accident. My pad was where I had left it, but the pencil was gone. Had the furry little beasts carried it off? I was not losing my mind. Then I spied it over against the wall. Knowing I had laid it by the pad, I was a little curious as to how it got over by the wall, so I put it on the floor and watched as it slowly rolled toward the wall again. The floor was bowed up in the center and went down on the sides. Great fun for my son with his little cars, but what about our appliances? How could they sit level if the floor was that out of kilter? Visions of slanted bottles in the refrigerator flashed before my eyes. No wonder the table had been directly in the middle of the room when we toured the house. Inspecting the floor a little more carefully, I noticed a very large crack between the sill of the outside door and the floor, possibly as wide as a quarter of an inch. Maybe the little furry creatures had their own special entrance. But was I discouraged, not me. It was my house now, not theirs, the mice that is.
The last room I cleaned was the one behind the bathroom, the one that would have to be used as my laundry room. This room had a very large cupboard, and I was just sure it would hold all my supplies and maybe even serve as a linen closet. It was right beside the fireplace that practically filled the back wall and across from the furnace. Major discovery number five. The mice lived here, too. There was also an assortment of home canned foods in mason jars, well past usable prime, filling this cupboard. Cart out the moldy canned goods, come back with the putty knife and ammonia, and remember to save a trap for this cupboard.
As I was getting ready to leave for the day, I heard a noise that had occasionally distracted me during my cleaning frenzy, and I decided to locate the source. It came from every room in the house, but wasn’t constant. It was almost like a gentle tapping or knocking. I might be willing to fight with the mice to take control of my new home, but I wasn’t about to tangle with ghosts. Standing in the middle of one of the two front rooms, I made a rather interesting discovery and one that dispelled any fear of ghosts. Every time the wind blew, even gently, the windows rattled. It wasn’t something knocking; it was air rushing in between the upper and lower sashes of the windows. The old place was certainly well ventilated, my next to last discovery of the day.
My last discovery was made as I sat in my car; ready to call it quits for the day. Looking at my old house, my new home, I was filled with the strangest sensation that the house appreciated what I had done, that it was happy someone cared. I think that’s when the love affair began. Our old house needed us, and we needed it. That was almost forty-four years ago, and while it has been sorely tested over those years by discoveries that there was no heat in the upstairs and other assorted unique features, love affair continues with the same degree of warmth and caring as it did that long ago day in October.