by Pat Stelzer
That October morning dawned bright and sunny, seemingly an omen of good things to come. It was moving day! We were actually moving into our “new” home. Since we were doing the job without professional help, friends had gathered and we began to load the furniture onto a rented trailer, one of the open air ones with slat sides. When the trailer was filled, we proceeded to load the remaining boxes, including canned goods and food from the refrigerator into waiting cars and began the caravan to our home for at least the next few years. We had decided this might be the ‘starter’ house that would allow us to build up equity so we could move to something a little nicer in maybe five or six years. Somehow that idea got lost along the way over the ensuing years, and forty-five years later, we are still living in that starter house.
As our friends helped unload and carry our furniture into the house, not one mentioned the horrible linoleum that was cracked, split and pealing off the kitchen floor. They didn’t laugh at the congoleum pealing off the walls of the kitchen, and no one made disparaging remarks about the horrible purple and silver wallpaper in the living room. They were being kind. After all, to repay them for their help, we had offered to spring for pizza after the move was finished. A few of the men used some rather harsh language when they had to carry beds, mattresses and box springs up the narrow stairway and lift them up over the banister at the top because the turn was two steps from the top and blocked by walls. The only thing that came up missing was an old card table that probably flew off the open trailer. Two of the rooms, one downstairs and one upstairs, were left empty as we didn’t have furniture to fill them. This did provide storage space for boxes that I couldn’t unpack because there was no place to put the stuff, minor things like bedding and towels, books and the kids’ toys. The room upstairs also became a pseudo closet. It had pegs on the wall that could be used to hang our clothes.
After the pizza supper, we stood in the driveway and waved goodbye as our friends left, and I noticed that a few of them were shaking their heads. I’m sure they thought we were totally out of our minds. We went back into our home, thrilled with spending that first night in the house we now owned. Our son, who was approaching four, was delighted with the uneven floor in the kitchen. His toy cars rolled from the middle to the wall with no effort on his part. His nine-month-old sister was oblivious to it all. She was happy as only babies can be to sit in her playpen and watch as her brother kept letting his cars roll across the floor.
Other than a few inconveniences like only one electrical outlet in some of the rooms, everything was fine for the first few weeks while the nice weather held. But when temperatures began to drop, we began to experience an influx of uninvited guests. Mice. From the last of October until the middle of January we caught twenty-two of the furry visitors. Some like the ones that got caught in the wastebasket and couldn’t get out we simply returned to the wild. We even found one in the old claw foot bathtub one morning. He was in a panic because he couldn’t climb the slick sides, and we were in a panic trying to figure a way to get him out of the tub and out of the house. We managed to trap him in a bucket and toss him outside.
Adding to our confrontation with reality was the chill that began to permeate the house as temperatures dipped below freezing. As the wind blew, the windows rattled and allowed that cold air to slip right in. And the upstairs was almost as cold as my refrigerator. We put both children in the same bed so they would stay warm. I made them sleep in hooded sweatshirts and under a ton of blankets. I had made the mistake of placing a thermometer on a dresser in their bedroom. One night I checked it before putting them to bed and it read 35 degrees. That was the night we pulled mattresses downstairs and slept on the floors of the two front rooms. We never dreamed the upstairs would get that cold. Reality almost caused us to suffer from hypothermia.
Another problem was frozen water lines. Who needed ice cubes? The well was just off the side porch, and the water pump was in the milk house that was attached to the house but wasn’t heated. The pipes were exposed to the cold air. After having friends bring us enough water to get through the next day, we bought electrical heating tape to keep pipes from freezing. We struggled through that first winter knowing that our poor house had some problems that needed fixing, and fearful that our oldest child might be in trouble. He had suffered from bronchitis and tonsillitis every winter from the time he was just three months old. We also struggled through that winter knowing that another baby would become part of the family in June. Smart baby, he knew better than to come into the world during that first winter in our house.
As spring approached we made the decision that storm windows would be our first investment. Fortunately, we were contacted by a company looking for houses in our area to be used as demo houses for their windows. We agreed with their very favorable terms and had the windows installed as quickly as possible. What we had also failed to realize was that there were no screens for the windows and there would have been no way to open the windows in the summer unless we purchased the old pull-out screens for every window in the house. We also realized that the heating bills were going to eat us alive if we didn’t do something to cut down on heat loss. Our oil bills that first winter were horrendous. Hopefully the storm windows would help.
With the coming of summer, we learned to enjoy some of the blessings of our old house. We hadn’t realized that one of the gardens was a strawberry patch. We had strawberries with every meal. The house stayed cool in the heat of the summer because of the twelve inch thick brick walls and the two maple trees that shaded the front yard. Our dog had his own private dog house when we converted the old “out house” with the half moon design in the door into his private quarters. Our second son and third child decided to make his appearance in June, so by the end of summer we were forced to put the third bedroom into use. Other than paint a few of the upstairs rooms, we had no assets with which to start any major remodeling projects. We had envisioned taking out the center wall between the two front rooms making one large front room by using a steel I-beam for support. How fortunate that we didn’t have the money. The wall is still there and is still twelve inches thick, as is every wall in the original part of the house.
We also realized that our oldest son had not been sick that winter. He had gotten through it without a single attack of bronchitis. Sleeping in the cold upstairs had toughened up his system. That’s when I decided that this old house had been good for our family and wanted us to stay. That very first winter, as difficult as it had been, made us aware that the house was more than just a building; it had become our home, a part of our lives. It needed us to give it a family with love and laughter and we needed it to keep us safe. That ‘old house’ had begun to worm its way into our hearts.