Whittling Away: Old houses

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By Dick Brooks

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Dick Brooks.

I like old houses. I’ve always liked old houses. 

Our current habitation is 165 years or so old and is loaded with what “old house” people call “character.”

New houses are nice, I guess, but lack character. Sometimes I admire them, sitting on their little low-maintenance lots, all straight and square. Well-trimmed bushes, small trees, they look so neat.

A properly aged house, on the other hand, never looks really neat. It looks comfortable. Comfortable is good!

After a hundred years or so of sitting on the same spot, a good house gets broken in. It settles a bit here and leans a little there. It digs its toes into the landscape and makes itself at home. It becomes old sneakers, worn jeans and a well-loved flannel shirt. 

New houses always make me think of ties and white shirts.

Old houses are hard-to-find places for jacuzzis and media rooms to fit in. They lack closet space because folks didn’t collect clothes like they do now. They frequently have only one electrical outlet per room. They have high ceilings and are sometimes a bit drafty. 

They do have things like pantries and sitting rooms, fancy moldings and history. You don’t really own an old house, you’re just the current caretaker.

An old house has stories to tell and things to wonder about. It tries to tell them when the winter winds blow and the house groans and creaks.   Things like: Who built it and what was their reason, how many thousands of carpet tacks were driven into the dining room floor, why was there a bathtub hidden behind the bathroom wall, who plastered the Indian head penny into the wall for me to find a hundred years later, what did they hide in the hallway under the floor board with no nails? 

I’ll probably never know the answer to these questions, but the house knows.

My old house has stuff they should consider putting in new houses. Radiators, for one thing, not those 6-inch-high baseboard heaters but great big honking radiators. There is nothing better on a cold day than backing into one of those — they’ll warm a chilly posterior in a hurry. There is no nicer place for drying soggy mittens or pre-warming a coat before facing the cold outside.

Porches are another feature frequently missing on newer homes. I love our porches, a great place to just sit and watch the world go by. A couple of rockers and a chatty neighbor or two and you’ve got the makings of a pleasant afternoon. The front porch is for looking good, it sets the tone for the house, but a back porch is great, too. It’s for storing stuff — the recycling, coats, boots, umbrellas and kitty litter.

I guess the reason I like old houses so much is that we have a lot in common. As I age, I notice that I’ve settled a bit here and there. Cold weather makes me groan and creak a little when I try to get out of my recliner. My roof could use a few more shingles and my porches are getting bigger.  The porches don’t bother me like I thought they would when they first appeared 20 years or so ago. The front one is really handy for resting a coffee cup on and the back one can make even a rock pile comfy.

I feel that my old house likes having us live within its arms. It’s added us to its history. When I drop things, it even rolls them back to me, — show me a new house that can do that!

Thought for the week — If the Professor on Gilligan’s Island could make a radio out of a coconut, why couldn’t he fix a hole in a boat?

Until next week, may you and yours be happy and well.

Reach columnist Dick Brooks at whittle12124@yahoo.com.

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