Last weekend Greg’s parents, Anne and Gray, stopped by the blue house and red barn to check on progress and deliver lunch. They are pretty taken with the old place though perhaps a little concerned with the scale of their son’s undertaking. So, it’s gratifying to know they see progress where they once saw problems.
Walls have been demolished so sunlight plays throughout the main floor all day; the worst of the crumbling, mildewed plaster is now gone, along with every scrap of carpet and linoleum – thanks in large measure to the able efforts of our friend Gregor and his teenage son Finn.
Greg’s careful installation of new basement beams has eased the sag of the kitchen floor. Masking tape and figures scrawled on lath boards with carpenter’s pencil show the location of new bathroom fixtures, bigger kitchen windows and patio doors to the water. Read More
In the spring of 1930, past owners of our old house readied to install boldly-patterned lino in large square sheets over the bedroom floorboards. In preparation, they laid down splayed pages of The Halifax Herald, Nova Scotia’s newspaper of record.
The Grey Lady of Argyle Street, as the Halifax Herald was known, was a true broadsheet – its tiny font typeset in dark ink to produce a paper densely packed with the goings on in Nova Scotia and further afield. By April 1930, the paper was already able to boast of its “Fifty-five years in the public service” – the successful merger of the The Morning Herald and its competitor, The Chronicle.
April 7, 1930 was a big news day. A world away from Halifax, in Dandi, India Mahatma Gandhi had narrowly avoided arrest along with his followers in a protest over India’s salt manufacturing monopoly.
Closer to home, Captain Gerald Lewis blamed the U.S. Coastguard patrol ship Frederick Lee for the sinking of his Lunenburg-based schooner the Aramay. Laden with more than 700 crates of “choice liquors”, the Aramay was either deliberately sunk during seizure or sprung a leak while under Coast Guard tow outside of Boston. Captain Lewis, an unabashed rum-runner, demanded an inquiry and payment for his ship and its lost cargo.
It’s been three weeks since we took possession of the blue house with the red barn and we’ve been hell bent on destruction – two overflowing 12-yard dumpsters a testament to our efforts, more Greg’s than mine. Visitors either commend our efforts or delicately ask if we know what we’re doing.
An old house demands decisions about what to keep and what to throw away. In some not too distant decade, bathroom fixtures the colour of Calamine lotion seemed a better use of space than a dining room – a choice probably made by someone acquainted with the outhouse. We have determined the kitchen should open to the front room, the living room doorway ought to be wider, and an upstairs wall must make way for a new bathroom. The cramped pantry, the worn out kitchen cupboards and the old bathroom have met an inglorious end piled high in the dumpster.
Some things, we know will remain: the hand-smoothed newel post and stair railings, the pretty window trim, the bedroom floorboards long buried by lino and shag carpet.
We ended Sunday’s work day each on our own clean-up detail. Me, with a rake at the shoreline, combing through dried seaweed in search of glass and other detritus that had been discarded by people now also gone. Greg put a few old things roadside for the garbage truck but a woman driving by saw something to love in the peeling pink and red paint of an old door, and a man in a pick-up backed up to grab an old glass jug with a chipped lip. It would, he said, look nice on his table.
The last thing to go was the chipboard walls of a makeshift cold cellar in a corner of the stone basement. Behind it were 10 jars of largely unrecognizable contents, a few pickles poking out of their evaporated brine, some sludgy dark substances someone foolishly thought would last in a Cheez Whiz jar, and fruit they couldn’t bear to lose with summer’s end.
We tipped them all into the dumpster. Some things simply don’t keep.