The past life of things

Greg and I have a bad way of falling for old things. Anyone who has experienced the basement of our Halifax home knows it to be a reliquary of mismatched chairs, vintage scales, chrome barware, a 1977 Bally Eight Ball pinball machine (that works about half the time) and odds and sods to which one or the other of us has formed an attachment.

Shortly after we bought our first house, Greg spied a cool old pharmacy cabinet among an auction lot from a former military base hospital. His $150 bid scored us the white metal cabinet along with a pallet-load of gear that included an outmoded EKG machine, a blood gas analyser and an ophthalmologist’s chair.

The new property may well be the ultimate extension of many years spent rescuing dubious treasures from junk shops and flea markets. Or perhaps it is simply a place to keep them.

When we first saw the blue house it was sad and empty, the only signs of life a few groceries left behind in the pantry. The home’s previous contents were piled high in the barn, awaiting an auction that must have been terribly difficult for the former owner who had collected in staggering quantities.

The scale of her efforts aside, she was probably not so unlike us, imaging the possibilities of a different life in a little seaside house surrounded by totemic pieces of the past.

In the three months before we took possession of the place, Greg and I devoted an inordinate amount of time to searching out the items that would fill the house up again. Our criteria were twofold: character-rich and budget-friendly.

Among the first finds was a fat, round wooden gear cast, once used to shape foundry molds for molten metal. Greg had no sooner pictured it on the wall of the new living room than it was in the back of his pick-up. An oar with a leather-wrapped handle also met our loose criteria, as did a two-pronged fish fork of the sort Greg’s grandfather once used to unload cod from a Newfoundland fishing boat.

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And so it began…

I knew Greg loved this property from the slow way he walked its one and a half acres, around the sturdy post-and-beam barn in need of a fresh red paint job, beyond the traditionally simple Lunenburg four-square house, and down the gentle slope to the salt water below.

We strode through unmown grass, fading to yellow in the cool November temperatures, kicked at the apples that lay rotting on the ground, an offering left behind by  deer that had clearly become regulars. The old homestead  did not offer the rugged shoreline that is Nova Scotia’s hallmark but rather a gentler take on the East Coast – a shallow inlet, dotted with islands, beautifully still, with water the colour of steel. Read More