The day my husband and I met we drove past what, three years later, would be our first proper home. We didn’t know that of course, we didn’t know we’d get married, we didn’t even know we’d ever see each other after that day. So we definitely didn’t think about the old woman living in a small white house up a narrow gravel drive off the highway. We never even noticed the driveway.
Three years later we bought the house, which was something of an ordeal, in part because that narrow gravel drive crosses through about 15 feet of national forest. After many phone calls to many people in marginally official positions, everyone agreed that no one really cared. So after two very long years in Maine we came home to Kentucky. We had never seen the inside of the house, but for a peek through the kitchen window. We came in the night before we signed the contract, camped in the yard and waited until the next afternoon when we could get the keys. I was seven weeks pregnant and rapidly developing hyperemesis (severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy). We sat in the shade of the front porch framed with two planters on either side of the concrete steps. The flowers, like the woman who planted them, were long dead, but in my mind I thanked her for leaving them there as I threw up in both of them.
We spent the next days, months, and years making the house our own. It was a nice house, clean, and clearly loved. It only ever knew one family. They had built the first room in the 50’s, and added on from there. The decor wasn’t quite to my taste, but it grew on me. I remember thinking “linoleum in every room is an interesting choice”. Then after we had been there a week, and I had thrown on every floor linoleum was the only appropriate choice for flooring.
She hadn’t been big on electricity. The big bedroom didn’t have any wiring, and the little bedroom just had one lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, no outlets. There was one ceiling light in the living room, kitchen, and bathroom, and one outlet for each of those rooms, but that was all. The kitchen however, had a hole left in the cabinetry for a dishwasher, but nowhere to plug one in at. I asked about that later and learned that her husband had put the cabinets in like that so she could have a dishwasher, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
She left the fridge behind, and a giant deep freeze in the bedroom closet. We had break the edges off the door frames to get them out. I guess the were never meant to leave.
She had never moved out, she just got old and died. On the couch, as it turned out, that we had been sitting on for several weeks before we ever knew that. Her family had taken what mattered to them, but some things stayed behind, little things mostly. A box of recipes, cleaning supplies, bug spray, just little things.
I say little, but there was a lot of cleaning supplies. Many things I didn’t recognize. As I sorted through them I thought to myself everything here has a use somewhere in this house. That’s when I discovered Old English Furniture Polish, which completely changed the world. Our old scratched and dinged furniture took on a whole new look with the scuff marks covered up.
One day my husband asked me for a yard stick! Who ever thinks to buy a yard stick when they’re setting up house? But tucked away in between two studs in the laundry room was a yard stick, and when that one eventually broke it was okay because there were four more.
Then a big rain came, and there were ants in the house, and as every reasonable person knows ants are the second scariest animal in the world, preceded only by spiders. I didn’t have any ant poison, but tucked way back under the sink was some old poison, the kind you can’t buy anymore. And then there were the spiders, but it was okay because she left me two and a half cans of Raid specifically for spiders, and a can for hornets, and two cans for ants. I stopped spraying the spiders eventually since most of them were big enough to just shoot.
The canning shed was still full of vintage jars in all sizes, including around twenty gallon jars. Like everything else, they were pristinely clean. When I needed to hang our woolens out to dry there was already a wire line stretched on the back porch, clothespins still hanging from it. We’ve turned old tires into tomato and potato planters. Old tools have been given new handles, or in some cases turned into new tools. The carport became a barn, the smokehouse a forge. The old things have been finding new life.
Some things though, have stayed a mystery. For instance, why would anyone choose blue and brown floral wallpaper, or what am I supposed to do with the dress tie and razor blade hanging in the shed? But all things must have their purpose.
I hear from everyone that she was very kind and hardworking woman. No one has ever had a bad thing to say about here. I wish we had met her just once, and I wish I could thank her. I’m sure she wasn’t thinking as her time came nearer that her furniture polish and bug spray would become a young wife and new homemaker’s starter kit to help find her way. But I’ve thought about her sometimes when I come across something new, an old newspaper clipping of a recipe, or an interestingly shaped jar in the shed, and I wonder what I will leave behind.
We’re leaving our old house now and moving to a new doublewide further back on the property. No one has lived in this house before so it is up to me to fill it with all those little things that make a home work. As happy as I am here, my children may not want to stay here after I die. They may go start their own farms, or even move to the city, and then my land, and my home will go on to someone else. I hope whatever I leave will be useful, even if it’s just shinier furniture, dead spiders, and a few mysteries.