History, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog, This Old House

Living in the White House

Living in a white house is like wearing a white shirt to a cookout….its going to get dirty, something dripped on it, and eventually things are going to start looking dull.

The White House has been quite dull for quite a while, its last paint job being well over 10 years ago. After countless storms, winter slush, and a particularly nasty hail storm – that really did a number on our cars – it was in desperate need of a touch up.

Pre-PaintingSo this summer, we scrapped and painted the old white house, and let me tell ya – it’s looking good these days.

My Poppaw is a firm believer that everything – and I literally do mean everything – can be done with the aid of a tractor. So instead of using a good old trusty ladder….we used a front end loader.

Just beam me up Stephen!

I, however, found a much more suitable use for the tractor. It’s surprisingly comfortable and cozy….as long as you don’t mind getting red dirt all over your clothes.

In reality, I only spent about half an hour making myself at home in my new favorite nap spot. While Stephen and Poppaw were busy painting the back side of the house, I worked on scrapping the front bannisters.

Let me go ahead and say….any paint scraping by hand ends up being a lot of work with very little benefit to show for your efforts. Plus, you end up with a load of paint chips stuck in your hair and on your face.

So why waste all that time scraping away? Why not just use a common heat and chemical paint remover? Well, there are two really good reasons.

One – we didn’t want to light our house up like a bonfire on a chilly October night. After much research, we discovered that quite a few common chemical paint removers are highly flammable, and solid wood homes of a certain age – like ours – tend to catch on fire.

Two – our chickens do not, sadly, lay golden eggs. The non-flammable water based paint removers are a bit pricey, and were way outside of the budget. We loved our house enough to spruce it up and make sure that we didn’t burn it down in the process, but not enough to go broke on.

The old white house looks a world better these days – almost like a new. There are still some needed repairs to the front porch, but its nice knowing that our major summer project is out of the way and that we are no longer embarrassing the neighbors.

History, Pleasant Hill Ponderings Blog, This Old House

Old House vs. Storm

Recently, I’ve been watching Storm Chasers, the show where lunatics try to intercept tornadoes and live to speak about it. After a tornado dissipates, the storm chasers often ride through the aftermath and survey damage. Depending on the strength of the tornado, damage ranges from a few downed limbs to completely flattened towns.

Of course, if our old farmhouse were, Lord forbid, in the path of a tornado, it wouldn’t stand a chance. During thunderstorms, Natalie says it’s both a comfort and concern to know our house is 118 years old. It’s weathered worse storms than this, she’ll say, but then again it was a bit younger when it did.

The house is your typical old farmhouse, built by a cotton farmer, Natalie’s great-great grandfather, out of old hand-hewn timber. In the inner layers of the plaster, we can still see animal hair, the predominate binding agent used in plaster in the 1800s. Apparently, the animal hair was effective, as our house still stands over 100 years later. Still, sometimes in the midst of a severe  thunderstorm, the fact that our house is held together by hand-hewn timbers and animal hair is a little disconcerting. Hopefully, a big, bad tornado, will never huff and puff and blow our house built of sticks in.

The backsides of our walls still have animal hair in the plaster

Interestingly, the original boards and timbers have stood the test of time better than the brick chimneys. About 10 years ago, Natalie’s Poppaw cut down the two main chimneys down and closed them up. Unfortunately, the mortar was crumbling and the chimneys were unstable.

The chimneys and fireplaces are now out of commission

If ever caught in the path of a bad storm, we only have the lone closet for protection from windows. It’s amazing to think that this one closet, about the size of a phone booth, once accommodated a family of nine. In the past, what clothes folks had were apparently kept in wardrobes and trunks. In any event, when a strong thunderstorm rolls through, Natalie goes into emergency mode, and we crouch down in the closet with couch cushions over us.

So far, so good. Although the house sometimes sounds like it’s getting ready to blast off in thunderstorms, we’re all, house included, still firmly on the ground.