As anyone with an old lake place knows, when you tear into one project in the springtime, there’s about a ninety percent chance that you are going to find ten other things that need addressing before you can do the one thing you hoped to accomplish. I was bemoaning this fact to my Auntie a week ago. The house was built by my great-grandparents right after World War II. She told me that even then, her grandmother wasn’t happy with the lumber used for construction. No wonder, then, that when the east wall was stripped of its siding last month, that there were some things that needed fixing.
The upside? Now that some of the holes have been filled and joists raised back where they belong, we may have fewer mice like the one I discovered fully decomposed in the three inches of pink anti-freeze in the toilet yesterday. And even better, after nearly seven decades, there is finally insulation in the wall that faces the river.
I raked the leaves out of my grandmother’s Snow-on-the-Mountain as well as the ferns she planted on the shady side of the house and picked up about 400 sticks last week while I was up there. My great-grandmother’s rose bush by the road survived one more winter. Next weekend will be a work weekend up there, as most weekends with a lake place tend to be. My aching shoulders remind me that I need to slow down.That I’m running a marathon and not a sprint where upkeep of the place is concerned. I’m lowering my standards around there, which is not in my nature, but necessary. When I look around and see all that needs to be done, I would be lying if said that there weren’t times when I wish I had the nerve to stick a For Sale sign in the front yard and go on with my life. Family places like ours are both a blessing and a burden, to be sure.
But here’s the thing. Family places like ours stay in families like ours. Families with deep, deep, roots planted next to the river. Generations of people with long memories of the friendly ghosts who show up late at night to check on sleeping babies. Ghosts who stand looking out the window above the kitchen sink and putter at the work bench with tools striped in green paint in the dank garage with the cracked floor. Ghosts who sit in metal lawn chairs smoking cigars and listening to the crack of a Twins bat on a scratchy transistor radio on soft, summer, evenings.
We are celebrating the birth of another family baby this spring. His name is Levi. He doesn’t know it yet, but someday when I am one of those old ghosts wandering the house late at night instead of the living, breathing, great-auntie he hasn’t met yet, he may wonder why the house by the river is still there for his children. When that day comes, I hope someone explains to him that it was because of a whole lot of people he never knew who believed that a spot of ground next to a river mattered a lot.
People who believed with all their hearts that an old house full of memories would be good emotional insulation for future generations in an often cold and scattered world.