This is part of the series, The House on High Street. The entire series is indexed here.
The house on High Street in 1997, 10 years after we first saw it
This continues the story of our life with an antique colonial home in New Hampshire, which began here. Note: I have a correction to make--we first saw the house in Feb. 1987, not Dec. 1985, as I first wrote. I will eventually get "before" and "after" photos online, as soon as my new computer establishes communication with my old printer/scanner.
When we last left the saga of the house on High Street, we had finally become the owners of a tidy little mortgage, a possibly romantic and certainly historical house and semi-attached barn (well, the part that was supposed to be connecting them was kind of falling down), and the adjoining one and a half acres. It had taken several months to complete all the complicated bits of real estate business: Selling our nice little remodeled 19th century home on the other side of town (the simplest part of the proceedings), wrangling with sensible bankers who naturally balked at the sagging foundation, dealing with New England contractors who promised everything in the way of estimates for shoring up the foundation and then never showed up, several inspections by various people, and more contact with the "B" family than I ever wished for.
While we waited, we spent several pleasant hours one afternoon going through the house from cellar to attic (except for the mother's room which we still hadn't seen) with a very knowledgeable home inspector who was a fan of antique homes. He explained how the ancient-looking blackened beam by the stairs in the back hall had probably been recycled from an even earlier building. He showed us how the big beams in the barn were hand hewn and then notched so that they would fit together, all while they were on the ground. Pairs of Roman numerals were then carved into the beams, so that the puzzle would all fit together nicely when they were hoisted up to where they were eventually joined. It was amazing to us that this careful joinery, together with whittled wooden pegs, allowed for such frugal use of the hand-forged nails.
It wasn't until a lovely day in June that we were able to move in, and for some reason the "B" family had chosen that very day to move out. They were a feckless lot, I have to say. While I packed up our stuff into numbered and labeled boxes, there in our little house on the other side of town, I had wondered who would do the packing up in the upstairs bedrooms of the Kelley House--the rooms where the mother never went and where the children had been casting off used clothes onto the floor for what could have been several years. When we arrived with our first load, we were surprised to find them still loading their cars and trucks, cheerfully tossing everything out of the second floor windows onto the lawn below, where some of their innumerable siblings would grab the stuff up by the armload and throw it into the nearest back seat. They seemed to be having a lot more fun than I was. Eventually, as we waited out front, they stashed the last of their dirty laundry, and started backing vehicles out of the driveway.
I had hardly dared to consider the house mine while the B's were still milling around, but I have to admit that some of the romance of owning a centuries-old historical property was starting to get to me. I took in a great breath of the huge, fragrant rose bush growing out front--Mrs. B had told me from her bed in the closed room that she had started it years ago from a slip of a rose on her auntie's farm in Maine--and started around the corner of the house toward the kitchen door. As the last of the sweet rose smell left my nostrils, I almost gagged at the sickening stench coming from a sort of brownish, bubbling place in the ground behind the house. Wait--was that the smell of...? I had grown up with plumbing that was sensibly and mysteriously attached to some city pipes somewhere, so I had no reason to suspect that there was any other kind of system. Shoulders heaving, head reeling, hand clasped over my mouth, I lurched back around the corner, questions for the "B" family crowding my mind--only to see the last of their tail lights disappearing down the road. Their many arms were waving and their smiling faces peering out the back windows, as the sound of their laughter faded slowly in the sunny, and suddenly quite stinky, June air.