This I Believe

Holly - Orange, Virginia
Entered on January 24, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I believe that old houses, like old friends, make great company.

My friends thought I was crazy buying this run-down cape-cod farmhouse with a red tin roof at age 28–they knew I could barely wield a hammer. So did everyone on this country road–they knew what shape the house was in. It was missing all six upstairs windows, it had no heat, no air, no insulation, the kitchen floor sagged under the weight of the only stove in the place—a behemoth iron wood burning cook stove, and one of the chimney’s leaked. If people wrote country songs about abused houses, this house’s jingle would have been a tear-jerker with its “punched out” walls, “walked-all-over” unfinished floors, and “left alone” look–it stood empty for years.

But old houses speak to me. I grew up in a 1930s farmhouse in the once quiet town of Crozet, VA. That farm is still the setting in many of my nighttime dreams. I guess she was the first to speak to me.

And this year, finally ready to buy a house of my own, I toured and bid on many old “two over two” and “three over three” farmhouses. None of those offers were accepted. Fate, I guess, leading me to this house.

On my first visit to “Aged Oak,”(that’s what I call her) I didn’t even get out of the car. My boyfriend and I turned around—crossing this cape off our list. But a month later, with it still on the market, we took another look. And then another. And then another.

In June, she was ours. Last week, I moved in. It took us that long—7 months—to renovate. And I’ve learned so much along the way. I’ve learned to drive a nail, finish furniture, sand down drywall, prime, and paint. I’ve learned to hang doors, and install antique doorknobs, and knock down chimneys, and scrape, and studfind, and drill. Now, I’m the one my friends go to when they have a “fix-it job.” Me, the girly-est of my chick clan.

More importantly, it’s brought me closer to my parents, whose endless, boundless help brought my dad up here daily and my mom here every weekend to guide the process. It is to them I give full restoration credit—they taught me everything I know by driving, finishing, sanding, scraping, painting, hanging, installing, and drilling right beside me. But I like to think I saw the potential in this place. And I’m so proud.

Now, when company comes to visit—the nay saying neighbors and the head-shaking friends—I think they are in awe. The fir floors with their red undertones gleam, the banister and stairs wait for a stately ascent, the fireplace glows, the kitchen warms, and the front-porch with rockers and swing tempt a seat for repose even on the coldest day. I hope now, they too, can hear old houses speak. I hope many more in America, with so much custom-built new construction, will consider at some point, instead of building, restoring a farmhouse. Think of the stories of those houses—and believe in their potential beauty. You cannot build charm into a house—no matter how many designers you consult. Charm comes with history, and age, and scuffs, and love. And when you restore, you’re saving someone of yesteryear’s American dream while also making one of your own.

This house has a very quiet voice, and one I did not immediately hear. But I believe I can hear her now—she says “thank you.”