By Lisa Whaley
I ran into my first love the other day.
Neither tall, dark nor handsome, this love was instead two stories high, drafty and in need of a lot of work.
Yet somehow it tugged at my heart like nothing else before.
At that time, so many years ago, I was single and had always dreamed of living in an old place — but thought it was beyond my reach.
Then I toured the house.
Estimated to have been built in the mid-to-late 1800s, the house used electric “stack” heaters for warmth, well-placed trees for cooling and relied on a nearby spring for water. Strange combinations of paint and wallpaper were everywhere. Half-finished projects, including an upstairs room stripped to its two-by-fours, were scattered throughout the house.
I can still picture the mattress, sans frame, laying on the brown linoleum in a downstairs parlor.
But all I could really see at that moment was its five fireplaces, reminiscent of an earlier era; the ornate, carved wooden staircase and upstairs landing; the tall windows; and the gingerbread-decorated front porch.
I could imagine ladies in big hats and long skirts getting ready for a picnic, hear the rattle of horses and their harnesses as they made their way to the nearby barn after a hard day of work in the fields and smell the aromas of wood smoke, coal and the cooking of long-ago suppers.
I was captivated. And like the whirlwind romance so clearly being mirrored, “old house” and I were soon wed with keys in hand and my name on the deed.
The following years were filled with sweet memories, as well as challenges met and lost. With the help of my long-suffering brother, I uncovered fireplaces, original floors and gorgeous hardwoods.
About two years into the house, I met my real love, Tim. We married and soon had two daughters to raise in a house that seemed to have been created for the warmth of family and the laughter of children.
Not that it was all smooth sailing. There were days when the water from the spring quit running, and we would melt snow in the winter or walk down to the creek in the summer to keep us all going. Gallons of store-bought spring water was also always on hand for such occasions.
Cold weather often meant a move for the whole family to the “study” which we had equipped with a propane stove. And running out to the front porch to reset the breakers became a regular occurrence after we found that the house’s current electrical system couldn’t support, for example, two heaters and a hairdryer.
Yet there were also the nights sitting on the side porch with our girls, Ginny and Mary, singing old mountain ballads passed down from my grandma Rosa and my grandpa Brownlow. The annual “honeysuckle festival” welcoming summer each year, established by Ginny and Mary and conducted on top of the old honeysuckle-covered log in the backyard. And the many dinners, snacks and family celebrations held in front of an original fireplace in our old-fashioned kitchen.
I honestly believed I would live out the rest of my life in that old country farmhouse, but the day finally came more than eight years ago when I recognized that it was time to go.
The house and its needs were just too big for our small family; the costs to keep it running too great. And my dreams of what I could do had long been replaced by the frustration of all that still needed to be accomplished.
I cried when we left, telling “old house” that we would find someone to love it even better than we had.
We sold it to a family with their own growing children and their own dreams of what it could be.
Then, this past month, “old house” showed up on realtor.com.
Photos revealed lots of restoration and repairs. The price was right and, against our better judgement, Tim and I stopped by to tour the property.
A new roof had been added to its top. Its former one-bathroom status had been changed to three. The upstairs had finally been finished. The kitchen had been expanded.
But the side porch was gone, turned into a walk-in closet. The front parlor that had once been our bedroom was now a state-of-the-art media room. The upstairs bedroom, once the domain of my youngest, had lost a fireplace but had gained a bathroom.
Oh, the pull was still there, whispering to me quietly while the realtor described the property. I had to fight the urge to grab a pen and sign on the dotted line. But in my heart I knew this was my house no longer. Another family had worked for nearly a decade to make it their own. And soon, someone else would take up the baton, adding another page in its history.
My husband, when we first made plans to tour the house, said these wise and prophetic words.
“It’s like reconnecting with an old girlfriend,” he said with a wry smile. “It seems like a good idea on paper, but when you meet, you know it just wouldn’t work.”
Like the old house, our family had changed. And it was once again time to move on.