We got a much-anticipated call this week – the fire department is going to burn down the old farmhouse on April 29th!
The fire chief had originally wanted to do all sorts of training exercises in the house, but when he stepped into the house the first time he immediately realized that wasn’t going to happen. The house is basically a bunch of kindling; 1895 balloon framing with no fire breaks, dry rot and all the like. My guess is that the group of volunteer firefighters will get enough training just trying to keep it from becoming a raging inferno once it gets going.
My feelings about all this are a mixture of elation and, surprisingly, regret.
Every time I walk into that house my eyes water and my throat constricts. The smell of urine and feces and decomposing bodies is almost unbearable. If you’ve never been in a house infested by rats and mice, swallows and bats, well dear god just keep it that way. Don’t go in. Not only does it smell terrible, it can actually be very harmful (sometimes even fatally so) to your health. The thought of my girls living in that farmhouse, even cleaned out and fixed up, makes me feel panicky. There is just no way.
I grew up in a hundred-year-old home. I am a fourth generation native of the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. I like old things and I like old houses. I like their history, I like their character, I like the quality of their materials and the craftsmanship it took to build them. As odd as it sounds, I like the thought of being just one more in a long line of people through the decades and the centuries who have called the house their home. Who have lived out their wildly different stories with the same backdrop.
For those reasons, I would have liked to fix up the farmhouse and had my girls grow up in the same house their dad grew up in. I would have liked to have been able to restore her to her original charm. To her original grace. But I am no carpenter, and I am not rich, and honestly I am not that adventurous or adaptable either.
And so we scheduled this burn-down, and it was hard.
But! I am so excited to build a new house here, too. To plant our children’s roots in this place, to construct a nice, sturdy, well-built house that, god willing, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren will one day call home. A new house for a new chapter.
Actually, let’s call this a brand new book.