My house was built in 1824. Like many rural houses of its era, it’s got a barn attached. This fact once dazzled some of my college friends, who grew up in the suburbs of New York City. The dinner table conversation went something like this:

“You have a barn?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you have horses?”

“No.”

“Goats? Sheep? Anything like that?”

“Um, no. Just the dog, but he doesn’t live in the barn.”

“Well, why do you have a barn then?”

There is no “why.” There is only barn. (The barn is currently used for storage and is home to a pair of worryingly territorial pigeons.)

Since moving back into the house from the big city (Gorham), I’ve been getting back into the country rhythms. There are many things in our house that are old, anachronistic – at times it’s basically 1910, but with Wi-Fi.

We have two woodstoves, and two fireplaces. The woodstoves, we use frequently – one in the family room, which, after the fire has been going for an hour or two, becomes a toasty den for movie-watching – and one woodstove in the kitchen, which helps heat one of the upstairs bedrooms, in addition to creating a gathering space in the center of the house. Janey has a dog bed in front of it, and it has become her favorite wintertime snoozing spot. Sometimes the cat joins her and yes, it is the cutest thing I have ever seen. Most evenings, my mom and I hang out in the kitchen.

I’m writing this column from my armchair in the corner. (We don’t use the open fireplaces much anymore, because the technique for getting a good blaze going in them is different from the woodstove technique, and my dad was the fireplace specialist. Mom does woodstoves.) The power used to go out a lot in the winter when we were younger, and my mom cooked on them. Sometimes she still does. In order to keep the air in the room from drying out, we put a pot or pan of water on the stove. It doesn’t boil, it just sort of simmers away. DIY humidifier.

The house was built before electricity was invented and channeled and used to shape our society, so it functions well enough without it. The wiring in our house is incredibly shoddy, and the outlets are in weird places, and none of the heating vents are located anywhere that makes sense. We conjecture these things were installed shortly after the invention of electricity, by a house resident who saw it and thought, “Hey, I can do that just as good as the professionals!” (They could not.) I suspect the indoor plumbing was also a later invention, as none of the bathrooms has a heat source within them. This would be a big step up from, say, going to an outhouse in the middle of the night in January, but for those of us used to more modern conveniences, it makes for chilly showers.

The house has many small rooms that are easily closed off from one another, thus trapping the scarce heat. (During the ice storm of ’98, we all lived in the family room for nine days. Now we mostly just close off my brother’s bedroom. It’s a real heat-sucker.) To this day, I continue to be opposed to open-floor plans in cold climates. (So expensive to heat!)

We have no air conditioning, either. We don’t really need it. We can shut off the stuffiest doors, and we have the sunset-to-sunrise window technique. On hot days, when the sun sets and the outside world cools off, we open all the windows that have screens to let in the night air. Then, at dawn, someone gets up, closes all the windows and draws the curtains. This traps the cool air inside. With a couple of strategically located fans, we’re usually good until the next sundown.

The upside to having a well is that we get Poland Spring-quality water out of our taps constantly. The downside is that when the power goes out, the water goes out. When big storms are scheduled, we fill up the bathtub with water in advance, just in case we have to gravity-flush the toilet. Oh, you don’t know what gravity flushing is? It’s when you take a large mixing bowl (or pitcher) of water and dump it directly into the middle of the toilet, and then you pray for gravity’s mercy.

My parents always said these minor inconveniences and quirks built character. I’m not entirely sure if that’s correct, but they make me appreciate things like central heating even more. And while it’s not the Ritz-Carlton by any means, it’s home, and I’m grateful to belong here.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial

 

 


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