Sometimes a sale like this is perfect: a historical property is sold out of family, to wonderful people who respect the house and are dedicated to updating it while retaining it’s original character and qualities.
Sometimes you get buyers who put shag carpeting over slate floors, and tear down handmade walnut wainscotting. Sometimes the buyers think the stone fireplaces are not *quite* the shade of stone they wanted, and so they buy that flexible permastone, and glue it over the real stone.
We got those people.
However, when the original family is of Scottish descent, they do not suffer fools gladly. The fact that they have been dead for more than two decades is irrelevant.
This is my great-grandmother, Josephine Ellen Green Muncy. As a young wife and mother, Josie had been responsible for the “elegant” touches around the homeplace: the slate entryway (stone off their own farm), the hand-carved walnut wainscotting lining the downstairs rooms, the English boxwood hedge (she had ordered the plants and had my great-grandfather haul them in the horse-drawn wagon from the train station), and the crowning touch, the goldfish pond just outside the bay windows of the music room.
When the house passed out of the family, the new owners tore out the original solid chestnut
front door, and installed an elaborate extra wide door, with leaded glass sidelights, and a huge handle. It’s proportions threw the look of the house off, but they loved it. It never hung properly, never stayed shut, came open at the oddest times, whether locked or not.
The next two changes worked in tandem with each other to clean up the yard: the English boxwoods were hitched, one by one, to the pickup truck and torn out. Every boxwood gave the truck a run for its money (anyone who has dug up a boxwood will understand this), and promptly burned out the truck’s transmission.
After the boxwoods were banished, the goldfish pond was drained and filled in, and a barbeque placed on top of it.
These changes greatly irritated my great-grandmother. Not having known her while she was alive, these new owners did not realize just how likely it was that she would feel compelled to correct their mistakes.
From that point on, the edges of the yard, where the boxwood had stood, would not tolerate another plant being placed there. The grass would not grow there. The weeds would not grow there. Entire flats of beautiful pansies would be carefully set out, watered and mulched. The next morning, they would be strewn around the yard, pulled up and tossed aside.
No matter how much fill dirt was added to the goldfish pond, it sank. The barbeque kept turning over in the soft fill, often times while it was full of briquets and steaks. And the area was always wet and muddy, which was odd, since the goldfish pond had never been spring fed, but had to be lined and maintained.
To add insult to injury, whenever they turned on the televison, the new owners would hear angry footsteps stomping down the front stairs, and watch that touchy front door fling itself open and slam shut. My great-grandparents had never tolerated a television in the house, as Josie was of the opinion that it was only for those of low intelligence, and a person’s time could be much better spent reading.
As it quickly became apparent to the newbies that they had made poor choices in home ownership, they nevertheless continued down their merry road of catastrophe. But this time, it was not just Josie’s attention they caught.
This time, it was my great-grandfather, Jesse. He was the one who had to cut the trees, plane, carve and stain the boards, and finally carry them all up to the house and install the beautiful walnut wainscotting. So when the new owners decide to tear it down, and put up imitation pine paneling, it was just too much.
For several months, a magnificent struggle ensued. During the day, the new owner would take down the wainscotting, lean it against a wall, then use his electric nail gun to put up the new fake pine paneling (courtesy of Home Depot). Perhaps his mistake was in not taking the old wainscotting out and burning it, or at least putting it in the barn. But every morning, the new paneling would be taken down and thrown across the hall, with the original walnut stock back up in its proper place, as if nothing had happened.
My great-grandfather was nothing if not stubborn, and consistent. In the library, the same deluded person who was trying to put up fake pine paneling, was also trying to glue fake Permastone to the actual stones of the fireplace. And every morning, he’d find the sheets of the fake stonework thrown out in the hallway, on top of the pine paneling.
The one change they tolerated (and who knows why) was the lime green shag carpet the wife laid over the slate entryway. Perhaps because it made less noise when they threw the paneling and Permastone on it.
The situation continued to escalate to the point that my great-grandparents felt the only way to get their point across was to simply look the intruders in the eye.
So one night, while the couple sat in their living room watching TV, the wife heard footsteps on the front porch. She turned to look out the front window, and saw Josie looking in at her, with an aggravated look on her face. Her husband saw Josie too, and got up to go to the door.
Of course there was no one there (you knew that was coming).
Several weeks later, the couple were keeping their 4 year old niece. That afternoon she stood
On the front porch waving up and shouting “Hi!”, and asking her aunt who was that man up on the hill. The aunt saw no one. The little girl said it was a tall old man dressed all in black, who waved back at her.
The stories all simmered for several years with the new owners, until one day when my mother and I decided to stop at the farm, and see if they might let us take pictures, even look inside.
Turned out they weren’t from the immediate area, but were very interested in the history of the house. We filled them in on the 238 years prior to their arrival, and then started listening to their stories.
They wanted to know who we thought was “in” their house. Seeing the wainscotting still leaning against the wall, the permastone leaning up on the front porch, and the sunken circle under the teetering BBQ, it was real apparent who was in “their” house.
Then the pictures I showed them of Jesse and Josie made their faces turn white.
I think they were trying to make amends when they offered us the elegant French doors that had been the entryway to the music room. Fortunately when they removed them, the furthest the doors went was the loft in the barn.
And they were happy to offer us the last remaining boxwood that they had never been able to pull out. Oddly, for us, it came up almost like it knew we were family.
Today the boxwood is three times as large as it was and perfectly happy planted in my dad’s
garden. The French doors have been cleaned and are ready to fit in my daughter’s bedroom.
Are Jesse and Josie still at home? I don’t know—I haven’t been back since. It wouldn’t surprise me. Scots are known for their tenacity and their attention to detail.
Even in the afterlife.