*This post originally appeared in September 2014. It is the last post in a trilogy titled, Green Hill Farm: A Retrospective. I posted the second part of this journey yesterday as I am celebrating the completion of the restoration of my home and fifteen years of living on Green Hill Farm this month. A kind thank you to everyone who took the time to read or re-read Retrospective #2 last week.
In looking back on the experience of saving my family’s homeplace, I’ve realized that not only was it a gesture of love, but more importantly, it was an act of faith. Faith, or wearing my rose-colored glasses as I like to say, sustained us through difficult times and propelled us forward. I don’t know where we would have been without it.
At the beginning of this journey, shortly after my parents offered us the homeplace, my mom and I took a walk through the house. I remember walking through the dark, dimly lit downstairs hallway, the musty smell of rooms left undisturbed for too long, and cobwebs carefully covering yesterday’s treasures. I remember slowly climbing the stairs, counting each one as I went up. It made me think of Granddaddy. He once shared a story of the time his Grandmother Rieley visited when he was just a boy; She asked, “John, how many steps are there?” He quickly replied, “Sixteen!” He told me that he knew the answer because of the many, many times he had carried firewood up these very same stairs.
So, after climbing all sixteen steps and arriving at the top, I began to look around. Metal and plastic buckets and maybe even a pot or two sat strategically placed to catch any drips of water. I glanced around the hallway and rooms, surveying the water-stained ceilings, peeling wallpaper, and crumbling plaster with bits of lathe peeking through. My eyes settled on an old, discolored mop-head that someone had, in a matter-of-fact manner, shoved above one of the doorways; I wasn’t exactly sure why it was there, but I didn’t dare move it. At this point, it might be the ONLY thing holding up the house! Looking around, I felt the need to sit down. As I sat on a small, antique bed covered with one of Grandma’s beloved Afghans, the sun streamed into the room and made blocks of light on the floor. I bent over with my face in my hands. I felt SO overwhelmed. Thoughts of, “I don’t know a contractor who could fix ALL THIS, and what in the world will it COST?” tripped over each other in my mind. That is, until they were steadied by my mom’s voice–”Wouldn’t it be something if y’all could save this old place? Just think of the family history.” I had not heard her come into the room. I sat up and considered. As we walked back through the water damaged rooms, down the sixteen steps and into the dark, musty, cobweb-filled hallway, I started to envision the house full of light and air with freshly painted walls and refinished floors. I could see family heirlooms lovingly placed in each of the rooms, and I could hear voices and laughter throughout the house once more. At this point, my rose-colored glasses were firmly in place for the duration.
However, the voices initially heard throughout the house were not those of my descendants, relatives, or friends, but those of the men who were working to save it. Many days ahead would be filled with trials, tears, and anticipation. There were days of workers quitting, because the house was just too challenging; It was dusty, dirty, and completely without any square angles. The house was also solid brick—four courses thick. So, trying to run wire through a house with that much brick earned it the moniker, “The House from Hell.” Of course, it didn’t help that our electrician was called Squirrel. There were also the days of getting no work done at all. And there were plenty of those, too. Change order after change order after change order was filed–27 to be exact. That’s A LOT of change orders as well as frustration and expense. I remember conversations of me asking Farmguy, “What do you mean we can ONLY afford patio doors but NO windows in the sunroom? How’s the sun supposed to get in?” Not only were we stressed out, but we were running out of money and patience. It was a difficult time, but underneath the strain and chaos there was a sense of what this place would mean to us, and an idea of the life that we could create.
I remember one cold, but sunny day in December when we weren’t even halfway through the restoration, and my brother-in-law visited from Atlanta. We walked through the house assessing the progress… and lack of it. At the end of the house tour, we found ourselves in the guest room upstairs that happens to have a wonderful view of our old barn. As we stood in the middle of the room—void of all plaster with only lathe showing, I motioned toward the window facing the dilapidated barn and enthusiastically announced, “That’s where I’m going to have sheep!” My brother-in-law turned toward me with a look of bewilderment on his face that quickly turned to humor, and said, “ What do you mean SHEEP!? You don’t even have walls, yet!” We both laughed. He was right! I knew he was right. Besides, I didn’t really know anything about sheep—much less where to get them. But, I did have faith: faith that there would be walls, and faith that there would one day be sheep.
Here’s the thing: Toward the end of our house restoration journey there had been many days that we felt sick, tired, and fed up, but we never gave up. We never gave up, and we continued to have faith that it would all turn out well in the end. I remember after a tough year and a half, our contractor admitting, “ This has been the hardest, most difficult job I’ve ever taken on in my 25 years of building, but it’s the one of which I’m the proudest.” He was right. It was tough, but it had been worth it. Not only were we proud, but we had saved a 200 year-old home, where for almost 100 years, many of my family members had been born, lived, and died. I’d come to the opinion that most things in life are redeemable, and with enough love and faith almost anything can be transformed for the better. I had also realized that we weren’t really at the end of our journey, because the truth is…life IS the journey. And a good pair of rose-colored glasses sure do come in handy along the way!