Old House Responsibilities

Owning an old house comes with certain responsibilities, at least I’ve always felt that way.  We are currently responsible for two, each in a vastly different time period.  The newest one was built in 1840.  As you know the house at Fort Pelham Farm was built around 1800.

Over the years I’ve done research about its past occupants – more or less a genealogy since it remained in the same family until 1941 with the sale of the house.  It’s easy to make assumptions about why the house left the family.  Olive was the last child of a long line of occupants and with no children of her own the ownership would eventually leave the family anyway.

Sale of House 1941

Olives parents had moved away from farming for the most part by the time the property went up for sale.  They were taking in borders who enjoyed the summers in Rowe and were also feeding people their chicken dinners – a sign for that remains in the museum.

Olive died in 2001 and two of her photo albums made their way back to Rowe.  I scanned each page that she had lovingly put together and it was easy to tell what a loss the sale of the property had been to her.  There was such great pride at being part of that family history.  She had marked almost every photograph and written her family history on the back of one.

As anyone who has owned a house of this age knows the upkeep on a house this age can be overwhelming at times.  For me one of the biggest challenges is how to keep the historical aspects of the house while maintaining its livability.  No easy feat.  More often than not the only thing you have to go on is research on other homes built around the same time period, some old photographs and the knowledge of historians that have gone about the restoration of other properties like yours.  For me there have been a few aha moments – one of which was the albums resurfacing.

There were a number of photographs taken of the interior of the house showing various furnishings and how they were set in the living room.

Dining Room at Fort Pelham Farm 1930's (7)

After looking at these it kind of sent me on a mission to find similar pieces into order to fill this room as we renovated it.

Dining Room at Fort Pelham Farm 1930's (6)

Any reader out there that is remotely engaged with antiques will readily recognize that without an unlimited budget this was never going to happen.

A few weeks ago there was a message on my answering machine from a man who told me he had furnishings that originally belonged to Pardon Haynes family.  When I called he explained he was the nephew of Olive’s through her husband and had inherited her furniture when she passed away.  He felt the furniture and other belongings should make their way back here thinking that Fort Pelham Farm was part of the Rowe Historical Society.  He was having them appraised and then would donate them for the tax write off.  I told him I would pass the info along to those who could help him.  When I did I found that he had already contacted someone at the museum.  I was relieved.

In talking with a couple of members of the society the excitement about this donation was palpable.  I cannot wait to see and touch these things.  I feel like there would be some sort of unseen connection to the past.  The spirits of this house lived with those things, used them, treasured them, passed them down.  I know they are inanimate objects but having lived in this house I know it’s the way it is because of the people who have lived here.

I do know that space is tight at the museum and offered to keep furnishings in the house they originated in – willing to insure and keep the house open to anyone that wanted to view and study them.  One woman said the museum could always sell them.

Uhm . . .

So at this point I just hope someone will let me know if and when they arrive so I get a chance to photograph and study them.  And touch and imagine what they might have looked like in the very room I’m writing in now.

Finishing Up

140929 DawnThe sunrise view from my current bedroom window is amazing, especially in the spring and fall.

The dumpster project, now affectionately called, is almost complete.  Two more days before it goes.  It’s been a crazy journey.

The attic was finished Saturday morning.  Everything that was going was pitched out of the window a few days before and I spent the last two days sweeping, then vacuuming with a shop vac.  During the sweeping phase I finally decided to wear a respirator, the dust was extreme.  My father and I figured the last time it was swept was around 1946 – no lie.

It was a sentimental journey through the rooms on the third floor.  Sentiment mixed with disbelief that so much stuff was just thrown up there and forgotten.  Houses had been cleaned out.  Things I recognized from my grandparents homes and some from my great grandparents.  Fear not, most of it was categorized, packed and stored away.

There were treasures.  Big boxes of crap that had to be gone through, piece by piece because there were treasures.  My grandfather’s Hamilton pocket watch, a makeup compact from the ’20s belonging to a great-aunt, a small model train engine, books from childhood.  Photographs tucked in with report cards from my father’s elementary school days. There were scrapbooks and letters and journals from my high school years, reminders of a distant past now seeming like someone else’s life.  Toys, games, puzzles, all holding memories for me and my siblings of rainy days spent together. I don’t think anything was ever thrown away.

It has also lifted a great weight. It had felt as if that third floor was crushing down on the rest of the house.  A job I knew I was going to have to do in order to make my childhood home into the home I will spend the rest of my life in.

The last few days have been spent cleaning out and moving things around on the second floor.  All of this with the knowledge that we will be dealing will structural issues in the bedrooms, mostly crumbling lathe and plaster.  Nothing at all has been done up there since the early ’70s.  There isn’t heat up there (and currently it’s without power – a story for another day).  There was water damage years ago so ceilings are beginning to go.  These are the photographs you won’t see, unless I’m getting ready to do something with a pry bar and a hammer (respirator in place).  The photos recording before and after.

The grand motivation to all of this has really been the need I have to transform a room into a place to put my looms, my fiber, my fabric, my books.  Creativity for me doesn’t happen without making a big mess but I need that mess to be contained in it’s own space.  I brought home a third loom (yes, I now have three), last weekend.  It’s so large and heavy it will have to remain on the first floor so the two on the first floor will have to move to the second.  Along with the last two looms I’ve brought home has come their previous owners stashes of fiber.  Fun stuff but if you can’t see it you don’t use it.

I use situations like the looms as motivation to deal with the things I don’t want to do.  It really works for me.  That and having a 20 yard dumpster dropped in the side yard.  I work well under pressure and having that there really did the trick.  Although the past couple of days have seen decision fatigue set in and it’s become easier to throw things away. Fortunately I also have that saving gene and understand the importance of seeing the handwriting of my ancestors.  Things are categorized and saved and put back into the attic.  This time with some notes attached so in another 80 years or so when someone feels the need to clean out they will have a better idea of why this stuff was saved.


Throwback Thursday and Some Thoughts on Cleaning Out

540707 Alix-Martin Wedding (14)

The date was July 7, 1954, my mother and father’s wedding day.  This photograph, of all of them, is my favorite.  All the players are there, both of my grandfathers are looking on with smiles on their faces.  I recognize aunts, uncles, cousins, grands.  The photographer for this event was AMAZING.  Every shot was beautifully composed, exposed and printed.  This was back in the day of Speed Graphics and 4×5 sheet film, hand processed, hand printed.

The main reason for this post today is I’m waxing nostalgic about my mother’s wedding dress.  I threw it away yesterday.  I’m assuming that will be the most painful thing I get rid of and it wasn’t without trying to keep it, honest.  The dress was disintegrating, things had lived in the bag, it was stained.  I brought it to my sister’s house just to have confirmation that I was doing the right thing (there really wasn’t an option).  While there I took the scissors to it and cut off the train of tulle with the had applied lace and folded it to keep, the rest went into the dumpster.  There’s no going back on that one.

I’m taking solace in the fact that we do have those amazing photographs and those are really more important to me than a mouse and bug infested piece of satin and lace.



140831 Reunion

We spent the greater part of yesterday at a high school reunion.  This one was a little different, the first 10 classes of Mohawk Trail Regional High School gathered at the Charlemont Fairgrounds for a festival of sorts.  It felt like a small fair with the food vendors and class tents.  Bands played from the past all day long, whisking us back to youth with the power only music has on one’s memory.  There were activities, group photos, reminiscing along with a table of yearbooks and photographs that did and didn’t make the cut back in the day (how those survived 35+ years is beyond me).

This is the kind of thing that reminds you how close our communities are.  As I have said in the past, each town that sent kids to this regional school was a small town.  My class from Rowe consisted of four people (including me).  In school you make your lifetime friends I believe but for those of us that grew up in such small communities our town friends become our family.  Having the reunion encompass so many years, with my class right in the middle allowed us to not only visit with our classmates but reconnect with people we wouldn’t have otherwise.

In this age of social media we are fortunate to be able to stay connected with some of our favorite people with a touch of a few buttons.  It is an amazing world.  When I arrived at the reunion it was good to see so many of the people I talk to so often, it felt comfortable.  Then there were a few of those OMG moments. Those occurred when I recognized someone I never thought I would see at an event like this.

Good moments, moments of recognition, hugs, warmth, familiarity.  These were moments spent with the people I have known since I was 5 years old. Moments talking about age, family, life.  It was a time, however brief, when I felt like I was surrounded by the best parts of my family.  These are the people who know you so very well.  The interesting thing is that many of them I have not seen in a decade.  It’s the situation you find yourself in where you just pick up where you left off.

I read somewhere a long time ago that people who know each other from their youth always see each other as they were when they were young.  A trick of the mind.  So all of that graying hair, weight gain or loss, baldness falls away as the conversation begins – you are really seeing their soul in some respect, their essence. You see them as you know them and always have.

For me, that’s the amazing thing about these reunions.  While part of it always serves to remind me how quickly time passes I am quickly reminded that even with the passage of time we all are essentially still teenagers in our minds.

The Clocks

140405 Clocks (3)

This past Saturday morning the family clocks were taken from the house for cleaning and regulation.  They were taken by a man I have known since the early seventies.  I have known that something needed to be done with them for many, many years.  They used to run.  I missed their chimes and the deep tick tock of the oak wall clock.  There is nothing that whisks me back to childhood faster than closing my eyes and listening to that clock.  There were times at my grandparents house when it was so quiet that was all you heard (I have to add that it is a particularly loud clock).

140405 Clocks (2)

The story goes that this clock was taken from a factory by my grandfather.  They were replacing it with something else I assume, I’m also assuming it came from a woolen mill.  It was filthy, black I’m told.  He painstakingly took it apart, cleaned it up and got it working.  Then it was placed on the wall in his parlor on Stafford St.  There it ran for most of my life, it probably ran for a good deal of my father’s.  When my grandmother left the house for a nursing home it was the first thing that came to Rowe.  There it ran on the wall in the living room for another 20 or more years.  My children had the pleasure of growing up with it’s sound and presence for their childhoods as well.

140405 Clocks (4)

The workmanship on this clock is spectacular.  The woodwork, the brass is beautiful.  It is the sound that is most important to me though.  We complain about not knowing what time it is in the middle of the night because it no longer runs.

I have to tell you there was a little anxiety when these clocks went out the door on Saturday morning.  The only reason they did is through a conversation I had with someone the day before.  She told me her brother in law was repairing clocks now that he’d retired to Heath and gave me his phone number.  I went to high school with him, worked a summer job with him, knew where he lived.  The only other lead on clock repair I’d had was a guy in Conway.  I didn’t know him but I knew he was good – I just couldn’t call him.  I didn’t know where he lived and I couldn’t let them go.

I’ve been told it will take about 6 weeks to get them going again, they will then be returned, put in their respective spots and started up.  They will be worked on until they are running perfectly.  I’m beyond happy about this and so pleased they are with someone I know.  I’m also looking forward to waking up at 4:00 AM and knowing what time it is.









I have always contended that your birthday holds the most importance to your mother.  She was the one closest to the event, she was the one most profoundly affected by it, she is the one who holds those memories the closest.  In recent generations birthdays have been celebrated in a variety of ways from a simple cake to a “destination” party.  It wasn’t until I gave birth to my own children that I understood the reason for the celebration.  It’s your mother’s celebration. It’s a day of reminiscing about your birth, the stories are told.

I was always amazed that my mother would remember the minute I was born – 5:31 AM on a Saturday.  She would wake me up often at that time to wish me a happy birthday (although in the back of my mind I’m not sure that wasn’t some evil prank).  There was always a cake and a gift or two, the song was sung.  Our celebrations were always pretty subdued – but the story was told.  It helped shape who I am.

I remember the birth of each one of my children like it was yesterday.  Each one unique, each has their own story.  But, it’s not so much their story as it is mine.  You would think that the older they get the more the memories would fade but it’s in the celebration of each child’s birthday that keeps those memories so alive.  It’s in the telling of the stories that gives the events meaning and importance.

My mother has been gone for almost 25 years but she is the one I silently celebrate this day with, I remember the story.




End of the Season

140104 RaccoonAs quickly as they ramped up the holidays are now over.  This is an occasion for me to breathe a sigh of relief.  The last of the gatherings was this past weekend with all of my family together in one spot.  That’s a rare event but a most welcome one.  The preparations were made in the week before – I researched and made some Harry Potter themed food for my sister’s girls, my sister and my youngest.  Yes, they are all well into adulthood but there is nothing more exciting than experiencing some of the foods that you’ve only read about.  If I could have turned the living room into the great hall at Hogwarts I would have but alas my wand was nowhere to be found.

The traditions around the holidays for us center around food.  This being the first time in 15+ years my brother and sister have been together for a holiday celebration lead me to bring out the suet pudding recipe with the two sauces.  This is a dessert my kids have heard about their entire lives yet had no recollection of having tasted it.  The recipes and mold came to me from my aunt when she passed the responsibility of making the dessert on to me.  I diligently made it year after year until the girls were little and we began spending a good part of the holidays with Bill’s family.  The Alixes were scattered and no one else even considered eating something with the word suet in it.

My sister and brother were ecstatic to see it as dessert and my brother ate three helpings.  It greased the wheels of reminiscing about food and we talked about our comfort foods in exquisite detail. It amazes me the power of taste and smell to bring back memories from so long ago.  It was also wonderful to have my siblings and their families all together to share in the stories even though they find some of the things we eat on the line of disgusting.  You know, it’s never going to stop us from eating it.  I think next time we get together I will make mac and cheese with tomatoes and serve a side of sliced onions and cucumbers in a bowl of cider vinegar and the three of us will sit around the table and talk about childhood.  I’m not sure what the rest of the family will do for food.

Little Things

Little Things


Every year for the 18 or so years of my daughter’s lives I photographed them around this time of year for the annual Christmas card.  It was a personal challenge to send out the best photograph I could of them to all of our family and friends.

AJ & Cait with pumpkins

In the beginning I owned a photography studio in Enfield and was photographing many, many children – most of them were under 10 years old.  There was a decided difference in photographing my own and someone else’s.  The easy part is that these girls were conditioned to be photographed.  I knew the words and ways to make them smile a natural smile and I had nothing but time to spend doing it.  The difficulty came in the fact that they knew what buttons to push.

29878_1280170049944_5279775_nI would meticulously plan the dresses and where the photograph would be taken.  I would dress them and drag them to the desired location and wait for the light to be just so or set up the studio before they arrived.  Each session over the years had its problems (as every session always does). It also brought me great memories of the “behind the scenes” kinds of things that went on.  They would manipulate me and I would manipulate them as parents and children will always do.

Cait & Amanda in treeWhat seemed to every recipient of the yearly photograph to be of well behaved, well dressed little girls really was the product of hours of coercion, bribery, threats.  It was also, in the early years, the power of bathroom words.  Telling them to say something that they knew was considered a bad word took their minds off of the fighting between the two of them.

It’s this time of year that I look back fondly on those sessions – some great, some not so much.  They are the fabric of our collective past and what makes up a little part of who we are now and our relationship to each other.  I’m sure their perspective is totally different – everyone’s truth and story is but we are all on the journey together.

As the holiday season is upon us take the time to look at the little things that make up your traditions.  Take out those old dusty family photos (God knows mine are) and reminisce about what was important to you then with the loved ones you have now.  It can give you a fresh perspective on the journey you’re taking and bring home it’s the little things that really make up who you are.



Throw Back Thursday – Tracks and Wrecks

We have a couple of friends who work for the railroad, they are or were engineers for both Amtrak and freight.  They are interesting people to talk to.  I had a conversation one afternoon with one of them about the amount of time I had spent as a kid doing things related to trains or tracks or train wrecks.  I decided to dig through the archives and post just a few of the shots taken in the 60’s and early 70’s of us spending time on tracks.

630701 Trolly Mus Arundel ME (2)On every vacation we would have to stop at something that had to do with tracks – while this wasn’t a train it was a trolley at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Arundel, ME.  It seemed like no matter where we were going on vacation we could always make a stop at a place like this.

640715 Steamtown (3)Of course there was Steamtown, USA located in Bellows Falls, VT which was just close enough so we would go fairly often. It opened in 1963 and these photographs were taken in 1964.

640715 Steamtown (5)We would stand to have our picture taken, but most of the time we would watch my Dad climb all over and sit in the engineers seat on the various engines that were there.

640715 Steamtown (6)In 1984 Steamtown was moved to Scranton, PA and my father and mother made a trip to see it in its new incarnation.  He always knew where those locomotives were or were headed.

670215 Train Wreck (1)Then there were the train wrecks.  These were truly family events for us as kids.  Very rarely would we go with our Dad anywhere except on our once a year vacation.  If there was a wreck within a reasonable driving distance we went.  Often we would go on consecutive nights to see how the clean up was coming along.

670215 Train Wreck (2)This wreck was in Charlemont in the winter of 1967.  This was an exciting time for us.

670215 Train Wreck (3)This was also before the days of lawsuits and liability issues so when there was a wreck it took on a carnival atmosphere (maybe it was because I was a kid that it seemed that way).  People would walk around the wreckage – help clean out box cars taking home whatever they could (they would be called looters now – it was a different time).  We would go at night and watch them work under huge lights, part of a gallery of locals where this was about as much excitement as you could ask for on a February night.

710628 Clark's Trading Post (2)This last photograph was taken at Clark’s Trading Post in Lincoln, NH.  We went there a number of times on vacation but it was only in recent years that I realized it wasn’t because my parents loved Franconia Notch, it was more about going to Clark’s and seeing the locomotive that they had there.  We always had to take a ride on it and I’m sure Dad talked the ear off of the engineer.  While there we would also have to go to Mt. Washington and watch the locomotives for the Cog Railway come and go.  At the time they were steam and pushed the cars up the mountain.

In later years my father bought a 1923 Erie Steam Shovel (like the one in the children’s book  Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel).  He complete restored the multiple engines on it, had the boiler re-manufactured and would fire it up occasionally to delight and entertain family and guests.  He would contact the owners of Clark’s and talk with them about it because Clark’s was the only other place that had one that ran.  He sold it a few years ago to a man that wanted to finish the restoration, he didn’t want someone to scrap it.

There are still two large steam power plants on the property – one was used to power the sawmill.  The other was a steam generator he took out of a factory in Vermont.

Steam has been an all encompassing passion of my father’s his entire life.  He had always talked about putting tracks around the property so he could run a locomotive around it.  I always thought that was more to get a rise out of my mother but have come to understand that it was probably a sincere dream of his.  We may have been bored out of our minds on some of those trips to Steamtown but at the same time there is nothing I have found that gives me chills like a steam engine chugging it’s way along the tracks.

On Grandparents

560801 Jo & Mim

My Mimi (Lena Babineau Alix) with me – 1956

Last Friday a long time customer of ours came in to have the oil changed in her car.  She and her husband have been bringing their cars into us for over 25 years.  Her husband passed away a little over a year ago after doing battle with dementia for a number of years.  She was with him 6 days a week for over 3 years at the veterans hospital.

Before his illness they spent a good deal of their time outdoors.  He was an avid fisherman, they had a place in Maine, I believe on a lake.  Family was everything to them and all would spend many, many days fishing with their father/grandfather.

As she reminisced about the days shortly after the death of her husband she told me the first words out of her 12-year-old granddaughter’s mouth were “Who will take me fishing?’.  Father and uncles all said that they would but her response was “But it won’t be the same”.

I felt her granddaughter’s pain.  My grandparents have been gone for many, many years now.  I miss them dearly.  They all had their strengths, the things that they played to.  Grampa was the Red Sox, beer and spanish peanuts, always.  Nan taught me how to embroider, we learned to quilt together, handcrafts were the game.  Pampi always tinkered with things (he was actually quite brilliant in his mechanical ability) and was always ready to laugh.  Mimi was the one I played with, laughed with, hugged, adored. She was the one who I trusted and loved more than the others.  She was always on our level through every age.  When visiting Mimi and Pampi I always felt unconditionally loved, I could do no wrong.

It’s the little things that we remember.  I drank my first cup of tea at their table (really warm milk).  Tea was always ritual with them – a pot was brewed after supper, every night.  We would sit around the table and talk.  We would laugh at Pampi’s antics to get a rise out of the wife he clearly adored.  The great aunts and uncles would visit, tales of the past and gossip of the present would rule, an uncle would slip into French when he was excited. Laughter, always lots of laughter.

One of my nieces was lamenting the fact that her children will never know her Mabel the way she does.  It’s true we said but you never knew our Mimi and that is sad for us.  Each child in each generation has their own experience.  I hope that I am the kind of grandmother that my grandchildren can lament their children not knowing.  I do know that they will probably grow up drinking some sort of hot beverage, sitting around a table and talking about the old days. They will probably also spend a good deal of time outdoors looking at bugs, birds and plants.  I can teach them to use their hands and hopefully their minds and I hope that’s what they’ll remember.