Archive for November, 2012

The Backroom

November 29, 2012


My grandparents bought their house in 1957. It was small with one bedroom, one bath, a connected kitchen and dining area, and a living room. The dirt floor basement housed a wringer washing machine and galvanized wash tubs for rinsing clothes. A small enamel top table sat in front of the lone basement window for potting seeds in preparation for spring planting.  The house was a perfect size for a just retired carpenter/gardener and his wife.

Their cinderblock cottage butted up against a buggy shed that had been built in 1910. While the house roof sported asphalt shingles, the attached outbuilding boasted wide, rough hewn boards and beams, all covered in green painted tin. Grandpa could have parked the car there and cut an outside entrance into the living room, but Grandma had other plans. She talked him into a second bedroom.  They only needed one bedroom for themselves, but Grandma expected grandchildren to come visit.

I imagine her now, hands on hips, staring up into the rafters of that shed, saying, “Garth, I want an extra bedroom. You can make this into a cozy space. All you have to do is….”

And my Grandpa, carpenter’s pencil in hand, scratching measurements and drawing plans right there on the rough wood, filling in Grandma’s dream with his plans.

That was the room I stayed in when I was a little girl. It was referred to as  “the backroom”.  I fell asleep in a big, quilt-topped double bed to the sound of rain pattering on the tin above my head. A small pot-bellied woodstove popped and crackled next to the rocking chair where Grandma read me stories. That room smelled of lilac in summer and pine kindling in winter.

We bought the house in 1986, when my grandparents died.  Tonight, we gutted the backroom.  Between the termites and rot, we had to do something before it fell down around us.

I stand in that 1910 buggy shed looking up at the wide rough boards under the tin roof. I shiver in the cold. One wall is completely gone, three other walls and the roof complete a shell that was once my refuge. I stare at what’s left, and am surprised that I’m not sad. The primitive feel and color of the wood above me is warming. The possibility of new beginnings excites me.  I don’t want to cover those boards with tile or sheetrock or paneling.

“They’re all different kinds of wood,” Bruce points out. “White oak, red oak,  pine, and probably some walnut thrown in for good measure.”

“That’s OK,” I say. Looking up, marveling at the shades of brown, black, red and rust. I love it just the way it is. We’re not covering it up.”

“They’re rough and you know you’re going to lose a lot of heat through the roof,” he answers.

“I like the rough texture,” I counter. “It’s rustic, original. Besides, there used to be a woodstove here when I was little. Can’t we put one back?”

“I guess so,” Bruce says, “not too much trouble to run a pipe and patch around it.”

I help him hang plastic sheeting which will keep the wind and cold out when he pours the new cement floor. As I hand him the staple gun a small set of figures catches my eye on an old two by four.

“Did you write this?” I ask.

“No, not that set. I think your granddaddy must have put those figures there. Mine are on that board next to it.”

Sure enough there they are, two sets of numbers on boards side by side, two generations apart on a home that keeps evolving.

Autumn in Virginia

November 12, 2012