When we were house-hunting, I liked to say to Beau, “It’s the house that will find us, not us who will find the house. There’s a karma to houses.” I tried to remind myself of this when we were heart-broken to miss out on a property we had our hearts set on for months. “Something else will come up” I tried to remind myself. “House karma.” I like to believe there’s a destiny to the places we settle in and are called to steward. With this in mind, when our current Maine island home appeared for sale, we decided to take this leap of faith – committing to a home that we hadn’t even seen in person, in a place we had never visited, in a state of abandon, and certain to hold some nasty surprises. Our trust in our intuition guided us to set forth on this adventure adopting this abandoned farmhouse and bringing it back to life. I like to say instead of having a child together, Beau and I had a house.
Ever since we moved here, "our love child" has been giving back to us – first, the amazing contents that were left here; then all the discoveries we made once the snow thawed and we could explore the land; then over the summer, against all odds, we found builders who agreed to replace the failing foundations of the house at a budget we could afford, and on our timeframe. The builders that materialized, for some unknown reason, went far beyond the call of duty to do what many builders had said was impossible. “I don’t know anyone who would have done what you did,” Paul the builder said to me, on a particularly challenging day. “Buying a homestead like this from across the country… I just think about that and it keeps me going.”
While the house was teetering on what looked like stilts while the foundations were repaired, Beau somehow figured out how to rewire all the chewed up old wiring, while I restored all the sash windows. But as the summer wore on, it was clear that our To Do list was looking almost impossible. With the endless rain, the window putty and linseed oil paint was taking longer than expected to dry, and Beau was racing against the clock to replace the wiring before the insulation was to be blown into the attic, burying it in inches of cellulose.
Beau wiring, me showing off the first couple restored windows, re-puttied and painted in black linseed oil (I’m improving with each one!)
Just when things were looking truly iffy, some more magic happened: out of the blue, through my daughter’s circle of college friends, we had an impromptu visitor stop by one day, like Mary Poppins arriving with the wind. “They’re handy with a hammer,” I was told. “They might want to help”. And so, after surveying this ambitious project, and enchanted with the house, they promptly moved into the guest room upstairs, and dove full steam into the house projects. Like Mary Poppins, well, not exactly: suddenly, we had a House Sprite.
Getting started, and taking a well earned break
Our House Sprite started getting to know the house by clambering into the dark inaccessible voids where the wires were, as the big insulation day was soon approaching. They dared to go where few brave souls had dared to go before, apart from a family of racoons.
Heading up the ladder into the attic void! The wiring project was completed on the very morning the insulation truck rolled into the drive.
It was time to get to work on the bathroom, which had been repaired on the outside by our builder, but the inside was suffering from extreme exposure to the elements. Our magical visitor spent days battling with the interior of this sorry room. They ripped out the rotten floor, somehow replacing it and all the crumbling plasterboard.
Rebuilding the bathroom floor and the rotten wall!
The House Sprite contorted themselves into incredible postures in the tiny bathroom, sometimes muttering out loud to work out the next almost impossible solution. Before long, what had been a ruin of a bathroom with a toilet that was practically tipping over and no back wall to speak of, was now a room you could go into without closing your eyes in horror.
The next challenge: a wall that was completely deteriorating from Powder Post Beetle rot in the timber frame on the kitchen wall. As we prepared the window frame to receive the newly puttied window, the top of the window frame rained down a shower of powder. We needed to replace the rotten wood, but the more powder that rained down from the wall, the bigger the hole in the wall became. “Wood isn’t supposed to pour,” our visitor said, a layer of powder coating their eyelashes. They fashioned a pair of airtight goggles with the addition of duct tape. It wasn’t long before we had removed the entire window frame, all the timbers, then the wall boards and shingles.
Covered in dust and checking measurements with Beau
That’s when they found something in the wall. It was a letter taped up in plastic. “Look what I found,” they said. I remembered building work we had done on a home in the UK: under the wallpaper I found a note from the builder “The Year of the Silver Jubilee,” and in another spot “Year of the Golden Jubilee.” Indeed, by then it was the “Year of the Platinum Jubilee,” so these Jubilees were integral to the rhythm of that house. In this house, we had already found notes scrawled in old fashioned cursive on the beams and some of the molding, indicating on which wall they lived. But this time, it was a note from the prior owners of the house, Andrew and Jane Palmer, and it was clearly written to us!
“Greetings from the past. Love the house as we did!” Andrew wrote to us on August 6th, 2000 – a beautiful sunny morning when he and Jane had replaced the wall. Never mind that their repair may have contributed to the sorry state of the wall 23 years later, this blast from the past was pure magic and so full of love; how could we be anything other than grateful and charmed to be continuing their legacy. Our kids believe the house is haunted, but we like these ghosts, and they now feel like family.
Yes, we do love the house as they did, and continue to love it more and more as it reveals itself and with every bit of elbow grease we have devoted to it. The house feels happy to have new stewards excavating all the rot and decay from its years of neglect, surgically keeping all that was good, and freeing it of what was not. Andrew and Jane were living abroad and passed away several years ago, so they had been unable to maintain the house. The house has called to us and the community of people who have helped us. Now I know I was right: there is truly House Karma, and it's magic: The House Sprite (who moves to their next adventure next week!), letters from the past, and who knows what unexpected magic will happen next?! Stay tuned!