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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

In Other Words: Nothing is Flat, Flush, Square, or Level. The Joys of an Old Home.

By Chuck Keller

Our story is not much different than everyone in Fort Thomas or anyone who lives in an old house. We live in a one-hundred year old house that we love but it requires lots of attention.

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The foundation is cracked. Plumbing needs what is now annual attention.  We have summer doors and winter doors as the house shifts with the weather.  At least the doors close properly two seasons out of the year. Birds and bats have fallen down the chimney and inadvertently induced panic in the dogs. And the mice drove the dogs crazy too. One little guy stole dog kibble and stashed it under the stove. We had to insulate, replace crushed sewer pipes, windows, and HVAC. Rewire. Remodel. Reroof. Repaint. We have replaced, repaired, or rehabbed just about everything.  That’s a lot of re- words. And now after almost 40 years, we probably need to begin the cycle again.

“Again?” exclaimed Ralph Dupont. This was the third January in a row that I called to repair a bathroom leak. The bath is above the kitchen so leaks come right through the ceiling. Well, generally right through the light fixture because that’s the low point. Every year, I tear out a portion of the plaster and lath so the plumber can have easier access to the broken pipe or drain or bad coupling or whatever it is that year. Ralph repaired it within an hour but it will take me days to mud, sand, and paint the new ceiling. It’s a literal pain in the neck. I know the chiropractor will laugh at another misadventure as he adjusts my spine.




But just the week before the leak, I patched cracks and repainted the second bedroom that functions as my home office. Sanding the floors will have to wait until I can open the windows for a while.

Then over the weekend I helped a friend tear out walls and ceilings and fixtures in an old house that he is rehabbing. I tore into the kitchen and adjoining room and discovered previous leaks and crazy electrical wiring. The first floor bathroom has one window but it was really two windows.  A previous owner installed a new window in the space but it was about four inches shorter than the original window. Instead of reworking the entire window frame he simply put the new window in and lowered the ceiling. Here’s a photo. I have never seen anything like it. This one just leaves me flabbergasted. I wonder what other surprises await.
Look at that. Two windows.
I have heard all sorts of crazy stories about old homes. Ronnie Ginter told me that “When I was putting in the laundry room on the 1st floor I found that there were 3 ceilings in the bathroom. One at 8', 9', and the original.”

Melissa Knefle Beckett tells this story about her old home. “My house is almost 100 years old. It has been a work in progress and still needs more but I still love it. About 10 years ago, I was upstairs in my bedroom, no contacts in so I'm pretty much blind. Something moved on my dresser and I got down real close for a better look. It was a 4 ft long rat snake! I screamed like a little girl, jumped up and down for a while then proceeded to get my boyfriend at the time and we put the snake in a pillowcase, all the while I'm screaming like a baby until he let it go outside. I think the snake got in through the eaves in my roof and there was a hole in the woodwork he came through. Needless to say within a month, the closet was gutted and sealed off so that never happened again! LOL!!! Not to mention all of the plaster and lathe that we have torn out of the house.” And there are thousands more stories to be told.

Old homes require attention and investment, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. They are full of the quirks of past and present tenants. Like paint and wallpaper, we continue to add layers to the stories of our homes to be read only in the future.

But you know, I love my old house. It’s our home. This house has been in my wife’s family since 1936 so there are a lot of memories and family history associated with it. I regularly hear about the plane crash, burying treasure in the back yard, stories of past neighbors, sledding in the side yard, the pet cemetery, and raising four children in a two bedroom house. It was challenging, sure, but no one complained. Or at least do not complain now. I love listening to all of their stories when the family visits. I love listening to all of their stories when the family visits. This house is alive with their past and our present.

As we move through the ghosts of the past in this old home, we embrace and welcome them all. There’s plenty of room.  And even though I may complain about yet another something gone wrong, I do enjoy touching the past and seeing it reveal another layer of the story of a living home.

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