When I was a kid one of my favourite breakfast foods was Nabisco Shredded Wheat. (Mother used to heat them with a little butter and salt, even though Nabisco pushed turning them into a soggy mess by soaking them in hot milk). I think shredded wheat is still sold but Nabisco has gone and whatever ate Nabisco has been eaten by some even bigger corporation. A daughter who works for what I thought of as a bigger corporation tells us that her bigger corporation has been sold - to a still-bigger corporation. And so it goes. What ever happened to 5-cent candy bars?
Houses too, like businesses, find themselves ‘Under New Management,’ or ‘New and Improved,’ or even at ‘New Location.’ Our farmhouse stood on the same spot for a length of time that took it back probably pretty close to forever, and though it looked like a staid country house, if we could make a short video of the changes over the years the video would probably look like one of those five-minute time-delay shots of clouds growing, dividing, fading, expanding.
I know it began life (when? how far back in the nineteenth century?) as a dug cellar with dry stone walls, four tiny rooms, and a loft. Sometime later (still in the nineteenth century?) the roof was raised by several feet to make the building a story-and-a-half. Then in the early twentieth century the kitchen wing was added and several bedrooms above it.
Perhaps the past only seems more permanent. Some years ago, as we were stripping clapboards off the back wall, we found one stencilled with “Stetson, Cutler & Co., No. 1. St John, N.B.” The company whose name appeared on our clapboard was started in Indiantown in 1867 by a Robert Rankin, was taken over by Hayford and Stetson in 1881 and sometime later became Stetson and Cutler. Stetson, Cutler & Co. closed in 1923. (I've found a picture and description of the old company here)
Our coming here meant the place was, for the first time in its life, ‘Under New Management.’ I remember my wife drawing a picture of what she thought the new addition should look like. She didn’t get out drafting tools and a T-square to do it. We still have the picture somewhere, done in pencil on a piece of lined paper, maybe four inches square.
We took it to Gordon DeLong, who was to become Resident Carpenter and friend of the family. To my amazement he looked at the sketch and thought it could be done - and proceeded to do it. Having always thought that anything that complicated had to have blueprints, architects, and lawyers, I marvelled to look at Gordon’s work.
Other changes have occurred since then, many of them by another carpenter and friend, Graydon Ricker. Still later, when we decided to do some renovations to the kitchen, we asked our son-in-law, Wolfgang Westner, to take on the project. Not being a fast learner, I went into planning mode, got a modest drafting program for the computer, and started to measure things and do plans and generally got myself tied in knots.
Wolfgang had been on the job only a short time when I realised that he had a far finer design sense than I had. Where I saw problems, he saw solutions, and the solutions turned out to be better than anything I could have devised.
A long-ago lumber yard, a trio of good tradesmen helping. In the midst of change the house remained what it always was, a good one.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.