Hubby and I were the fourth generation to live in his family farmhouse. The twenty years we lived there, we enjoyed “living” the history of the family.
On November 28, one of my favorite blog writers, who writes Simple Words I Understand, tells a great story about family, and the family farmhouse.
Her funny story made me start thinking about the history of holidays in OUR old farmhouse. Specifically, I started remembering the Christmas stories.
First, a little history of the house: The first part of the house was built in 1870 by Hubby’s great grandfather, Valentine. It was a very humble beginning by any standards — a small frame house with just a small and large bedroon up and a small kitchen and a large “gathering” room down, with a tiny little spiral staircase in what was more or less a closet in one corner.
But, apparently, that was just the first step in Valentine’s plan. Because in 1879, he built a much larger brick house on the front of the frame house. The new addition included a large sitting room in the middle with a bedroom off to the side and a small “front” room (for special company only!) on the front next to an enclosed front hallway with a stairway to the upstairs. Upstairs in the new section were three bedrooms.
The heat in the house, at that time, was all done with heating stoves in every room. It’s interesting, that several of the rooms had mantels that would make you think, “Well, there must have been a fireplace there at some point!”, but, apparently those were just put in as an interesting backdrop for the heating stove in those rooms. There was a decorative register in the ceiling of the sitting room, that aligned with one in the floor of the bedroom above. It allowed air/heat flow between the downstairs and upstairs rooms.
All in all, I imagine the new addition turned what had been a very humble farmhouse into a pretty nice farmhouse for its time — with bullseye woodwork, transoms over all the rooms’ doors, hardwood floors, and an ornate door bell in the front door, that clanged loudly enough to “wake the dead” when you pulled up on the handle (I don’t know what previous generations did about it, but, sometimes when there were little children around, we would remove the handle, which just slipped out, to keep them from clanging it ALL. THE. TIME!) And, above the front door was a leaded glass transom that said the family name. It is a beautiful ruby red, with the letters etched in it.
When a developer bought the farm and the house would no longer be a home (it would be used by a young church), the one thing we took with us was that transom. It now hangs in a large window in our sun room. A reminder of the family roots.
Hubby’s Aunt Velma told us that the register in the ceiling of the sitting room, played a part in her and her three siblings (an older sister and two younger brothers) finding out about the “true identity” of Santa Claus. One Christmas Eve they had been sent to bed, but instead of sleeping, they decided they would watch through the register (the Christmas tree was in a corner of the sitting room just below the register), and hope that they could see Santa Claus when he made his visit! I don’t know how old they were at that time, but I’m guessing that at least the two girls, who were the oldest (Hubby’s father was the youngest ), might have been looking for comfirmation of something they already suspected. And they did, in fact, get their confirmation. Peeking through the grate, they saw their parents putting their “Santa gifts” under the tree.
When Aunt Velma was telling this story, she didn’t seem to remember that they had been “traumatized” by this big discovery. But, I imagine that there was a trade-off that kept them from being too unhappy with their newly learned revelation. Yes, they did now know that their parents “helped” Santa, but they also had caught a glimpse of some of what they would be receiving tomorrow morning! That was exciting — no matter who put the gifts there!
A reminder of “Christmas past” that I always enjoyed looking at were the two huge evergreen trees that grew at the edge of the barnyard, beside the garage. Hubby told me that there were two Christmases when he was growing up that the family used potted evergreens for their Christmas trees, and each of those years, after Christmas, the trees were planted. I wonder if anyone does that today? I’ve never known of anyone else who did it, but I think it was a great idea.
In the early 60’s, Hubby’s Mom started putting electric candles with blue lights in them in every window at Christmas-time. She continued that tradition until she died in January, 1983. I don’t think Hubby’s Dad did it for the two years he lived after her death. I imagine it was too hard for him to think about doing it without her — it had been HER tradition. But, when we moved into the farmhouse the next year after Hubby’s father’s death, we re-started the tradition to honor Hubby’s Mom. And, we continued to do lights in the windows each year for the almost 20 years we lived there, although we did switch to white lights.
The house was set back a long lane, all by itself, out in the middle of fields, which made it pretty noticeable to people driving by on the busy road, so it was known for many years in the small town we lived close to as “the house with the Christmas lights.”
It was such a privilege to get to live in a house with so much family history. It made us sad when the whole area around the farm was going to be developed, making us choose between moving or living in the middle of an addition of new houses. But, we are thankful for the time we DID get to live there.
It is wonderful to have “roots,” even when they are by marriage. And it is just a nice extra when those “roots” come with fond memories in a wonderful, old family farmhouse.
Even though a house isn’t forever, the memories are.