When will the house need a roof? When does the septic tank need pumping? How do I hook up the generator when the power goes out? How many cords of firewood do we burn each winter? Do I have to drive that big orange Kubota tractor?
After Vic died, I knew where he wanted his ashes buried and that he didn’t care about the details of his memorial service as long as it comforted me. I always managed our finances and already relied on our local mechanic to tend the Subaru. I knew how to take Vic’s name off the house deed and bank account, but for some reason I can’t fathom, I failed to ask questions about the hidden mysteries of the house—the plumbing, the back-up generator, and other “manly matters.” I understand why I didn’t ask about the tractor. The roaring diesel beast frightened me and questions might lead to driving lessons.
Within months of Vic’s death, I feared becoming annoyingly dependent on my sons Anthony and David who live in California and North Carolina. If I couldn’t manage the house and land myself, I didn’t want to stay, so I wracked my tear-soaked brain to remember the name of the young man Vic had hired to split firewood. Studying the contacts on Vic’s cell phone, I found a name I vaguely recognized: Matt Hoff. Bingo.
For four years, Matt has tended my forest, maintained trails, and done other jobs that require a chainsaw, a hammer, or his excellent problem solving skills. Matt is a conservation savvy forester whose main goal is to keep my woods healthy, but he also willingly pounded out the bashed in mailbox after it was hit by a snowplow, rescued me from a few snowstorms, and hung new birdhouses.
The first summer on my own, I had the septic pumped and told David and Anthony where I was keeping essential house maintenance information—written in Magic Marker on the stairwell wall with backup details in my file cabinet. I pulled on my overalls, took a deep breath, and learned to drive that orange beast so I could mow the trails and fields and, if Matt wasn’t available, move the firewood. I felt like a cowgirl when I drove the Kubota a mile down the road to have my auto mechanic change her various fluids. I hope the neighbors noticed.
I watch this 200 year old house with the eye of an anxious mother. I’ve been initiated into the mysteries of the generator, the spring, and the well. This summer after consulting with David, I hired Steve Ryan and had a new roof and gutters put on the old girl. When was the last roof put on? Another mystery. I only know that her shingles were curling although there were no leaks. Steve cleaned the chimney, too, and checked out the inner mysteries of my wood stove. Now, we’ll stain the decks and porches and do a little touch-up painting. After that, I hope to rest easy for a while.
When I can no longer care for an old house, a wood stove, and 71 acres, I’ll move to town. When that day comes, I’ll leave here empowered rather than baffled, the proud Maintenance Mistress of my well-tended home.
For other blogs about my land and home, see Coming Home and Angry Faces, Placid Water: Fracking, LPG Gas Storage and Seneca Lake.