The Last Really Good Shack 29

I guess because it is so blessed hot and dry right now that I have been thinking about cold weather, winters full of snow and ice.
One of the realities of living in an old house with a wood stove for heat is the day in and day out of dealing with fire, ash and smoke. Every day we had to shovel the ash into a metal bucket to make sure we didn’t set something on fire with the embers. This would send billows of fine ash throughout the house, falling on every possible surface. So lots of dusting and vacuuming. Wood  would need to be split and brought in. That could mean muddy boots or bits of bark trailed across the living room. Then if the wind was in a particular direction or calm or high, when we opened the stove to add wood, smoke would pour into the room, causing much consternation. Windows and doors would fly open, fans would be turned on and cold air would grab whatever warmth that was in the house. And the smell of smoke would linger on clothes and in hair until the next shower or wash.

Sounds horrible, doesn’t it?

Other realities of living with a woodstove are the gentle warmth that filled the house. No fans or change in temperature, just a steady heat.
The flicker of the fire in the early dark evenings of winter. We loved the dance of flame in the stove. My mom always said it was company on a winters night.
The complete quiet – no furnace to kick on – only the occasional pop of a spark or the settling of the wood.
There were those few days, after an ice or snow storm, that we lost power, maybe a branch in an electric line or some other weather related problem.
And it is those days I remember… it was completely silent. No noise from refrigerator or clock or TV or radio. We stayed nice and toasty warm.
And it was quiet…… that particular kind of muffled snow quiet. Really quiet.

Now that was perfect.

Until next time…. stay cool!

The Last Really Good Shack 28

We knew from the beginning that we wanted a porch. The house looked spare and homely without one, and we needed the extra living space. So for about a year, maybe a little more, we used the stacked cement blocks as our steps up into the front door. Old aluminum yard chairs were hauled out of the shed when we wanted to sit out. But with no patio or landscaping, it was just basically sitting out in the yard.
Then one afternoon, an old friend of Bob’s family called. He had recently moved to east Texas and wanted us to come for a visit. So we packed up for a long weekend and took off for Hughes Springs, TX.
Harold has a lovely home, looking out on to pasture land. A comfortable house with a covered porch in back, its a wonderful place for him and for his dog.
We brought with us pictures of the house as well as our dreams of our future there. And the subject of building the porch came up. Well, Harold had just the thing for us.
A friend of his bought old railroad container cars, which he would sell for scrap or to people who needed really odd, large storage containers. And the floors of these cars just happened to be tongue in groove 1 ft by 9 ft solid oak! And he would sell us a cars worth of the flooring, which happened to be just about the length of our house and the width of our front space. Eureka! The beginning of our porch!
We made the deal and Bob made plans to come back with a flatbed trailer to cart the floor back home.
Our first priority became building the under structure for the floor of the porch. Because of the lay of the land and the height of the second floor windows, we had to be sure we had head room and enough slope for the roof. After much measuring and leveling, Bob began work on the foundation and I became the helper again, toting and carrying and running to the hardware store and cleaning up.
So in the autumn of our second year, Bob finished the floor of our porch. It was solid! The floor boards were stained gray and they were gorgeous! We still brought out the old aluminum chairs to sit on the deck that fall and winter. And my Dad, in his last trip to the shack, was able to sit out in the warm October sun and enjoy the view.
It would be after he died that the porch would be finished. And it became the gathering and healing place for me, my family and especially my Mom.
This porch became the center of our home. There are so many more stories to tell about the porch and the shack and our adventures.
So until then……

This is a pen and ink by my beautiful and talented aunt, Carol Allen.

The Last Really Good Shack 27

Well, here it is. The first photograph of the shack. This was early in the cleaning stage – the drive had been scraped – I can tell by the earth in the foreground. The front door had been replaced and the yard had been cleared of car parts and debris. This is taken at the bottom of the drive.
I still remember those days clearly. The long days cleaning, the sense of newness and adventure. The hopes and dreams of creating this home together.  A wonderful time in our lives.

Until next time……

The Last Really Good Shack 26

I was driving home with my mom last week and our road off the ridge had a short space where the trees had touched overhead to form a tunnel. And mom reminded me of the road down to the shack – she said that was one of her favorite things in the summer – the tree tunnel all the way to our home.
That road turned off a state highway about a mile and a half north of the house and ran along side a creekbed on the west side of the road. It was a gentle slope along the hollow between the two ridges; a dirt and gravel road, well maintained by the county, and ran all the way down to Spring Creek. Once the only road south to Rogers, AR, it is still called the Old Rogers Road on some maps.
We found out the history of our area as we learned more about our road. The roadside along the  creekbed was reinforced by a solidly built stone wall. As we explored the creek, we found an inscription on one of the stones explaining that this wall had been built by the WPA. So this was one of the road projects in the 1930’s that helped men make a living during the Depression’s hard times. I admired the wall even more once I considered the hardships that these men must have faced in this area during the Depression. Never an easy place to scratch a living, the Ozarks must have been hit even harder during those years.
We began to visit with the folks that lived down the road. I mentioned one of them in an early post, our neighbor whose son sold us the shack and who would stop and share a beer with Bob on hot summer afternoons. His wife told us that this road was used by both armies of the Union and the Confederacy during the days of the Battle of Pea Ridge. The armies marched and rested alongside the creek. And the spring house in their yard was used to house the wounded as the armies moved south. Artifacts of the battle would occasionally turn up in the villiage’s garden plots or newly dug foundations. Bullets, buckles and buttons were common but the most unusual was a cannonball that had to have the bomb squad come out from Rogers. We never found anything other than a few old bottles or broken china on our land.
We loved the road and would walk it with the dogs every day, looking for new wildflowers or roses in bloom. I would gather rose hips for autumn arrangements and we would pick blackberries in the sunny spots. Each fall a family would come by gathering black walnuts to sell at the villiage farm store. They would always politely ask to come on our property to pick up the hard round nuts and we would happily agree.
In the summer, the road was a tunnel of trees from the state highway to the north, all the way to the beginning of our property. As the road made a gentle curve to the left, our home on the side of the ridge, would come into view. Then as you passed to the southern property line, the trees would again fold over the road.
The temperature would drop by 5 to10 degrees as the road descended down the hollow. It was wonderful in the hottest time of the summer to roll down the windows and breathe in the cooler air.
And then in those hot summer nights, the trees would be filled with fireflies! So thick it would seem to be strings of fairy lights illuminating the road. Absolutely magical! Add a  few children, our nieces and nephew or friend’s kids, and you would really have an enchanting scene. We would walk under that tree tunnel, covered in the glimmering lights of the fireflies, and could almost see our shadows.

I can still see the children’s faces looking up in wonder at the trees. A beautiful memory shared by everyone who walked that road.  Until next time….

The Last Really Good Shack 25

It was soon after we built the shed, but before it had walls and still had the camo tarps, that my dad saw the house for the first time.

Now before we begin this story, I need to explain my relationship with my dad. Basically – we adored each other. I was his first born and his baby girl, having the good fortune to have two younger brothers. We each thought that the other was just about the funniest, most entertaining person we had ever met. I often describe my dad to people who were not lucky enough to know him, as a traveling circus. He was funny with the greatest laugh! It could be heard for miles and was a sound that can only be described as joy in action. He was handsome and interesting, always had a joke or story to tell. And he was a terrible singer and dancer but that never seemed to stop him. We would tap dance in the kitchen and sing at the top of our lungs at church, much to the chagrin of my musically trained and choir member mom. He loved me and I never ever doubted it.

When Dad first learned of our wonderful purchase, he decided that maybe I wasn’t his kid after all. After raising me in a nicely appointed home in a good neighborhood, giving me pretty much everything a daughter could need, and working hard so that his family would never want for anything, his daughter buys a shack on 7 acres in the middle of the Arkansas Ozarks. Not only does it have a shallow well for water but there is no heat source and there is not a decent kitchen in the house. It is over 100 years old and – well – a shack!

But he was ready to come see us and my mom decided that the house was in good enough shape that he could visit without the concern of another heart attack. So, they rented a little trailer and loaded up all the flotsam and jetsam that we had left in their attic, and headed north through Oklahoma to Northwest Arkansas. Of the many talents my dad possessed, loading trailers full of junk was not one of them. The trip began late because of repacking the trailer and proceeded slowly, due to the shifting of the assortment of stuff and then the stopping and retying of the load.
The final repacking happened somewhere in eastern Oklahoma on a deserted country road. It was deserted until Dad had all my stuff scattered along the roadside and a schoolbus was caused to stop on its way down to the next farm houses.
Well, everyone on the bus had to get out and give advice until one young boy just started putting things back in the trailer and tying everything down. My dad just watched in amazement! Soon all was put back and everyone was on their way with many waves from the kids on the bus.
No other stops were required – the load never shifted!
It was several hours past the time they should have reached our home when they finally pulled up into our driveway.
My dad’s first act, after lots of hugs and kisses, was to hang a bird feeder in our tree. We would spend many hours sitting out in front of the house, visiting and watching the birds. He loved this house. I only had him here a few times, but each time was special.

Later that summer, cancer was discovered and he lived not quite two years. My heart still aches as I write these words. But what joy to have those happy memories.

Until next time…..

The Last Really Good Shack 24

Once Bob cleared the overgrown Back 40, we began to explore our acreage. The open meadow to the southeast and the tree lot on the northeast were new territory to us and were separated by a shallow hollow that housed the sycamore tree that walloped Bob (see previous Shack post!).
Barbed wire fence circled our property decorated by blackberry vine and wild roses on the south. Cows were grazed on all the neighboring properties and would watch us with that lanquid curious cow expression as we wandered along the fence lines.
At the top of the ridge was a shallow spring fed pond, not deep enough for even wading but perfect for a jolly clan of frogs. Our spring evenings would be filled with the high pitched calls of spring peepers. And summer nights we would hear the deeper full throated songs of the bullfrogs. I loved those serenades and would thrill to the first sound of peepers in the early spring.
This small pond was circled by a copse of black gum trees. This was my first introduction to this lovely tree and it became one of my favorites. It wasn’t until the next spring that I found them in bloom – their limbs decorated in clusters of small white bells. Such a magical sight! I would imagine that I could hear the sound of these chimes ringing down the ridge in the evening breeze.
Coming across the back fence to the northeast corner, we found large trees that had fallen, possibly in a long ago storm. These were large white oaks, now covered in moss with burrows hollowed out in the large trunks. This was the part of our property that was mostly in timber, white oaks, red oaks, black walnut, hickory and  a sprinkling of sassafras and dogwood. These trees were beautiful at each season. The dogwood dressed in white spring blooms with the sculptural sassafras holding its bright green buds in early spring. The varied greens of the spring leaves from each of the trees, then the deep green shade of summer, to the brilliant tapestry of color in the fall. And even in winter, with the stark dark trees, their beauty of form stripped bare.
Bob created a meandering path through the woods that opened to what we called the wooded meadow, directly behind the house. This was the view from the kitchen window and where we watched our little family of deer feed each day.
I fell in love with this property. With each season and year, I learned when trees budded, where the secret springs would water the small ferns, where the sun would rise and set on our horizons as we moved through the year. I had an intimate and deep knowledge of this little piece of earth. The sounds and smells and sights of each season and time of day were part of my heart. It is a relationship that changed me. This was one of the great loves of my life. And I am a better, wiser woman because of it.

Until next time……

The Last Really Good Shack 23

We were settling in to our routine in our new old home. Things had found their places and furniture was placed after many, many, many sessions of rearranging. Our energy was spent and so was our cash, so we made do with what we had accomplished and just started living in the house.
After a few months, probably late June or so, Bob decided it was time to start cleaning up the property. The Back 40 was overgrown with briar and blackberry vines, poison ivy and just your basic weedy plants and trees. Some of the briar patches were as tall as 12 feet so we couldn’t even see the meadows.
It was time to mow! Bob rented a tractor and brush hog. For those of you who don’t know what a brush hog is – it is a large, flat implement that you attach to the back of a tractor. It has a blade , just like a big lawn mower blade, that is run by the tractor’s transmission. So as long as the tractor is running, the blade is turning.
He begins mowing directly behind the house in the tree lot. A few hidden rocks were hit and, except for several stops to untangle stray barbed wire in the mower, it went well. Our land was coming into focus.  Vistas opened to the large trees on the ridge and a tree ringed meadow began to make itself known. I could tell were our walking paths would take us as the mower made its way across the ground.
Then Bob moved to the open meadow to the south and east. This was mostly a tangled mess of blackberry and wild roses. Beautiful but inpenetrable.
As he was creeping down the ridge, I heard the mower hit something and it didn’t sound like a rock or more wire. This time it was an old iron bedstead! Bob dragged it out from under the mower and down the hill to the house. All we could find was the headboard and one side rail, not enough to put together for use as a bed. But later – Bob being the creative and resourceful man that he is- made the headboard into my garden gate! It was perfect!
But back to mowing! The tractor made swift work of the briar roses and blackberry vines. We did keep these along the fenceline, so every year we could pick wild blackberries to make the best cobblers in the world! And arrangements of the pale pink wild roses would grace many tables in our home, both spring flowers and autumn rose hips.
Bob was making a final pass going up the ridge and through the shallow hollow between our two meadows. That is when he made the biggest error one can make on a large piece of equipment. As he explains  “I was looking where I had been, instead of where I was going!” He turned around just in time to be smacked by a large sycamore tree branch that had hung up on the exhaust in the front of the tractor! It landed directly under his nose and just above his lip! And whacked the heck out of him!
He barely hung on to the steering wheel.  And because the tractor was heading up hill, when he was knocked back, it began to roll backwards down the driveway!
By this time, he is bleeding profusely, but is able to get back in the seat and stop the mower. This is when I hear ” Noney, Noney! I tink I boke mah nose!”  I ran to the drive to be met with the sight of my husband literally covered in blood! I helped him into the house and into the bathtub. We finally got the bleeding to stop with ice packs and got him washed up. Miraculously, his nose was not broken and he still had all his teeth!
But his poor face swelled up and bloomed into a pretty ugly bruise! It took a week or so for the swelling to go down and for his lips to look normal – bless his heart!
He did get the property cleaned up and we were able to enjoy discovering all the wonders of our little piece of heaven.
And the man at the rental yard had the last word on this incident. When Bob turned the tractor and mower in, the man exclaimed “Did someone butcher a hog on this thing!”

Until next time……

The Last Really Good Shack 22

We had been in the house for a few weeks – Dad and Mom had come to see us for their first stay. (That visit is another story for another time!) And we were settling in to the pattern of our lives – finding where things were to go in the house, moving furniture around- just playing house.
One night – it was probably mid to late June, because Bob was working nights at the blueberry co-op. He would help growers unload their berries into the trucks going to the wholesalers. And I was upstairs in the north bedroom, our spring and summer bedroom, with our three dogs, Lacy, Eubie and Ruffles.
Now, I do need to tell you about our most well loved dogs!
Lacy Junebug was a dachsund/beagle and our first. She was the epitome of both breeds, the color red of a dachsund with the stockier beagle body, and could give you a look with those big hound dog eyes. She was a really smart and a  good girl. She loved to play sock – Bob would stuff an old sock with other socks and tie a big knot at the end. He would throw it down the hallway and Lacy would run after it, attack it and bring it back for another throw!
Eubie Goode was our second child and our only boy. We are not sure what Eubie was – I always said he was part terrier and part tasmanian devil! He was a beautiful boy, looked like a minature english sheepdog, a stocky body with a big head – not a big dog – just about 20 lbs. And he had the biggest, shiniest, blackest nose! He was definately Bob’s dog – they would play catch until Bob’s arm ached and Eubie was still ready for more! He would occasionally want my attention – he would climb up into my lap and let me love on him, then he was done, only to come back in a few weeks for more mamma time.
And Ruffles, the baby. She was part cocker and part lhasa and had the worst attributes of both breeds. Not a smart dog, but blonde and beautiful with a kind heart. Everyone loved her, but she was my baby! She was soft and cuddly, more a stuffed animal than dog! Such a sweetie.
Anyway, that night, we were all on the bed and suddenly, the biggest rainstorm came crashing. It was filled with lightning and thunder and so much rain! The dry creek at the bottom of the ridge that ran along the road, filled quickly and overflowed. The road was rushing like a river, flowing past the house and down to the creek a few miles to the south.
Well, the dogs and I huddled together – I figured that the house had stood against storms for over 100 years and this one would probably not wash us away. That’s when I heard a fast dripping sound and water began pouring into the room and onto the bed!
I ran downstairs to get pans and towels. Bringing all this up to the bedrooms, I put towels and pans under each drip, including the one over the bed.
Time to call a roofer!!!

The next week, we called roofer and agreed to a contract with a local man. We decided since we would not be able to use the chimney, we would have it brought below the roof line and roofed over. We asked that a vent turbine be installed near this area so that the attic space would vent in the heat of the summers. And we contracted to have the shed roof replaced over the bathroom and laundry room.
When Mom and Dad had visited, he had laughed that our bathroom was just a little better than an outhouse. You could sit on the toilet and see the stars at night and if it rained, you didn’t need to get in the tub,  just stand there and you would get a refreshing shower!
So within the next few days, we had the roofing crew show up and Bob and I left for work. It was a good thing that I worked close to home – I usually would come home for lunch and to check on the dogs. But this time, I thought it would be best to check on the workers and see how things were progressing.
When I arrived, it was apparent that there had been a miscommunication and possibly a crew of new workers who didn’t understand the principles of roofing. First, they had taken the chimney down and covered the roof over it – no problem. But it was the shed roof – they had installed the vent turbine in the shed roof and they had nailed the roofing going backwards! So instead of the material overlapping down, it overlapped up! Not sure how waterproof that would be! So I called the owner and explained what I had found and that I felt the crew needed some supervision. And luckily, he made it all right – we got a new roof for the bathroom and laundry and the vent was placed correctly in the attic.
Our home was now rain proof and water tight. But Dad said he still missed seeing the stars while sitting on the toilet!

Until next time….

The Last Really Good Shack 21

I will finish my story about building the shed and how it became an important part of our home.
The house looked lonely, sitting on the ridge by itself. The only other building on the property was the little well house at the curve of the drive. And it was small, just enough room to duck in and work on the pump. Not an imposing structure at all, and not in close proximity to the house. It would, in the summer, be covered with poison ivy the size of tree trunks and filled with wasp nests! We would hack at the vines each year and beat it back, but we were never able to get rid of it.
So anyway, Bob needed a shed. We had enough lumber from the glass crates and set about  pulling nails and deconstructing the crates until we had all the different dimensions of lumber laid out. There were enough 2x6s to create the floor structure and enough 2x4s to build the walls and the roof. Bob used concrete blocks for the piers under the floor, just one step up into the shed. He used the extra 2x6s as the flooring.
Our friend, Kevin Higdon, helped Bob with the construction. It may have been the first time he ever held a hammer in his hand, but he was good company!
Bob and Kevin had the structure built in a long weekend. We used plywood for the roof and a few rolls of roofing finished it up.
That’s when we ran out of money. We had a roof and a structure, but no walls, windows or doors. And Bob still needed to get his tools out of the weather and in some sort of order. So….. we bought 4 plastic tarps – they just happened to be a camouflage pattern!  These were nailed across each wall –  the shed was now dry and Bob could happily unpack his tools.
We joked and laughed that the locals driving by to see what the new people were up to, would just shake their heads when they saw this camo covered shed. “Don’t they know that deer blind is too close to the house!”
A few weeks later, it was finally sided with 4×8 siding and painted  white with merlot and gray trim. We located the shed on the south of the house, close enough to build a covered walkway from the house to the shed. It also created a private area on the south of the house. And the area in front of the shed became my little kitchen garden. We fenced it with a picket fence and the garden gate was a headboard from an old wire bedstead – how that was found on the property is a tale for another time.
I grew herbs, cucumbers and beans, but also had lots of flowers – foxglove and lilies were my favorites. I laughed that the future owners would curse me for planting peppermint. It  was very prolific and would take over, but how lovely to walk on the stone path and have that wonderful minty scent fill the air.
We planted a japanese maple, a bloodgood, in the corner of the garden and that astonishing burgundy color was one of my favorite things. It anchored the garden and gave the south side of the house shade in the heat of the summer.
This little shed and its surrounding garden was an essential part of our lives. It was a place to work and also a place to just sit and enjoy the day.

And I am sure that peppermint is still going strong!

Until next time…..

 

The Last Really Good Shack 20

There are so many things that I learned after we moved into this house – especially since I had never lived out in the country. One of the first things I learned was – it is very dark at night! When we first moved in, there were no outside lights on the house and once you left the doorway at night, you walked into the darkest dark. That is, until I became accustomed to the country nights.

I loved to go outside and once my eyes adjusted, I could see the silhouettes of the huge oak trees and the outline of the trees at the top of the ridge. Then looking up,it was the stars. Oh my word, the stars! It was as if I had never seen stars before. And our sky was not broad. Because of how the house sat on the ridge and the steepness of the hillside, there was actually very little sky overhead. Our horizons were above the house, both east and west. So sunrises were late and sunsets, early. But I learned to love that strip of sky and its changing constellations.

In the summer, the night was filled with lightning bugs. There were nights that the trees were so thick with the fireflies, you could see shadows on the ground. Disney couldn’t have created anything more beautiful. And when these charming little beetles were out in force and we had a yard full of children, too, it was a picture made in heaven.

We were happy to have enjoyed the annual meteor showers in our little piece of the sky. And we were really lucky to make the acquaintance of  the comets, Hyukatake and Hale Bopp. Hale Bopp was magnificent and stayed in our view for a long time. So long in fact, that we missed him when he was gone. And, one summers night while on the porch with friends, a meteor crossed over our yard. A bright green light cast such a brilliant shadow, it was if a klieg light was over the house. It was seen over several states and was such an astonishing sight.  I will always remember the excitement and wonder we all felt – witnesses to something extraordinary.

But it seems there were always extraordinary things happening while we lived in the house – extraordinary acts of nature and acts of friendship and acts of love.

We will talk about all of these things in later posts – until next time…….