Sunday, 23 September 2012

The house my grandpa built

Last weekend, I visited with my brother and both sisters the place where our mother’s parents lived most of their lives. The house has been uninhabited and the property unattended for some 40 years now. The yard is full of knee-high grass and weeds, trees, shrubs and ferns have invaded the small garden, the cowhouse end of the barn that I remember as a henhouse has collapsed, the list could go on forever.

Nevertheless, it is always a joy to see the place because of the fond memories about the house itself and the times spent there. I love the yellow double doors, the paned windows with old uneven glass that look like they were wet even when they arent, not to mention the yellow details on the white window trim boards. Even things I don’t normally like that much, such as the traditional red colouring so common on wooden cottages and outbuildings when I was a child, are becoming to me on my grandparents’ house.

For some reason I always see rowans when thinking about my childhood visits to this place although I also remember the small Christmas tree my grandparents used to place on a round side table in the large kitchen diner. This must be because I sometimes stayed there for a few days with my sister in the summertime, probably towards the end of our holiday when the rowan tree visible through the window of the upstairs room where we slept was full of fruit, just like now.

I have a feeling that in the summertime the left one of the double doors leading to the vestibule was always kept open. It was easy for us children to sneak out of the house to find our little adventures. Our grandmother walked using an underarm crutch because one of her knees didn’t bend. She had fallen down with her bicycle on an icy road years earlier, as we were later told. So it was also handy for her to stick her head out of the open door and call us when she needed an errand to be run: to fetch fresh eggs from the henhouse, to collect some currants for her cooking...

My grandparents were born in the 1890s. They had seen harder times than I can imagine: starting a farm from scratch, losing three of their children to diseases, labouring for their family’s livelihood from morning till night. They were also the last generation who had all the skills required to manage practically everything about their simple country life without any outside help.

My grandfather was not only a farmer but also a skillful carpenter, joiner, cabinetmaker, blacksmith, logger, horseman, anything you might have had a need for when living in a farm in the early 20th century. Every single detail at their place was both designed and built by themselves, not that they would have ever used a fancy word such as designing to describe what they did when planning what to do next and how to craft useful things with their hands.

The house and other buildings surrounding the yard seemed to be sort of grown onto their perfect locations to make the daily life easier. Everything grew out of necessity – the yarn spun, the fabrics weaved, the garments sewn. The house was full of furniture, everyday utensils and textiles of their own skillful making. This is the kind of grandparental legacy not that many members of my generation and certainly no one of my children’s generation can boast.

After my grandparents passed away my mother inherited the property including some fields and a piece of forest land. More than 20 years ago, she passed it on to my sister who doesn’t live too far from there. However, she still couldn’t let go but expected she could continue to dictate the dos and don’ts for the place. Everyone knows what will happen with an ‘inheritance’ you don’t actually have any use for and even if you did find one you couldn’t properly manage according to your own mind. It will be thrown to the wolves.

I have only just realized that my grandparents must have built their place at around the same time our house was built, that is about a hundred years ago. While their cottage was going to ruins, the previous owners of this house started renovation from the very basics here: renewing the electrical wiring, installing plumbing and central heating, modernizing the kitchen, reconstructing the interior.

Why is it that we seldom build up any serious interest in our ancestors and their legacy until it is too late? Perhaps it is in human nature or is it just that in modern times all the glittering temptations attacking our perception from the moment we are born have blinded us from seeing the things that really matter?

I am not saying I would know the meaning of life (although I may have an idea what it might be to me). But I do know we should concentrate less on making money and accumulating possessions and more on ensuring the marks we make on the hearts and souls of the ones who outlive us are bright and worth cherishing. That is the best kind of legacy anyone could hope to leave for posterity these days, in my mind the only kind we absolutely have to aim at. In fact, the only kind we can count on to support our heirs.

(It just came to my mind that I recently posted about a third place of the same age, Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild’s villa outside Nice in France. What a difference in circumstances!)


  1. Hadn't seen this posting earlier and enjoyed reading it. Here The Brothers are doing what is absolutely necessary for maintenance but not renovating the old house back to the original which is a pity. Wonder if the red is burnt sienna; if not then what...

    1. Hi there, 'anonymous' Liisa. It is, indeed, the traditional red (Fe2O3·H2O) but I enhanced the colours a bit to make the house look more like I see it in my memories.

    2. The color is likely the traditional Falun Red or Falu Rödfärg in Swedish. Not readily available in the USA, but there are some close colors to be found if you google Falu Red or Falun Red. That will give you the Hexadecimal and RBG color codes that, unfortunately only work for graphic artists systems, etc. The websites do give the closer matches of various manufacturers. My people in Jakobstad Finland have competed some pretty good restorations, however I like the maintained natural look.

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