Saturday, September 20, 2008

Window on the Past

My dream and desire for my house is to get rid of all the clad metal windows and replace them with three-over-one double-glazed wood windows that will reproduce what was here originally.

But the grim truth is, it's not happening before this winter, and I have two of the existing windows with bad seals and if I can help it I'd rather not go through another winter with them wasting energy.

My previous owners left me no record of who installed the metal windows and I couldn't find any mark on them to say what brand windows they are.

But they were definitely put in by my POs-1, and I recently learned they (or at least, she) still live in the area.

So this afternoon, I called Mary Kathryn N. and asked her about the windows. How easy: she remembered exactly what brand they were and who installed them. I'll call the company on Monday and see about getting a rep to come out.

But as long as I had her on the line, I asked her a few questions about the Sow's Ear . . . well, more than a few, actually.

And here's some of what I learned:

Kathryn C. McL was in her 90s when she sold Mary Kathryn the house in 1981. The woodwork was already painted then. "I wanted to strip it," Mary Kathryn told me, "but with the kids there was never time. So we just painted it."

How funny! My POs John and Kate wanted to strip it, too, but couldn't because of their kids. So the job has come down to me.

The front porch was already converted to a closed-in front room, with a triple-width opening between it and the living room and a double-width opening between the living room and the stair hall. "It was ridiculous. There was no place to put furniture in the living room. But we liked the openness." So they filled in the doorway at the bottom, and left the communicating portal I have now.

There used to be the typical four-square house built in cabinet in the dining room, but Mary Kathryn took it out to make more room in the kitchen. "I was sorry to have to do it, but I wanted a place in the kitchen where my kids could eat and I could keep an eye on them. That's where we put the kitchen table and the chairs." I told her my POs John and Kate had redone the kitchen after they bought the house and the refrigerator is on that wall now. (I'm thinking that kitchen table must've done duty as counter space, since there would have been little left with all the appliances on the window wall.)

They "completely redid the plumbing" in her time, since the soil stack burst and made a terrible mess. Me, I knew the one I have is fairly new, but it's nice thinking how I dodged a bullet on that one, by several years.

She couldn't remember whether or not she and her husband applied the drywall to both sides of the wall between the dining room and kitchen, but I'm thinking they must have, since they took out the cabinet. The funny thing is, she clearly remembers putting in the beige Victorianesque dining room paper with the pink roses, but not the cream-on-white silk stripe paper on the drywall under it. "That sounds too modern for me. We tried to do things we thought fit the house. We didn't want to 'remodel,' if you know what I mean."

She definitely remembers removing "ten layers of wallpaper" from all the walls. And all about the fireplace, and the fancy marble mantlepiece they installed. Turns out they did not perpetrate the messy common brick firebox-- it was like that when she moved in. And it had an old gas log connection, which they took out because they were afraid it might leak. They thought about putting a new one in, but never got around to it.

I could have asked more questions, but Mary Kathryn had places she needed to go. It verged on irony reflecting how our tastes differed and how I've taken out some of the features she was very proud of, but why bring it up? She, and John and Kate after her, did a pretty good job of keeping the old house sound and in good repair, and now it's up to me to do the best I can in my turn.

But now I'm haunted by the strange picture of old Miss Kathryn C. McL getting bored one day and deciding to paint the stairhall aquamarine and slopping paint over the woodwork while she was at it. She or her parents, since clearly Mary Kathryn N. wasn't responsible!

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