Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Rule of 150

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, before I came along and then my little brother ten months later--before you bend your brain thinking about that, I should tell you we're both adopted--my momma worked in the Lafayette County Courthouse.  It's affectionately known as the Cannonball Courthouse because it still has a cannonball stuck in one of its big white columns from the Civil War Battle of Lexington in 1861.  Up until fairly recently the Cannonball Courthouse did not have air conditioning, and even with big windows and high ceilings I imagine it got pretty darn uncomfortable in there during the summer.  The County Commissioners instituted The Rule of 150: if the outside temperature plus the humidity was equal to or greater than 150, the Courthouse closed for the day.  That seems like a good rule.  In fact, it seems like that rule could apply quite well to working outdoors in the heat, too.

The next several days are predicted to be hot and humid, highs in the upper 90s with humidity at 50% or higher.  The Rule of 150 is likely to kick in and keep me from working much outdoors.  As my cousin David said, "Any paint you put on the house in that heat would just blister right away."  Weather that hot doesn't seem conducive to standing on a ladder scratching away at old paint with a scraper, either. 

So I'm making other plans.  Like pulling staples out of the back bedroom ceiling and maybe getting some planks up there.  Playing hooky with my momma for an afternoon and picking through heaps of vintage linens at an antique shop outside Warrensburg.  Chowing down on one of Mr. Bruce's hand-breaded tenderloins at Riley's Pub.  Watching movies on my new Roku box, which my son has renamed "The Box of Magic".

If it's hot where you are, too, please be careful.  We've had a cooler-than-normal summer here in the Midwest and folks just aren't acclimated to this heat.  Stay indoors if you can.  If you can't, drink lots of water and take breaks frequently.  Don't forget to check on elderly neighbors who might not have air conditioning, and be kind to your animals, too.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An Unlikely Journey

This is what the back of my house looked like in--well, judging by the snow on the ground in this photo it could be anywhere from October to May--so I'll just say this is what the back of my house looked like earlier this year, and what it still looks like (minus the snow) today.  I'd like to call your attention to the wall behind that ladder.  See that patched-in place?  With all the uneven clapboards?  That's where the back door used to be, long before I bought the house, and I hate the way they patched it all sloppy and uneven.  I think I know why they--whoever "they" are--did it that way:  because they knew that their sloppy patch was going to be covered up almost immediately by cedar shingles, which used to cover the whole house.  (Remember how ugly that looked??)  That's also why they didn't make the patch by the existing door look nicer, too.  It used to be a window, which was slightly wider than the door, and they just stuck a scrap piece of lumber on the side there. 

Last fall I decided that I'd buy new clapboards and run them the length of that wall, from the trim there on the left clear over to the door, all nice and even.  Then I went to the lumberyard and priced new clapboards and decided that $250 was too much to pay for cedar clapboards just to get rid of a patch in the wall, especially when they're so thin I could cut 'em with a Dremel tool.  I complained about this one evening last fall while drinking a beer with the guy down the street, and Chris flung open his garage door to show me a giant stack of clapboards salvaged from an 1870s house.  "I'll sell ya what I don't use to fix my own house," he said.  We shook hands on the deal.

And, in the way of things around here, almost a year went by before we talked about those clapboards again. 

A lot's happened since then, some of it not too good, and without getting into the details I'll just say that Chris has decided reluctantly to pull up stakes and leave our little town.  That meant I needed to go get those clapboards right away, so I drove The Toaster down the alley last Friday and spent what will probably be my last afternoon at that house with Chris.  (In the basement, no less, which is where he was storing the clapboards.)  That house is the house that Mare and I lived in once upon a time.  We split up, Mare ran out of money, the house sold before I had the money to buy it myself, and it's been sold twice since I bought the Kelly House.  Now it's for sale again. 

Loading the clapboards into my car, I asked Chris where they came from.  "A house out east of town on 24," he said, "before they tore it down."  Oddly, Mare lived in that house, too, until he lost it to foreclosure.  Then someone with good intentions but bad advice gutted the house before they ran out of money to restore it, so it sat vacant and in disrepair for several years until the farmer who owned the surrounding land had the house torn down.  The siding was salvaged by the previous owner of Chris's house and stored in the garage for several years. 

Those clapboards have made an unlikely journey from the house east of town which no longer stands, to the house down the street where some of them replaced broken clapboards there, and now to my own house.  I think it would be fitting, given their history, if Mare helped me put them on my house, but I suspect he'll see that a little less poetically than I do.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Almost Scary

In spite of declaring one day last week as The Day of Sleep, and playing hooky the next day to go shopping with my momma, and then spending half of an afternoon in someone else's basement (more about that later), I did get a little more paint on the front of the house.

I'm almost to the scary part of the house, where I have to face my fear of heights and step off the ladder and onto that little roof above the windows to scrape and paint.  Gulp.  It's terrifying.  Wish me luck and courage.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Domino Effect

This business of "one thing leads to another" is a common theme around here, and this is just the latest example of it.

There I was, painting the trim around the transom window above the front door when I looked down inside the storm window covering it and noticed a chunky piece of beautiful trim.  "It's too bad that's hidden by the storm window...." I thought.  And then, almost before I even finished that thought, came an idea:  Why not pull the storm window off there? The transom hardware on the inside is long gone, and the window's sealed shut by about a thousand coats of paint, so it's not like the storm window really had any purpose.

So I removed it.

Then I stepped back and looked at the front door and thought, "Well, now the storm door looks really dorky without the storm window above it."  I hate that storm door with a passion, always have.  It's aluminum and really flimsy, the screen panels for it are gone, and one of the glass panels has been replaced with plexiglass.  "Guess I better keep it though," I sighed, "since I don't have the money for one of those full-view glass doors right now."  So I painted it.  And that storm door bugged me for the rest of the day.  Towards dark I gave myself a little talk. "Hell's Bells, you took the storm windows off every window on the entire house and despite the dire predictions of the haters, it didn't cause the utility bills to soar.  The damn door doesn't fit in the frame anyhow, so it's hardly energy efficient.  Besides, if you take the storm door off then you can see the front door."  (Talking to myself like this might be part of the reason why the neighbors think I'm nuts.  That, and painting my whole house by myself.)

So I removed the storm door, too.  Because it really did look dorky on there.

And now everybody can see the front door, which is the best part of my house.  

(Everybody can also see my arm and the top of my head in the reflection, which is not the best part of my house!)  

Looking at it, I realized that the strip of wood above the door (it's gray in the above photo) wasn't original to the house and was put there when the storm door was.  My son had stopped by when he saw the storm door out in the yard, so he removed that little piece of wood for me.  

Then it occurred to me that without a storm door, the post office would be willing to use the mail slot in my door, so I took the mailbox off the front of the house too.

A doorknob and backplate this gorgeous should not be hidden behind a storm door, am I right?

Here you can also see the paint history of the trim:  white (me), cream (me too), bright yellow, gray, and dark blacky-green.

A better photo of the front door.

(Note the icky storm door in the reflection.)

Twenty-four hours later, I took this photo...and realized I'd come full circle.  Painted trim, removed storm window, removed storm door, removed trim piece, removed mailbox, and now back to painting trim again.

Is it any wonder it takes forever for me to get things done?



Sunday, August 11, 2013

Under The Weather

Thursday I worked ten hours on the front of the house and I have this to show for it.


Some of that primer was already there.  

Yep, that's it.  Not really much of a difference from last week, is it?  That paint's really tough to take off.  I thought about just painting over it, but it's really cracked so it does have to come off.  Eventually.

Friday I was determined to make visible progress.  And then it rained all day.  Not pouring rain that would've improved the drought conditions around here, just a light misting rain off and on all day.  Enough to keep me from scraping paint, because when the clapboards are damp they're soft and the scraper damages them.  After messing about aimlessly inside the house for a few hours, two things occurred to me:

Hey, I have really wide eaves on this house.

And, I have a front porch.

(It should also occur to you, and me, that I'm not very smart because it took me until mid-morning to figure that out.)

So I worked "under the weather" beneath the eaves on the front of the house and got it primed...
Photo taken Saturday afternoon in the sunshine.

And "under the weather" on the front porch to put one coat of paint on this (which didn't need to be scraped, so it went fast)...
 ...and the little fiddly pieces of the screened porch too...
and by dark on Friday night I felt like I was making progress after all.

Which motivated me on Saturday to put a coat of paint on the front of the house...


...and now I'm hopeful that I might finish the front of the house by mid-September so it looks presentable when people come into town for the Old Homes Tour.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Double Loss

About 2:15 a.m. the morning of August 1st, a sheriff's deputy standing outside the jail heard the noise, a long rumbling sound that seemed to end with a sigh.  He sent someone to check out the noise and they discovered, a block away, that one of Lexington's old buildings, located on Main Street in the National Register Commercial Historic District downtown, had partially collapsed.   Built in 1890, the building had most recently been the home of Riley's Irish Pub & Grill, a business that was known as much for its beautiful architecture and the vibrantly welcoming personality of its owner, Katherine VanAmburg, as it was for its delicious food.  People met there for lunch or supper or just to talk and all of them were greeted by Katherine saying in her faintly Southern accent, "Welcome to Riley's!  Have a seat anywhere you'd like!"  Katherine's family had been in Lexington even longer than the building had, having come here in 1835 to build houses, raise families, and own businesses that included the famous Pony Express.

In recent months, both the building and Katherine had fallen on hard times.  Katherine had cancer and recovered, then had a stroke, and then the cancer returned.  In May, a hole had formed in the outside wall of the pub after hard rains and the building was declared unsafe.  Employees hurried to remove what they could of the building's contents, moved to a new location at 12th and Franklin Streets, and the building was left vacant.  The plan was to move back into the Main Street building after repairs were made.  But the insurance company dragged their feet on authorizing those repairs, and the plans to return to the historic building ended when it collapsed in the wee hours of the morning August 1st.

When the sun rose that morning,
 the extent of the damage was heartbreaking.



 The pub's iconic leaded glass keyhole window lay shattered in the street.


A set of shelves balanced on the edge of the collapse, 
stacks of plates unbroken.

More heartbreak was to come.  
Shortly before 8 a.m., we learned that Katherine had passed away.
Becky Morton, the pub's manager, said sadly, 
"Katherine has left and she took the building with her."
It seems both terribly sad and at the same time 
somehow absolutely right that we lost two Lexington icons in one day.

The city decided that the rest of the building must come down.  
The fire department showed up to hose down the debris after the Department of Natural Resources said the site most likely contained asbestos.  The track hoe started its terrible work.
 The back of the building had been mostly intact after the collapse, and when the track hoe started to tear that down, it peeled away the front wall first.  For a moment we could see inside the building, the bathroom doors with the Lads and Lassies signs on them, boxes of Katherine's family history stacked at the top of the steps where they'd been left behind the day of the move, a coat rack on the wall.  Then the machine clawed it all down to the ground.  A group of us watching, including Riley's employees, burst into tears.

After the machines finished the awful business of bringing the building to the ground, only the stained glass window at the front of the building remained.

Two Riley's employees and I scrambled over the debris picking out Katherine's belongings until the city arrived to fence off the area and we were told to leave.  We found almost 200 photographs Katherine had taken, a serving plate, and three of the six boxes of her family history.  The back bar, original to the building, many of Katherine's possessions, and some pub fixtures are buried in the rubble now. The city's Public Works department salvaged the frame of the keyhole window, two corbels, and the large stained glass window and have them in storage.  It's unclear if further salvage will be allowed.

At Katherine's memorial service on Friday, Reverend Liz Deveney often spoke of Katherine VanAmburg and the Riley's Pub in the same sentence.  She told us how she arrived here from Austin, Texas used to big city ways and that it was Katherine who first extended a welcome to her and who taught her to "sit down, sit all the way down" and be present in the moment.  Reverend Liz told us that hospitality knows no physical space, and although the building is gone, Katherine's warm welcome can live on in the pub's new location or wherever we are as we welcome each other as family.


NOTE:  All photos are mine with the exception of the first one, which Katherine took some years ago. More photos can be seen at the Facebook page for Riley's Irish Pub & Grill.  You are welcome to use my photos but please give credit or link back to either this post or the Riley's page.  Thank you.