Y'all know that one of the great loves of my life is baseball. Another of my loves is the little town I live in (Lexington, Missouri) and its history. So when I found out that Phil Dixon, a Negro Leagues Baseball author, was coming to Lexington and needed volunteers for a project, I was in.
Mr. Dixon was hoping to find the grave of Negro Leagues player Bill Lindsay, who was born in Lexington and pitched for the Leland Giants and a couple of other teams until his untimely death in 1914 at the young age of 23. It's known that Bill Lindsay's body was brought back to Lexington and it's very likely he was buried at Forest Grove Cemetery.
Forest Grove Cemetery was founded in 1890 as a black cemetery. Over the years it's suffered from neglect and occasional vandalism, and lately two local men have been trying to take care of it mostly by themselves. It's a fairly large cemetery and, honestly, too much for just two men to maintain. They'd been doing a good job of mowing the center of the cemetery, but weeds, brush, and small trees were taking over the boundaries of the cemetery. Mr. Dixon and the Lexington United Methodist Church asked for volunteers to help clean it up.
About 30 people showed up that morning and we divided into smaller groups all around the cemetery and got to work.
A couple friends and I waded into the brush to mark graves before other people came in with mowers and brush hogs.
Some graves are marked only with the metal markers from the funeral home, so it was slow going.
Damaged trees were cut down and the whole area cleared out.
A local asphalt and tree-trimming company donated their services for the day. They kept working long after the rest of us had stopped for lunch.
Mike Slaughter (on the left) is one of the caretakers for the cemetery. He was overwhelmed by all the help and how much better the cemetery looked. That's Phil Dixon on the right, who came out to look for Bill Lindsay's grave.
He found a Lindsay family gravestone. It has several generations of Shelby, Lindsay, and Mady names engraved on all four sides of it. One of the names is Bill Lindsay's mother's.
Bill Lindsay had eight siblings, and there's a large open space around this gravestone, so it's Mr. Dixon's belief that Bill is buried here without a marker.
The difference in the cemetery's appearance by the end of the day is amazing.
It hardly looks like the same place.
The contractors who volunteered even graded the road and filled in low spots in the cemetery.
Phil Dixon wrote later, "The best part of my Lexington visit was seeing how members of Lexington’s local United Methodist Church and others in the community came together to clean up Forest Grove Cemetery. The diversity of the group which worked on the cemetery was inspiring. It’s amazing what can be achieved when people work together for a common good will."
You know it's been awhile since you've posted when folks start emailing you to ask if you're okay. Whoops. And also, I'm okay.
I was thinking about making some joke about having gotten the house done, but then I decided that was pretty lame. I've always been really honest on this blog and that seems like the right thing to do again.
I began this year with a lot of plans: finish up the last bits of the front porch, re-do the "big" bathroom, do something about my gross bedroom, replace the shower in the "little" bathroom. Looking back on it, those were really ambitious plans, and that kind of planning was based on almost 9 years of having a job that paid crazy-good money; money that allowed me to pay all my bills, grow retirement accounts, put money into a "house fund" every two weeks, and still have a pretty decent standard of living. When I got laid off from the fire department and got hired at the police department I knew immediately that I was taking a 40% pay cut, based just on the hourly wage. The reality is that the pay cut is more like 55% most paychecks, and sometimes higher. (The exact reasons for that are kinda complicated, but it has to do with overtime pay and having to pay a portion of my health insurance premium now.) Ouch. I mean seriously, OUCH.
So I had a decision to make. I could continue to save towards retirement (albeit at a much slower rate) or I could keep spending money on the house, but I couldn't do both. If I were 28 instead of 48, I might've made a different choice. Sigh. Being a grown-up is seriously over-rated, y'all.
If all this sounds like whining, well...it is. Usually when I'm thinking about having a pity party, I stop myself before it becomes a full-blown wake. Not this year. I fairly wallowed in it. I don't know why exactly I failed to get out of the doldrums, but I couldn't and I didn't so I just let myself feel bad until I didn't feel bad anymore and now I think I'm mostly done with it.
I did finish painting the front porch ceiling. I'm sure I took photos of that, but I can't seem to find them so you'll just have to take my word for it. I still have to paint all those little spindles on the east side of the front porch and I'll take advantage of good fall weather to do so.
I also did a mini-makeover of the laundry room, helped to clean up a historic cemetery, started a new blog, and had a blast at Wentworth Military Academy's Homecoming Weekend this year. I'll have to find photos of all that to share with y'all. Oh wait. I have a pic of that last thing:
Most of this summer has been unseasonably cool. Rainy, too. So. Much. Rain. Sometimes hard rain and bad thunderstorms, but mostly light rain; the kind of day that can't make up its mind if it wants to rain or not, the kind of day when it mists a little, then rains for an hour or so, then stays cloudy for the rest of the day so that the high temperature is around 80, the kind of day that would be perfect for, say, putting up trim pieces under cover of a porch.
But Marion and I didn't work on the porch on that kind of day. No, we chose to work on a day when the heat index topped out at 115. It was only a couple hours of work, but two hours was plenty in that heat. We laughed about it taking only two hours to do, including a 20-minute conversation with one of my neighbors, because ever since last September when we bought the trim pieces Marion's been saying "It'll only take us two hours". Typical of us, that it took us ten months to find two hours to finish this up.
We used 1x4s next to the house. I could make up a good story about why we did that, but the truth is--well, look to the left of the 1x4 in the photo below.
There's a good-sized gap between the beadboard ceiling and the clapboards, a gap that's too wide for quarter round to cover. I'll take the blame for that for the one piece of beadboard sheeting that I cut, because I'm incapable of measuring accurately. The rest of it is a quirk of measurement: the house itself is still square, but the concrete slab the porch sets on was built out of square to the house, so because we measured from the edge of that slab when we built the porch, the porch is square to itself but out of square to the house. What this means is that a sheet of beadboard cut, say, 72" long will fit perfectly along the outside edge of the porch, but on the house edge will have a gap ranging from 1/16" to 7/8" or slightly more. We could've compensated for this if we'd realized it before we cut all the sheets of beadboard to the same length. Whoops.
There's Marion proving himself alive and well and perfectly capable of carpentry with only seven whole fingers. He told me that an old man at a lumberyard said to him when he saw his missing digits, "Well, now you're a real carpenter." It seems to me that there ought to be a certification course or something he could take, instead of having to run his hand into a saw, to prove that, you know?
Marion notched out the 1x4s around the door and window trim. (Incidentally, he did that with the ledger boards when he built the porch, too. One of the things that surprised us was that the original ceiling covered up part of that trim.) He used chunky quarter round on the other seams, so I don't think it looks bad that it's not all quarter round. I imagine it'll look even better when it's painted.
The very last thing Marion did was to cover the corner seam of the beadboard with a long piece of lattice strip. With that, the construction of the porch is officially finished.
Now all I have to do is paint those trim pieces to match the ceiling, and finish painting those spindles, and then the front porch will be really and truly completely finished. My goal is to have all that done by the one-year anniversary of when we closed up the porch ceiling, which will be September 24th.
Sometimes I go through life with blinders on. Sometimes I procrastinate. Sometimes I don't know what to do, so I don't do anything. And sometimes, all of those things sorta glom together and make something bad happen.
Everyone pretty much agrees that the front door is one of the best things about my house. Last year when we took the craptastic porch off the front of the house, I was very worried that falling debris would break the glass in the door or damage the trim somehow. I tacked a piece of plywood over the door to protect it. Good thinking. Once the demolition was done, I took that plywood off the door. Bad thinking. Because without the plywood over the door, and without the porch roof to shelter it, the beautiful front door was exposed to rain and bright sunlight.
News flash: days and days of weather can really beat up a 127-year-old door. After a couple of weeks, it looked pretty bad. I put up the piece of plywood again, but the damage was already done.
When the porch was finished, down came the plywood again, and the front door looked bad for a whole year. I didn't know how to make it look better, and I was afraid of doing something that might make it worse, so I didn't do anything at all.
Last week I was talking to the owners of a local shop, Blackthorn Antiques. These folks are experts in restoring old furniture, so I sought their advice about my front door. We were also talking about a recent Historic Preservation Commission meeting. (I may have neglected to tell y'all this, but I was recently appointed to the city's Historic Preservation Commission.) The first big issue HPC's facing since my appointment is that a guy wants to tear down a two-story Victorian in one of Lexington's National Register Historic Districts. The Commission voted unanimously not to allow the demolition, but the owner's appealing that decision to City Council on Tuesday night. Someone from HPC will have to make a presentation to Council about the house. One of Blackthorn's owners is a fellow HPC member, and he was trying to persuade me to do the presentation. I was trying to justify making an unbudgeted purchase of the stuff necessary to fix my front door. Then, the shop owner made me an offer I couldn't refuse: "I'll give you a third of a can of Howard's Restore-A-Finish and a couple pieces of steel wool if you do the presentation." Seems like a fair trade.
About an hour and a half later....
It's looking better already. I need to even out the stain a bit so the door doesn't look striped. (Or am I the only one who notices that??) After that, I'll see if I can swap the Restore-A-Finish for a little Feed-N-Wax. I'm not sure that'll work, since there's not another presentation to be made...
PS: The water heater installation was utterly uneventful, and afterwards I ran from sink to sink randomly turning on hot water, just because I could.
Y'all, I really need to get this blog-writing thing back on track. Seriously. All my posts so far this year have started out with "last week" or worse, and this one's no different. Sheesh.
Anyhow, a couple of weeks ago I went down to The Scary Basement for some reason and saw that the dirt floor down there was all muddy. Not just damp like it gets sometimes when the humidity is 1000%, but actual mud and a couple of puddles. Uh-oh.
Further investigation revealed that the bottom of the water heater had rusted out. Or, as my momma put it, "It finally went blooey."
This is not altogether a bad thing. When I bought the house in 2006 the guy who inspected it told me that the water heater was in really bad shape and I'd be lucky if it lasted five years. I decided then and there to wait to replace the water heater until it actually stopped working. In the meantime, I've put up with a water heater that takes forever to produce hot water (I can fill up two 5-gallon buckets before the water gets hot enough to take a shower) and then suddenly produces water that's scalding hot. The water heater has only three settings on it: Low, Medium, and High. That's deceiving. Low should really be called Scalding; Medium should be called Boil Lobsters In Your Bathtub; and I suspect that High would involve actual flames coming out of the faucet. So here we are, 8 years and 7 months after I bought the house, and it's finally time to replace the water heater.
I have a friend whose brother-in-law is a plumber and he said if I bought the water heater, he'd put it in for about 200 bucks. I'm given to understand that this is pretty cheap, as plumbers go. However, I firmly believe in not paying for labor when you can get it for free, and my friend Steve very kindly offered to install my water heater for free. Steve is apparently a glutton for punishment, because the last time he offered to help me for free, he was nearly squashed in a construction accident.
Someone wise once told me that old houses are like nesting dolls: you see the one big issue, but hidden inside is another issue, and inside that issue is another, and so on. Swip-swapping the old water heater for the new one seems pretty straightforward, but then there's finding time in everyone's schedule to do it, borrowing my son's truck so we can haul the new water heater home (because I'm not paying the big box store to deliver it), and figuring out what to do with the old one. I haven't been able to get everyone together yet, so for two weeks I've been taking showers and doing laundry at my son's house. It looks like next Sunday will be The Day. Hopefully nobody gets squashed.
Remember last post when I showed y'all the mysterious man walking in my side yard? I know y'all have just been on pins and needles ever since wondering what the heck he was doing there.
Well, he was putting up ladders there. And on the other side too.
And in the front yard, as well.
He's going to paint all three of the eaves. Yep, for the first time ever I'm hiring someone to do something I could do myself. Because I could do it myself...but I don't want to. My fear of heights is well-documented. The thought of dragging heavy ladders all over the yard and struggling to place them just right fills me with loathing. So Chris is going to do it, and for a great price. He makes a little money, I get out of doing a chore I don't want to do, and everybody's happy.
Sometimes at the beginning of my days off I set a goal for myself. Like last weekend, when I decided that the downspouts that fell off the house over the winter might work better if they were actually attached to the gutters.
And then I looked at the flowerbed I outlined in the front yard and thought how ugly it looked with all that grass in it.
So I left the downspouts scattered in the yard (because that's not ugly, right?) and told myself that I'd just till up the flowerbed to get the grass out of it and then I'd hang the downspouts.
But just about the time I finished tilling up the yard (by hand, not with an electric tiller, and I have the blisters to prove it) my momma showed up with three rose bushes. Double Knock-Out Roses. So I said I'd just plant those rose bushes and then I'd hang the downspouts.
After I planted the rose bushes (after quite a bit of discussion with my momma about their placement) I thought they looked kinda lonely in there by themselves, so I dug up some epimedium (in front) and a couple catmint (in back) from another flowerbed and planted those too.
In the interest of fair and accurate reporting, I feel I should tell you that the downspout visible in the above photo was already there because it's the only one that didn't fall off over the winter.
As I was carrying another downspout over to the corner of the house I noticed that now that the front flowerbed's a lot larger than it used to be there's a big empty space at that corner, so I left the downspout in the side yard and dragged Martina The Concrete Angel over to the corner.
By that time, it was starting to get dark. The next day, it rained. Every day since then I've been sleeping so I could work a whopping 72 hours this week. Maybe on Monday I'll hang those downspouts...
So. I took an unplanned break from the blog. A winter vacation, if you will.
And what did I do on my winter vacation?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I did not finish the bathroom floor I started tearing up in December, I did not finish painting my kitchen cabinets white (that I started two years ago), I did not fix up my bedroom, and I did not do any of the other things on my to-do list.
Every winter I lose all motivation to do anything except complain about the weather, watch hours of Netflix, snuggle in my warm bed with the furbabies, and drink hot chocolate. Usually I intersperse at least something productive in the middle of all that sloth. This winter, I gave into it. Actually, I wallowed in it.
I'm only a little sorry about that.
Now that the weather is warmer and I've emerged from my hibernation--and I reserve the right to go back into grumpy-bear-hibernation mode if we get a freak snowstorm between now and June--I walked around the house and took stock of what needs to be done.
Marion and I need to hang the trim pieces around the inside edges of the front porch. We've had the lumber since...oh, September or so...but various circumstances stopped us from finishing this up last fall. I haven't talked to him for a couple of weeks, but last time I did he said he's healing well from his injury and he'll be ready to come back to work this month. After we hang the trim pieces I'll paint the spandrel and the trim, and then the porch will be finished!
Bits and pieces of the house still need to be painted: the laundry room window, the eaves here and there, pieces of trim, and that part of the east side of the house that's higher than I can reach. If you bigify the photo, you can see how ratty the eaves look over there. That's the biggest and worst part that still needs to be done. Also, the downspouts need to be put back on the house and all the windows need to be caulked. Mare thinks that all this will take me about two weeks. I say three. Not bad either way, huh?
And then there's the side porch, the thing I'm most looking forward to working on. This poor little porch has looked so sad ever since I moved in here. Last summer it finally got a new floor (Mare built that) and I tore off the icky storm door to uncover that pretty door. Sometime this year the porch will get a set of steps, a railing, and some lattice. And probably different furniture...
And after that, guess what? The outside of the house will be done. Done! Unless I win the lottery, I've gone as far as I can go in making this house look like it did in 1887. (If I did win the Powerball, I'd buy the $30,000 worth of iron roof cresting the house originally had and hire a brickmason to rebuild the three chimneys, just for looks.)
Now we'll see how accurate that prediction of two or three weeks is...
One of the things that I like best about living in a little town is the layers of connection that I have to places and people and things, some here now and some gone, some connections known and others unknown. This is a story about those layers of connection, and a valentine of sorts.
In the mid-1960s my mother owned a knit shop in downtown Lexington.She rented a little space on the first floor of a three-story brick commercial building constructed shortly before the Civil War. That building still stands, across a side street from the 1847 Lafayette County Courthouse, affectionately known as the Cannonball Courthouse for the Civil War cannonball still in one of its columns. In 1966 my mother and father had been married for almost 20 years and had no living children, having lost their son Keith to premature birth some 18 years earlier. They desperately wanted children and at 38 and 39 had almost given up hope. In December of 1966 they heard back from a social worker they thought had forgotten about them: a woman was due to give birth soon and wanted to give up her child for adoption. My mother hurriedly sold her knit shop to her friend Beryl and threw herself joyously into being a stay-at-home mom, first to me (in the third week of January, 1967) and later to my brother Jim (in October of that same year). My parents, at almost 40, suddenly found themselves with not one, but two babies only ten months apart in age. My mother's friend Beryl was delighted to find herself the owner of the little shop chock full of skeins of colorful yarn. She often told me as I was growing up, "If not for you, I wouldn't have my little shop!"
In the summer of 1998 my son, Dylan Keith (named after the brother I never knew) was ten years old and I was dating Marion. Mare had bought a three-story commercial building downtown that he was rehabbing and we were laboriously chipping off what we thought was stucco from the interior brick walls. My son and one of his friends ran in with Super Soaker water guns and drenched Mare, me, and the wall behind us, leading to the discovery that the walls were in fact coated with popcorn ceiling texture which slides right off when wet. My mother came by later that day to see the progress of the rehab and stopped in the side doorway of the building, eyebrows raised and a widening smile on her face. "This was my knit shop!" she declared. Mare and I hadn't known that until that moment.
Eight years ago I bought my house, and a couple of years thereafter set out to discover who had built the house and how old it was. After spending most of a winter week in the Courthouse going from deed to prior deed to prior deed, I had my answer: James Crawford Kelly, in the fall of 1887. Further digging into old records yielded a Kelly family history in the library, where I learned Mr. Kelly was 57 years old and his wife 53 when they decided to move to town and build a house just down the street from their church. A short walk through Machpelah Cemetery with White Trash Bob, and we'd found their gravestones and those of several family members, and all had flowers on them. We wondered who'd put those flowers there.
Last summer I was painting the east side of my house when I heard a reedy little voice say, "Yoohoo!" I turned, and there in the front yard was Miz Beryl, who didn't mind the dust and paint chips one bit when I gave her a big hug. "Do you live here?" she asked. "I just live around the corner and I didn't know this was your house." Miz Beryl is now 93 years old and in fine weather she makes a circuit from her house around the corner, down the sidewalk past the funeral home two blocks away, up the side street, and back to her house. Once she discovered this was in fact my house, she paused almost every day on her walk to chat with me and give me encouragement. The day that Marion and I put up the first porch posts on the new porch, Miz Beryl stopped, clasped her tiny hands together, and said, "Ohh, I hope you make it look like it did when I was little. You know, my great-grandpa built this place." Mare and I nearly fell off the porch. Gently, afraid she'd misremembered, I asked, "Miz, Beryl, who was your great-grandpa?" Without hesitation she replied, "James Kelly." Mare and I were astonished. "You never told me this before! How is he your great-grandpa?" She paused. "I can't remember all the names. Willa Curtis was my grandfather. You look it up, honey, fill in the blanks." My copy of the Kelly family history contained only the two pages about James Kelly, his wife, and their children. A trip to the library and I had the thread: James Crawford Kelly and Maria Louisa Duncan Kelly had a daughter Alice, born in 1859. She married Willa Curtis and they had a son named James Boyd Curtis, born in 1882. James Curtis married Elizabeth Noever and they had a daughter in 1921 named Beryl. There was the proof; Miz Beryl is indeed the great-granddaughter of the man who built my house. James Kelly's son Aubrey (who Miz Beryl called A.O. or Aub) owned the house until 1952, so Miz Beryl would certainly have known it as a family house.
This is what keeps me living here in this town when sometimes I think it would be easier to live elsewhere: the warp and weft of history and, I dare say, love, running through my family, this house, my friends, the people who came before me and the people who will be here after I am gone. Extraordinary.
Last week I went to the doctor with Marion. His appointment was at 1:30 p.m. in Kansas City, which is about an hour's drive from my house. He knocked on my back door at 9:05 a.m. Ordinarily, I'd be really cranky about that, but given the circumstances I thought it best to remain positive. After all, Marion is going through life with 30% less fingers and he's still happy.
"Wanna see it?" he asked brightly, and whipped off his glove.
I tried to keep my expression neutral, and failed. "Oh, shit!" I said. "I mean, gosh, that doesn't look as bad as I thought it would."
He laughed. "Looks worse, doesn't it?" I was trying to think of a diplomatic answer to that question (yes, it really does look even worse than I expected) when he said, "Honestly, I'm kinda disappointed that you didn't faint at the sight of it and end up on the kitchen floor in your Hello Kitty pajamas again." (That's a reference to the accident in which I broke my collarbone, and I really was wearing HK jammies. I suspect I will never live that down.)
Then I put on some decent clothes and we walked all around my house, inside and out, and planned out everything we hope to accomplish on it this year. After that we tromped around an abandoned house that sits on the river bluff and pretended we had enough money to buy it and fix it up, then we ate lunch, and then we went to the doctor.
"Wanna go in with me?" Marion asked when we got there. I opted to sit in the waiting room instead, which turned out to be an excellent decision when fifteen minutes or so later he returned with a pained expression on his face and his right hand swathed in bandages.
"Remember when you were a little kid and your mom told you not to pick at scabs or it'd never heal? Well, she lied!" he said, standing there with his hand tucked inside his coat like Napoleon. "The doctor pulled every one of the scabs off my fingers and cleaned 'em all out."
All together now: ewwwww....
Marion has to go back to the doctor in a month. In the meantime, he's supposed to take antibiotics, flex his fingers, and do anything which doesn't cause him pain. On the way home, he told me that he thought we could sheetrock my bedroom ceiling in a couple of weeks. When I told him that I thought he might be pushing it and that he really ought to stop and think about that, he replied, "Between now and then I thought I'd work on making some tools that fit on the ends of my fingers. One of them could be a flat-head screwdriver, a Phillips-head, a magnet for nails and screws. When I get done, I'll have the Swiss Army knife of hands!"
Marion called me yesterday. Without preamble or greeting, as is his usual phone manner, as soon as I answered the phone he said, "It's gonna be more like March before we can finish the front porch."
I assumed he meant because it's about 12 degrees outside and the porch floor's covered in a thin sheet of ice, and I said as much.
"Oh yeah, that too, but the big reason is that I had a little accident with the planer."
I've known Marion for 17 years. Marion is the King of Understatement. I had a very bad feeling about his definition of "little accident" and I sat down suddenly, my heart racing, afraid to ask him what he meant.
"Are you still there?" he asked.
"I am," I said.
"I caught my right hand in the planer. I still have all of my thumb and index finger, my middle finger's missing the first knuckle, and my ring finger and pinky finger are about an inch long now."
"The doctor says I'm still gonna be able to use my hand, once it heals up, but I've got about eight weeks before I'll be able to do any work on your house or anybody else's," Marion said.
"I don't give a damn about the work on my house," I said. "I just want to know that you're okay."
"Oh, I'm fine," he said, more cheerfully than I think the situation warrants.
There is some good news in this. Marion's left-handed, mostly, in that he writes with his left hand, but like most people who work with their hands he's actually ambidextrous. His thumb and index finger are intact, so he can still pick things up, and the doctor thinks he'll regain some limited ability to grip. This is winter, when there's a lull in the work anyway, so what jobs he was working on for his friend Tim (who's rehabbing a three-story commercial building in downtown Lexington) can wait until he heals up and won't be bid out to another contractor. And lastly, he has a positive attitude about his injury. "Maybe," he said, "I'll get a cool nickname out of this, like Stubby or something."