Monday, February 13, 2006

The House in the Wood

I had never seen a willfully neglected house before we moved to the Hundred Acre Wood. It was a revelation. The same family had lived there for seventeen years, with no attention paid to upkeep. I mean, REALLY no attention paid. It was a three-bedroom, one and a half bath house, built (probably) in the 1920's. It could have been older. Once months had been spent cleaning and restoring, it was even a nice house. It was built at the foot of the mountain, with a beautiful view of the distant bay. The kitchen was large, the living room and dining room, even larger. It had a butler's pantry and two balconies, one off the master bedroom and one that ran the length of the front, with access from both living and dining rooms. There was a very nice fireplace, a wood-burning furnace in the cellar, and a wood-burning range in the kitchen. The master bedroom was also heated by a wood stove. The guest room had the chimney from the kitchen stove running through it, so it stayed pretty warm. The only room with no heat at all was mine.

I don't care what they say about mild winters in British Columbia; that room was cold!

It was a good thing we had our trailer (the one we had towed all the way from Quebec City), because the house was uninhabitable. It was the beginning of October when we first pulled the trailer up the hill, and Mom vowed we would be in the house by Christmas. I guess six months of trailer life was about all she could stand.

The former residents had had the electricity cut off years ago, and every surface was encrusted with candle wax. The ground floor half bath was totally non-functional, and there was a 17-year mound of tin cans along the side of the house. It looked as if they had been tossed out the kitchen and dining-room windows! There was a dead rat in the wood range, the furnace didn't work, and the wood stove in the master bedroom had been used without a stovepipe for long enough to coat the room with soot.

By dint of a huge amount of work, we were in there by Christmas. There was still no electricity, but we had lamps.

There were good things about the place. The cleaning revealed lovely wood panelling and floors. There was natural spring water, and a wonderfully neglected orchard that we didn't find until the following Spring. And there was the Hundred Acre Wood. The trees were mostly evergreens, with a goodly number of maple, birch and arbutus. There were rare and beautiful wild flowers, and berries grew everywhere. Small animals roamed there, and deer, and an occasional cougar came over the mountain in the winter. A "neighbour" in Maple Bay (the other side of the mountain) would call if she saw one headed our way, and Mom would haul in the dog and cat, and call another neighbour who had guns. He would round up a hunting party and go run it off. I don't think they ever killed one while we lived there, but they went out ofter two or three.

The chore I hated the most was collecting firewood. Once or twice a week, Mom and I would traipse all over, looking for dead trees and windfalls. We would haul home anything we could, and guide Dad to any that were too big. Once we got them home, small branches had to be hacked off, and the trunks and large branches sawn into useable lengths. All of it had to be stacked in the cellar, and quite a bit split into kindling. This operation went forward in all sorts of weather. Everything depended on it. Heat, cooking, bathing--firewood was golden!

Funny...we lived there for only two years, but it seems to be a huge part of my childhood.

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