Ode to a Small Town – Part Two
As I mentioned in the first part of this tale of the Bonaduces Life and Great Times in the wonderful little town of Birchrunville, we really lucked out when we moved there. Tucked sweetly in the hills of Pennsyvania Dutch country, it really was a place where everybody knew our name and we loved our life there.
Getting there however was not half the fun!
To begin with, we chose to buy a schoolhouse that hadn’t been occupied for a very long time. Our first clue as to how bad things could be came when our early effort to force the door open failed We had to get help from a neighbor to bull through the trash holding the door closed.
The roof had fallen in and debris was everywhere. In addition, the schoolhouse had never been used by a private family, so there were no room as such…just a lot of open space. There was no kitchen, but there were TWO bathroom structures – one on either side of the building…sort of attached outhouses.
More importantly, there was no usable heating system.
I don’t know who first said that ignorance is bliss, but it certainly worked for us. We saw no reason at all to believe that two writers with no practical life skills, couldn’t put a hundred year old schoolhouse together at little cost and even littler worry.
We learned everything the hard way.
We should probably start with the heating system since it was cold outside – and inside. We read up on heating systems of course, and then we went shopping. What a lot of helpful people we met. Why by the time we started to work on installing a fine, fully guaranteed set up, it sounded like almost everything was done for you by the guy who was selling it to you.
Ever the optimists, we lassoed a few equally incompetent friends and set to work. It didn’t take long to install the whole thing. “Ha,” we thought. “There is just no stopping us.”
Now you must remember that this schoolhouse was very, very large. The walls were of stone and about three feet thick and the windows were a more than six feet tall. There were two floors, and I’m guessing each was about 40 fee† square. As I say, I’m guessing, but if 40 X 40 isn’t huge, then double it This house was BIG. Obviously the job of heating it all was of major importance.
Unfortunately no one ever voiced the fact that heat rises -.at least not in our hearing. So we installed the system so that the heat went straight up to the top of the building, our bedrooms became a toasty 95 degrees while the living room hung in there at closer to 43.
We took down the outdoor bathrooms and built one on the second floor. Joe took over this job on his own and one of his first efforts involved the medicine chest. He decided to open a small space in the back of the closet so that he could toss all used razor blades in there and let them fall safely between the walls.
Not to say that the man had a short fuse, but when Joe worked we mostly stayed out of his way. It took about two hours to fix the medicine chest to his complete satisfaction. But he DID it and he called me up to admire his handiwork. With great joy – and more than a little swelling of his chest – he demonstrated how the blades went into the slot he’d provided and were safely removed from the children’s paths.
All of which was just splendid – until Celia called from her bedroom, right behind the bathroom…
“Mom! Mom? Why is Daddy throwing razor blades through the wall? They’re all over my room!”
No one laughed until AFTER Joe had left the building.
The kitchen was mine to do with as I pleased and on the whole I was very excited by what I accomplished Working from lessons learned, this time we started by calling in an expert on plumbing to guarantee that the water works did. Work that is.
Because we were in the country, we had to make sure our systems didn’t interfere with those of our neighbors and so we had a man come by to dig hundreds of feet of trench to serve as a purifying run.
I don’t remember much about the man except that for several weeks he showed up, dug his trenches added a deep layer of stones and sang. Always the same song with the same few words. “Down on my knees eating peas,” Honest. He seemed quite devoted to the song, and, since neither Joe nor I felt like taking over the task, we pretended it didn’t drive up nuts.
For my part, I elected to have a pink and silver kitchen. I was particularly pleased with my choice of a stainless steel double sink The bowls were round. I never knew anyone else who had a round double sink so of course I had to have one. What a mistake. The things had wide tops that tapered down to a totally useless base. No utensil in my collection fitted in that damned sink. I was majorly ticked off but could never bring myself to admit the thing was an on going horror story.
While all of this was going on, my father, who hated everything about this move, arranged to have a puppet theater built. It fit perfectly on the stage (yes, stage) that came with the house and resided in the living room area. With a family like ours, it was the most popular spot in the whole establishment,
We moved in to the schoolhouse long before it was ready for us. We had successfully divided the upstairs into four bedrooms and a bath…most people managed to live with just one bath back then. Besides, we really couldn’t afford to put I two.
At the time Joe was the PR man for the Philadelphia Zoo and he used to bring home animals every once in a while because it was easier to have them at the house when he got ready to take them to local schools or an occasional television show.
On one memorable night he arrived home with a sack of four snakes, (one for each child to play with) a chimpanzee, a monkey or two and a lion cub. All of these he deposited in our bedroom because the animals loved the heat up there.
Most unfortunately, it snowed very hard that evening and we were stuck in the house with all the wildlife for several days. It was okay with the chimp and the monkeys…they went swinging all around the house. And the snakes were taken out for an airing and feeding as needed. My role in all this was to pretend I wasn’t terrified of snakes and having monkeys jumping all around was just grand fun! I was, if I say so myself, very convincing. But then there was the lion cub…a 40 pound little bundle of – is hate too strong a word? But cute.
Meantime, we had not yet installed the hardwood flooring and the animals spent three days there, smelling up the place and soaking through piles and piles of newspaper and sub flooring. The house smelled like – surprise – a ZOO!
However, on the fourth day the sun rose and shone happily down on us all. Most of the animals were in great shape. They’d really enjoyed the visit. But the little lion? Well, he was suffering from three days in his cage and he REALLY needed a bath.
Together Joe and I attacked the problem mentally. Finally Joe said that he would hold the little boy and I should take a wash cloth and wash his pretty little face.
Always ready to help – hey, it’s my story so you get my version – I agreed. Joe lifted the baby out of his cage It growled and clawed at the air. But it wasn’t until I approached it head on with a warm cloth and soap, that it realized what was in store for it…and objected strenuously. I backed off. Joe took a firmer grip and I tried again. The cub let loose a great bellow of objection and tried to scratch my face off. It roared and twisted and Joe and I stood there…What next?
What next turned out to be music. I started to sing and suddenly the lion turned into a lamb. It hung loosely in Joe’s arms while I washed and dried it. He only bellowed if I stopped.
Joe packed up the many animals and the kids and took them all to their assigned schools, where Anthony got into a great battle when he told his classmates about our guests and they called him a liar.
Of course, with the animals gone, the stench remained so we had to put in new sub flooring which we did in a great hurry.
All of this activity took a little more than a year…and that doesn’t include digging out the basement or where the conveyor belt came from that made that job possible. It showed up one day and it was much too helpful for me to challenge its rightful address.
We only lived in Birchrunville for three and a half years but it was an outstanding time and I would suggest – no, wonderful as it was I wouldn’t suggest – you undertake this kind of adventure unless you can afford to bring in people who know what they are doing.
After thought. It occurred to me that I have been missing something in today’s ever more mechanize world. It is TENDERNESS. How long has it been since you’ve even heard the word?