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Staying True
by Duane Behrens

Finally, sadly, I closed up the cabin for the winter last week.  Storm windows replaced as needed, inside windows locked, thermostat set to 55, timers set on lights, LP gas valve turned off, neighbors notified, straw on the septic tank . . . and all the other things that I would probably forget if not for this list my wife gave me.  She's good like that, and I've dutifully checked off each item.

It's a sad thing, really.  If a house can have a soul, the lonely and empty days of winter must be horrible for any home that is left vacant after each autumn season.  I've been told, "An unoccupied home will deteriorate twice as fast as an occupied one."  I believe that's true - but not because of cold, or dryness, or frost in the basement.  It's the emptiness that does it.

But there's work elsewhere.  A salary to earn.  Social commitments to attend to.  And so the home is left with a cleaning, a final walk through, and a regretful pause at the landing before that outer latch is closed for good.  Well.  Closed until Christmas holidays, at least.

If Jane and I have been true to this old home's soul in any way, it's in the way we've begun to refurbish it.  So many friends have attempted to make their old home look new, installing new wood paneling in the living room, removing those old 10-inch baseboards, putting an "island" in the kitchen, granite flooring in the bathroom, bay windows, mauves and magentas on the wall, etc.

We're going the other way.   The baseboards have not only been retained, but they've been sanded, primed and repainted their original dark brown.  The walls have a new coat of their original beige.  The carpet on the steps is gone, replaced with a shiny oil base paint and traction strips.  For a few years at least, we'll even allow that slightly sloping floor in the upstairs den to remain.  (Okay, it really wasn't in the budget anyway.)  And while none of these efforts are likely to improve the sale value of the home as much as, say, a granite kitchen countertop, all will provide comfort and peace to the home's current occupants - us.

We want this house to look and feel like the 100 year old antique that it is.  That  may not equal "charming" just yet.  But I trust in Jane's eventual ability to make it quite charming indeed.  An old portrait here, a grandfather clock there . . . and a wood stove . . . right . . . THERE.  (Never mind that our local insurance agent will admonish us to never actually hook it up; it just looks right.)

And . . . as we leave for the season, we know there are still outdoor roof drainage issues to attend to next spring.  And that old balsam fir tree to the east might threaten the home one day if not removed.  And there's peeling paint on the garage, and those overhead doors need to be replaced. 

And so on.  A two page list of "to do" items would await me next spring if I were organized enough to compose such a thing.  I'm not, preferring to wake up each morning, walk around with a cup of coffee and choose that day's project.    It will all get done eventually, and I'll relish the time, the effort and the memories made in making it right. 

It's the least I can do for a faithful old home which now must wait - empty, cold and silent - for its family to return.


About the Author

Duane Behrens grew up in a small village in southern Minnesota. When he's not mowing the lawn or shoveling snow in Ely, he owns and manages an environmental testing firm in Southern California. He and his wife Jane, an English citizen, divide their time between their two homes along with their eleven year old son, "O.C." and, of course, Muttley.

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