If you have been reading this blog since its early days, you may recall that a number of years ago we bought some land down the road from the farm. It had a little gray house nestled in its abandonned acreage. And this house, the subject of today’s blog, proved to be a classic example of the Potemkin effect.
This phrase was coined when Russian Czarina Catherine took a trip down the Volga after her Prime Minister and lover, Grigori Potemkin, conquered the area. Because the region was in complete and sorrowful disrepair, Potemkin built fake happy villages along the river, full of frollicking actors, all to give the Empress a completely false impression of surface wonder in a region of actual chaos. In a much less important way, this was what the gray house we bought was all about.
The gray house looked fabulous from the road. If I had a nickel for everyone that has said to us in the last few years, “Why isn’t anyone living in that cute little place?” well, I would have a lot of nickels. With its perky standing seam roof and hideous but intact plastic siding, the place looks like a cream puff, but its been a potemkin effect cream puff and a complete nightmare under this prettified outer shell.
To back up twenty years, Jim was the contractor for building our house. We had two carpenter friends help frame the house with Jim. Then Jim, with help from his dad and uncle, went on to do the plumbing, wiring, insulating, floors, finish trim, shingling….. When we added onto the house with our barn, Jim built it with his brother’s help. When we built our big Green Hope Farm addition, Jim did it with the help of Ben. As frequently remarked around here, Jim has not taken his nail belt off since he met me.
One perk of all this endless activity is that Jim now has a vast legion of friends in the building trades. They offer moral support for every building matter that needs to be addressed and every building conundrum.
So when builder friends of Jim’s heard we were considering buying the property, everyone wanted the complete tour, even though this was literally taking your life into your hands when you went in the crawl space under most of the house to examine the broken sills and joists. Anyways, everyone survived the tour to weigh in with their two cents, all of which was the same two cents.
With a broken main carrying beam, roofs under the fake standing seam ones that slumped like a sway back mule, a small river flowing through the dug basement, a chimney collapsed into this basement, no insulation, floors rising and falling like dunes in the Sahara, no wiring or plumbing to speak of, mold everywhere, and no TLC given to the property since 1970, everyone agreed that the building was going to have to come down.
So we bought the place knowing it was really for the land, but still hoping we could somehow tear down and rebuild the house in pieces right where it was.
More friends returned for more visits, because it really is a classic crap building. Everyone in town seemed to know the combination lock on the crap door, 3435, and people, sometimes people we hardly knew, would call with commentary. None of it suggested that anything was salvageable.
Ben moved his potter’s wheel into the old living room, but found the terrible mold smells made work in the charmless space impossible. Slowly, slowly, the talk shifted from trying to rebuild sections while leaving other sections in place to finding a way to take the whole place down.
We kept hoping some punk would toss a lit cigarette into the building, because the red tape to get the fire department to burn the place down was beyond imagining. For several years, Jim contemplated taking it down piece by piece by himself, while I have advocated something less taxing to his shoulders. We were at an impasse, which the town enjoyed as even getting the tax accessor into the basement didn’t seem to convince him that the building was uninhabitable. He couldn’t get enough of that standing seam roof and nice plastic siding.
If you have even read a few blogs, you know that Jim is the brakes and I am the gas, most of the time anyways. But a small miracle happened on 11/11 when Jim suddenly decided he was tired paying taxes on a fake house and that he would call his excavator big machinery friend for ideas about a swift removal. The friend had his excavator free and called people to bring big removal bins to the land immediately. In fact, about ten minutes after Jim called his excavator friend, Scot pulled into our driveway with a big happy grin on his face. This was the moment all Jim’s friends have been waiting for! Jim too, I suspect. I can hear his shoulders sighing and his heart too.
So I am off right now to see the whole thing go. Here the machine that is going to take care of old Gray with the little garage which we are saving in the foreground. May she rest in peace.