Living with History

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The Front Porch Philosopher by Linda Vice

Living in an old house is both a delight and a responsibility. Like old people, old houses require more maintenance to keep them looking good. My old house was built in 1897, The man who built it owned a sawmill. He said he never wanted his house to pop and creak. Mr. Alex Gunn was a 90 something year old neighbor of mine said that there is enough lumber in the foundation of my house to build two houses, This fact turned out to be true. Recently, the house and I came to the end of its lifetime roof, put on when it was new, Starting with Hurricane Ivan, the hurricanes that came through our area in the past ten years, twirled up the edges of the tin shingles. When the insurance adjusters came through they gave token amounts of money for patching.  I shared with you in the last post about the jake-leg preacher who didn’t impress the insurance adjusters with my need even though at the time, water was coming through the roof and ruining the clothes in my closet. We replaced that little section of the roof at that time, but continued to patch the rest of the roof. The closet was added onto the porch in the 1940s, so the main roof just had drips. It didn’t have as bad an issue as the back porch shed roof.

Repairing an old tin roof is something that not everybody knows how to do these days. It involves nailing back down the shingles, then filling the holes with tar. Then a coat of metal paint called Cool Seal is added. We’ve don’t this five times and there is still a leak on the front porch. As you know, I must have my front porch in good repair because that is where I do my thinking. I’m not called the Front Porch Philosopher for nothing! I really wanted an upstairs screened-in porch when I finally came to grips with the fact that this roof must be replaced because otherwise, it won’t ever stop leaking. It had come to the place where the beams were rotting and the whole porch would fall off by itself if I didn’t do something. This is when I found out how well built the house was.

I live in the historic district. My town is not one of the old Black Belt Towns in rural Southwest Alabama that has always lived with history. We are a railroad town. We looked a lot more like Dodge City than Tara. However, after years of fighting for our rugged individualism in owning property, we got zoning. We did what any self respecting town would do, we adopted another more upscale town’s zoning ordinances. It was the only thing to do. We’d have still been arguing if we built them from scratch. However, we do have growing pains. As a result of the zoning ordinances, I had to get an architectural designer to draw the project design for me. Fortunately, I knew a great one from Gastonburg, a ghost town just up the road. Karen Weir has lived in Miami and California before retiring to the country with her husband who had family property in the area. In the Black Belt, people of similar interests generally end up meeting as in “Oh, you paint! You’ve got to meet Karen Weir, she paints, too!” Being artistic means that there is something a little bit different about you and we just know you want to connect with your own kind. Karen and I met through an arts organization and became friends. When I needed work done, I knew she was the right one to help plan it. Southerners are geniuses at networking. It is not an art we seek to cultivate, it is just a necessity when you live in a rural area( I’ve told you before that in the Black Belt, we’ll drive 60 miles any time for a good party or event).

In the process of drawing the plan, Karen was afraid we were going to have to tear off the porch and start over if we were going to add the second story screened porch on top that I wanted. I figured that if I had to have a new roof, I might as well do other things in the process. I really didn’t want to tear off my porch. It felt like a part of me. I also had wonderful vintage plants all around it that would be destroyed in the process. I had decided not to add the upper porch, if it meant making that kind of sacrifice. Fortunately, the engineer we consulted said the house was so well built, that we could just reinforce the columns by adding some  hidden steel spans between them. This would take care of the problem and leave my cherished porch intact. I look forward to saving my old friend the porch, and giving her a facelift.

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