Monday, November 24, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Giving up secrets

At long last the roofers and carpenters have begun their work, and just in time, too as temperatures have been hovering in the 20s during the day and dropping to the way cold at night.

We think the house was built in 1800, but that’s just a guess. We haven’t completed deed research or definitively dated the structure. We know that it is certainly early 1800’s, but that’s about it.

It was a pleasant surprise this morning when I talked to our carpenter, a local guy who has restored most of the antique homes in Pond Village. He knows old. He told me today that the frame looks “real old.”

He thinks that the house was built in two pieces. We know that there used to be a shed addition that had a two bay garage and probably a woodshed. There certainly were other structures at other times. The barn foundation remains from a time when a small dairy herd roamed our field, back before the fields became forest again. Evidence suggests that part of the house burned at some point, and was rebuilt.

The current best guess is that the oldest part of the house is an 18th Century frame – I hope that it’s pre-Revolution, but only time will tell.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dropping the Bomb

Chris and I were invited to the annual meeting of a land trust recently. We sat down in the last available chairs at a table of eight. I followed along as our fellow diners chit-chatted about the land trust, occupations, people we have in common. I politely answered the question about what I do for work. I stared at my plate when they talked about their kids and thought about how to answer "the question". Just before dessert, Chris' neighbor leaned over and asked, "Do you have any kids?" We both gulped and swallowed and her eyes grew wide with the recognition that she had unintentionally crossed into a place where she didn't mean to go. Chris said that we have a son who died in April. I added that he was a fullterm baby who died in labor. They expressed sympathy. We got through it.

Don't get me wrong, I want people to ask. I want people to know. I need them to know. Like Elizabeth McCracken wrote in her new memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, I want a stack of business cards that say "my first and only child was born still". I wanted to sit down at dinner that night, shake hands, introduce myself as Dalene, the mother of a son who died in April. Get it out in the air. Because without that knowledge, no one can really know me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cousin Hannah

I lit a candle for Baker today at church. I was thinking of Baker for All Souls day. I didn't have any help liting the candle. This was my first time liting a candle with no help. I used a stick and put a flame on it and put the flame on a candle . I told everyone that my prayer was for Baker.
-Hannah, age 8

Monday, November 3, 2008

Custom Grief

200 or so years ago, the craftsman who built our house selected strong timbers from this rugged land, felled the trees, and worked them with an adze – an axe-like tool perfectly suited to this task. This craftsman worked at a time when so-called scribe rule framing was the norm. The frame was completely hand built – and each joint is a custom work of art.

The term scribe rule refers to the precisely fit joints – although every corner post and rafter perform basically the same function, they were shaped by hand and “scribed” to fit in a certain place. “Marriage marks” helped the carpenters reassemble frame – they are essentially numbered to be precisely refit. Our house has those marks – most visible in the rafters in the attic.

This type of framing dates the house pretty well – scribe rule was gone in VT by about 1810, replaced by “square rule” – the frame parts had greater uniformity and interchangeable parts which made construction easier and faster, and compared with our modern milled lumber and balloon frames, was still highly custom.

I think about our grieving process like our scribe ruled house – it’s not mass-produced, but rather it is “Custom Grief.”

Our little one of a kind person has been lost. In the same way that he is a one-off, artisan made, unique boy, we cannot get by with production line off the shelf grieving. Like the frame of our house, we have to carefully fit our grief, and the memory of our boy, into our lives. We try to fit the pieces together precisely, hewing the joints out of the large, heavy, irregular timbers of our pain and creating something strong, square and true to withstand the winter of our loss.