We built our house when we were still teaching school nearly fifty-three years ago. Over the years it has morphed to suit our growing family and the changes in our lives. The garage became half warehouse, half office before we turned it into a family room. The original family room is now our bedroom to which we added (after we got our kids through college) a bathroom with two large closets. Our great “farm kitchen” was the most invasive remodeling of the house’s history; we actually tore open the back side of the house and built on a two-story addition: a kitchen below and a “playroom” above.
It all started the day a builder friend of ours stopped by with a giant wooden pulley wheel he had rescued from the demolition of the old tomato-canning factory. This factory was eventually to become the nationally known family-owned Red Gold tomato products company that now takes up a huge part of a square mile in our county.
“Got any use for this?” Grady Porter said when I followed him out to his pick-up truck parked in our driveway. It was beautiful to my eyes – a primitive antique that had been used to lower the apparatus that mashed the juice from the tomatoes in the giant vat.
Bill had already mentioned to me that our kitchen/dining area had become a bottle neck in our house, but I had insisted that it was adequate. The giant wooden wheel now jarred my imagination. About this same time our town had begun replacing with concrete (sadly, not restoring) the Star-of-David ceramic brick sidewalks, because over the years tree roots had made many places uneven for walking. These gorgeous, glazed bricks were stacked around town in piles and offered to anyone who would haul them away. We could hardly believe this, because these brick sidewalks had been in place over a hundred years and had such a rich history.
Then, too, was the “ridding out” of the old millstones when the mill was torn down. From that demolition our builder friend Grady had rescued several millstones and the giant weathered wooden mill sign. (This now hangs in Studio A of our recording studio)
All this rescuing of our town’s history resulted in our deciding this might be a good time to build the kitchen of which we’d always dreamed.
“If we’re going to do this, I told Bill over coffee one morning, let’s think of everything we’ll wish we had done if we look back on it.” That began our list of what we wanted to include to make this truly the “heart” of our home. Bill wanted a fireplace in the kitchen for cold Indiana winter mornings. You know how he loves to build fires! I wanted a window seat for reading and a real built-in daybed for sick or tired children (who never want to be far away in upstairs bedrooms when mom’s in the kitchen) and for unexpected guests who worked late at the studio and needed a place to literally fall into bed.
Our other kitchen lacked a pantry, and we both wanted a big kitchen table and a workspace large enough to serve as both a food preparation space and serving board for buffets when we had a house full of people.
The giant pulley wheel, we thought, would hold copper utensils over the serving island; the bricks would be the industrial flooring. The millstones would be the walkway into the kitchen under a grape arbor we would build and plant so that in August our kids would have the memory of “eating their way to the door” from the vines heavy with purple harvest.
Two other elements surprised us as we planned. Coming home one Saturday night from a concert, we saw the sky orange from a huge fire. It turned out to be the old school (then a junior high building) where Bill went to high school. We drove to Bill’s Aunt Lilie’s house which was a block from the school to check on her (she was then in her eighties). She was up and had coffee on in case anyone came by at 3:00 a.m! Together we watched as most of the inside of the brick structure was destroyed by the fire. The rest of the building was eventually declared a hazard and the bricks were torn down, too. Because this building had played an important role in Bill’s life, we were able to salvage enough of the bricks to build our kitchen fireplace.
The thick white ash beams from a very old barn on a farm near the place where Bill grew up was also disassembled, and these we used for the ceiling beams of our new kitchen. We were careful to save the hand made wooden pegs and blacksmith forged iron spike nails used in the barn’s original construction. Many of the best pieces of barn wood siding we used on the lower walls of our kitchen to complete the feeling of warmth and history.
By this kitchen fire we have raised our children, supervised homework, solved problems, tucked in cousins, rocked our grand-babies, dried out soggy snowsuits, celebrated special occasions, and spent hundreds of regular days. It truly has been the “heart” of our home.
The window seat has served as a “changing table” for seven grandbabies and the daybed is still “fought over” when those grandchildren come home for a sleep-over. I’ve worn out two stovetops and a couple of ovens. We’ve served hundreds of meals to friends from all over the country and around the world.
And when Bill gets home from this weekend of concerts, I will put on a huge pot of soup, make a green salad, and warm some bread. Bill will bring in his little brown suitcase and build a fire. I’ll light the candles under the “curly stairs” and on the mantle; I’ll set the table and play some soft music. We will exhale the stresses of the road, and inhale peace. Home again!