Friday, September 21, 2007

How I Got Here

Hi from extremely soggy Minnesota...The power has been getting knocked out all over the place. There's too much lightning to be on-line much so I'm posting in between storms. We've had many modems, phones, and one computer fried by big-ass surges coming through the phone line. This old house has a bunch of leaks and there are buckets and towels all over the place. I feel like the wife in the movie "The Egg and I". Which brings me to finally answer the many questions I've gotten on why and how I ended up here.

I fell in love with the country and farming while watching the "Egg and I" and "met" Ma and Pa Kettle when I was a child. Actually, that movie and Ma Kettle somewhat shaped my life. After I saw it, I really wanted to move out to a farm. Well, being about 8 years old at the time, I couldn't manage that, but I did do everything else I could, like teaching myself to sew, knit, crochet, weave, bake bread, make soap, garden, etc. Life took way too many turns on my way to the farm, but I am finally here.

I was living in a very beautiful place in a house I had built with my late husband. It was located on a sand bar called Park Point (officially Minnesota Point) that was connected to Duluth by a lift-bridge. When I first moved there in 1982, it was NOT the place to be. It was all old, ratty houses that the banks very seldom gave loans out for. Anyway, my husband had lived there his entire life so I moved there. The people that live there are great, but if you hadn't spent your whole life there, you never belonged. We spent 2 years tearing down and building a new house while living in it. Not fun, but it got done. I swore that I would never do that again. Argh! Our back yard was the beach and Lake Superior. I LOVED the wild storms and unpredictably of living there. Six years later, my husband died. I went to college for the next five years, during which I met my current husband. During the 16 years I had been on the Point, people from the big cities and the "richer" areas of the country began buying up property, tearing down the ratty houses and building McMansions, driving up property values and real estate taxes. Traffic and taxes became unbearable for me. The serenity of walking out my back door to the lake was ruined by scores of strangers walking through my property to enjoy the lake themselves. I didn't begrudge anyone for wanting to be by the lake, but I hated the trespassing, garbage and vandalism to my property and the continuous traffic on the only road that went down the middle of the Point. My taxes went so high that I couldn't afford to live there any more and I had to leave. My dreams of being Ma Kettle were still alive and I began looking for land. One foggy, rainy Sunday, my guy and I were out looking at land and houses that I had found in a real estate mag and I saw a for-sale sign pointing down a dead-end road. We drove down the road. We found 3 driveways and some vacant land. It was too foggy to see anything else. There was no sign indicating which house was for sale, so I wrote down the number of the realtor from the sign at the end of the road and went on to find the house that I found in the mag. Well, nothing I looked at that day tripped my trigger, so I called the number of the realtor that I written down. I met her two days later and she showed me several places and then finally the place that I originally called about. We drove up the loooong driveway to this place and we were surrounded by goats. As soon as we got out of my car, the goats jumped up on it and begged for treats. We walked through a useless fence, shooed the goats away from the door and walked in. The place was built of logs in 1893. It was one of 7 houses that survived the 1918 fire that wiped out thousands of homes and killed over 450 people. There was no plumbing or electricity. No one who had lived there ever wanted any. The owner hadn't lived in the house for over 2 years and whoever was taking care of the goats had let them live in the house on occasion. Very little updating had been done through the years. There are places where the hand-hewn logs and boards are still visible. The only insulation is the moss that they crammed into the chinks. I fell in love. I talked to my guy and within 2 weeks, we were married and a month later, we had the house, a barn, and 80 acres, 45 miles from the city where I had spent my entire 39 years of life. 8 months later, after fixing up my house to sell, digging a well, bringing in electricity, and putting in a mound septic system, we moved onto the farm. 1-1/2 years after that, we had running hot and cold water, a flush toilet, and gas heat and a stove. Then there was the building of the 64 X 30 foot pole barn, which my husband built 95% by himself. I am currently in the process of making the pole barn livable so we can move in there, temporarily. Unfortunately, the old house is way too far gone. The foundation is falling in and it would cost way too much money to fix it up enough to be safe. Plus, I have developed some major health issues and will eventually have problems with stairs. So, we have decided to tear down the old place and put a new one on the same site. It breaks my heart but I have no choice. We have tried to give the structure to many historical societies, even one in Finland since this is was built by Finnish immigrants, but even a free house costs too much to move. We have some friends who would like to tear it down and rebuild it on another site, so that's what we will do. I am glad it will have a new life.

Current picture of old house. I screened in the porch a few years ago.

Old Finnish style barn. The bend in the middle of the roof is intensional. It funnels the rain and snow melt away from the ends.

Husband in front of the polebarn a few years ago. It now has a floor with in-floor heat and is insulated and finished with metal inside and out.

The current situation is work, work, work. My disease makes that very hard, but I'm pushing ahead with the help of my pain meds. I dropped my husband off at the airport on Tuesday for Seattle, I have made arrangements for my step-dad, and have spent the last 2 days working like a madwoman. I'm waiting for the meds to kick in so I can get to the hardware store and get back at it. I WILL be moved into the pole barn by the time my husband gets home on the 30th.

So, here I am...My dreams have become reality. Plus, my mailing address is Kettle River and the city has a festival call "Ma and Pa Kettle Days" every August. Can you say "Destiny"?


Leigh said...

What an interesting post. I can relate to it so much. My dream has always been a little farm as well. I rejoice in your reality and wish you productive, pain-free days.

AlisonH said...

Wow. Just, wow. And way cool. And, having helped a family we knew way back when to build a house way out in the country--in one day--you have me both reminiscing, wistful, glad for you, and more aware how easy I have it now, but with trade-offs here. Enjoy your new place!

JustApril said...

What an interesting story! Too bad about the house though, at least it won't be totally gone, though, like you said. It's no wonder you were drawn to that area, with it's Ma and Pa Kettle festivities! funny