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A Day In The Attic

September 3-6, 1999

We were back at the Farmhouse for the long Labor Day weekend. The colors are starting to change, with an occasional swamp maple blazing red against the green background of hardwoods and pines.

The hydrangia bush
was in full bloom

People had started on the road early, on this last shot at summer before school started. By the time we got to I-495 east of Worcester, traffic had started to build up. As we moved north around Boston, through Lowell and Lawrence, it moved slower and slower. I-95 was congested through the Portsmouth toll booth, and the holiday traffic stayed with us into Maine, until we got off at the Maine Mall exit west of Portland. Altogether, our trip took nearly two hours longer than usual - when we got to the Farmhouse we were dead tired.

It was nice to see that the hydrangia bush was in full bloom when we pulled in the yard - it is an impressive sight to see. Penny clipped off several of the blooms to bring into the house for dried arrangements.

The New England attic: A place where you store culch you don't have a use for right now - but that you want handy for when you do.

Growing up in New England, I learned that you never throw things away, because you never know when you might need them. This includes things that you are not using, but might - like an extra piece of furniture, or an old lamp or serving dish. It also includes things that are broken, that you might get around to fixing some day, Even broken things have parts and pieces that you can use to fix something else - someday. Like old storm windows - after the new combo windows are installed, the unneeded storms are carefully stored - mebbe some day you will want to build a cold frame to start vegetable plants in the spring - couple of those old storms would be just right - when you get around to it.

And you just don't store things anywhere. There are unwritten but understood rules - the attic is for things that you want fairly handy. However, culch is hauled to the barn or carriage house when the archive period is longer, and ultimate retrieval more doubtful. In the attic goes old furniture, bric-a-brac, things from the kid's rooms when they move out and their room becomes a spare bedroom. In the barn, you store old equipment and tools, lumber and outdoor stuff. In a really good place, there will be culch in the attic and barn stored away for as long as the building has stood. If it is all your culch, going through it is a trip through memories and your family's history. If you are new to the place, as we are, cleaning out the attic or carriage house is like a treasure hunt.

A few years after my dad died in 1980, my step-mom decided that the place in Taylor City was just too much for her to rattle around in by herself. All us kids converged on the family home to spruce it up and help clean it out so that she could sell it and get a smaller place for herself. In 1957 we had moved to South Effingham from Hudson, where my folks and brothers had lived for more than 20 years. The new place in South Effingham had a three story barn with hardly anything in it. I'm sure to my Dad it seemed a golden opportunity, or mebbe New England thrift, but probably it was just easier to haul all the culch from the old barn to the new barn than to sort through it and throw anything away. And haul it all north is exactly what my Dad did. At our new place, we started out with a half-full barn from day one! Over the next 23 years, the piles in the barn grew and grew, until they were shoulder high and there was only a narrow, twisting walkway from one end of the building to the other.

Faced with task of cleaning Dad's barn in Taylor City, I backed up my trailer to the front door and we started loading boxes of junk. The few things that looked good we set aside, but we filled up the first trailer load of boxes of things that should have been cleaned out long ago - even to my scavenger's eye most of it was junk.

At the Effingham dump, I tossed the first box off the trailer onto the pile - it was a box of broken pipe fittings, split open from when the pipes froze up one winter. Out they tumbled, and right after them came a silver tea service! It was in a box under the box of pipe fittings! We did a quick check, and found that most of the boxes were layered with treasure just the same way. Back into the trailer it all went, and back to the barn - we found old clocks and crank telephones, silver and china, crystal and tinware - all mixed in with empty paint cans, old magazines, broken tools and busted furniture. We spent nearly a week going through the barn before we were able to sort the wheat from the chaff - now I know what an archaeologist must go through on a dig! My step-mom had an antique dealer come in a tag everything, and she had an ongoing barn sale for the next two years until she finally sold the old place.

My 1999 Labor Day Weekend chore was to clean out the attic at the Sebago Farmhouse. We'd already tackled the Carriage House (see "Going to the Dump" ) and the Bat Room (see "Maine - The Way Life Should Be"), and the attic remained as the last big collection of culch to clean up. In my mind I was hoping for another treasure trove like my dad's barn.

The Labor Day Weekend chore -
clean out the attic. The "after" photo.

The attic runs the full length of the house, and is completely floored and has plenty of head room - just the place to accumulate lots of neat culch! My first plan was to haul everything down two flights of stairs and out the front door - and I backed the trailer up to the front steps. After one trip down and up the stairs, however, my lazy side (or common sense) took over. Plan "B" seemed much more logical, and so I moved the trailer so it was right under the north attic window. After I took out both windows and screens, I had a clear toss for the junk.

"Is there anything in the attic you want me to save for you?" I'd asked Dot.

"My old papers and records" she said

"and the old radio too?"

"Yes, that too, and the stacks of National Geographics as well."

"OK, I'll haul all those things down to the front porch and cover them with plastic. You and Ed can come by and pick them up when you have a chance." I replied.

Actually, the attic treasure trove was pretty disappointing. Other than the stuff I saved out for Dot, most of the rest went out the window into the trailer. There was a large number of Pella wooden Venetian blinds that I stacked neatly in one corner - in case we might find a use for them sometime. And some Victorian window rod finials for Paul that matched some at his house. But most of the rest was dump stuff - old linoleum and carpet, metal bed frames, unused rolls of wallpaper, broken toys, scraps of lumber and old mattresses.

I never found the mason jars full of old coins rumored to be tucked away. Not much else either. There was a lot of bat droppings to be vacuumed up all over everything - but I really couldn't call it treasure. Droppings pretty much covered the attic floor, with concentrations under the favorite roosting spots in the rafters. By the way - just to keep everyone updated on the bat situation - nearly all of the attic colony of female and baby bats have now left to go into hibernation (the male colony in the carriage house left a couple of weeks ago), back to their winter home in caves about 45 miles west of us. We won't see them again till the end of May next year - lots of time to seal off the entry holes we missed this year!

The chore really was a lot easier than I had dreaded - it was done in a day. Although dusty, the temperature was halfway decent with the windows open to make a draft - not the oven most attics are. Our "lady in the attic" was nowhere to be seen or heard, and she seems to be taking the cleanup and disruption well. We haven't had the attic lights come on by themselves, or any thumping on the stairs, for a couple of months now. (see "Fiddleheads and Ghosts" )

A run to the dump, a quick shower, and a dip in the pool finished the day - a great feeling of accomplishment, and the last big cleanup at the Farmhouse. Two other dirty chores remain, however - removing the "hanging" chimney in the front second-story bedroom, and cleaning out the old canning jars and preserves in the root cellar - but there's lots of time to tackle those.

Drywall in the Carriage House

The cover over the
entry is framed and
ready for roofing

Paul and Russ put up the framing for the entryway roof to the carriage house. All it needs is the sheetmetal to be installed, and we'll have protection from snow, rain and ice as we go into the mud room.

Paul has also installed the new kitchen door, and made an entry to Penny's new pantry. The old kitchen door is now the door to a coat closet in the mud room.

Steve, our neighbor from Hancock Pond, has been hanging the sheetrock in the carriage house since August 23. He's made good progress, with some help from Paul and Rusty from time to time. The shipping room, office, pantry and mud room are all drywalled and the seams mudded. We're having him put a 2-hour fire wall on the carriage house wall where it joins the barn - not required by code, but it will make us and the insurance company feel better.

The office looks larger with the dry wall in place

Steve showed us samples of ceiling treatments, and we settled on one for the office and shipping room ceilings, and another for the kitchen. Penny and I picked out paint and stain colors for the walls and woodwork.

The shipping room entry to the office

Paul will install the wainscoting as soon as Steve finishes the sheetrocking and painting. Otto will then install the fire sensors throughout the carriage house and barn, and hook up the whole house cabling system to the control panel in the attic.

Blueberry Season Ends

Early on Sunday morning there was a mist over the fields. Just as the sun started to burn off the mist, I went out in my bathrobe with a cup of coffee in hand, to pick some blueberries for breakfast. The sun glinted off the mist on the tent caterpillar nests on a few of the trees and blueberry bushes, and the dew was heavy on the grass between the rows. I was wet to the knees before I'd gathered enough berries for breakfast.

The bushes are pretty bare, and only a few of the late ripening variety still were heavy with berries. Dot has been doing a thorough job - this year she and her helpers have picked nearly 1,000 quarts of blueberries!

After church, the Chambers introduced themselves to us. They live up the road at Peabody Pond, and wanted to meet this guy who they saw wandering around in the blueberry patch in his bathrobe early in the morning. Their son found our website, and now the whole family checks in to see what has been going on at the Farmhouse. We're finding more and more really neat and interesting folks in Sebago - and we haven't even moved there yet!

Feeding the Deer

We were at the Sebago Hardware on Saturday morning picking up a few things. Jason asked if we'd heard any noise next door on Friday night.

"My brother Allen had a big buck in his yard last night, eating apples from one of his trees. It was so loud, it woke Allen and his wife up. When they turned on the spotlight, the deer just looked at them and kept on eating - it was a big old buck!" he explained.

"Mebbe it is the same deer that has been down back at our place - they've been coming out of the woods at dusk, I guess to feed on the blueberries" I replied.

"You heard that Tim, up the road from you, had a deer jump over his fence and clean out all of his green beans?" he asked.

"No, but I'm not surprised. Looks like we're all feeding the deer real good up on Beech Ridge Road, aren't we. Suppose any of them will be around come deer season?"

"I doubt it - they're too smart for that." Jason said - and I have to agree with him.

Over lunch on Sunday, after church, Dot recounted how a moose had once wandered in from the woods and clomped around on the boardwalk by the pool. "What would you do if a moose fell into the swimming pool?" I asked, with images of flaying hoofs and horns in my mind.

"Luckily, that didn't happen - maybe you'll be able to tell us someday!" she said.

I tell you, the fun times never seem to stop in Maine!

Allen and Penny Crabtree

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Last updated October 4, 1999