The modern furnace in this old house has been working hard this week. We are in the grips of an Arctic cold front: temperatures well below zero at night and only single digits during the day. Every drafty window and not-so-well-insulated wall manifests itself during weather like this. The house was built in 1890 and when it was moved up to Chautauqua in 1902, it was used only as a summer cottage. Keeping warm in the winter was not an issue until my husband’s family bought it and moved into it year-round, the first family in the park to own a house and use it as their primary dwelling. Now, there are seven families who live year-round in their cottages so there is a small but tight-knit year-round community that supplements the long-term summer community that comes back every year.
In the dining room and front room, original outside walls are now inside. The three-sided bay window now has two windows and a doorway into the north side of the house. That addition was put on in the 1920s, we believe; the court house with all the records burned down in the 1930s. The windows slope, none of the floors, except for the shed-roof sleeping porch we added in 2002, are level, and since the original bathroom was put on what used to be the side porch of the 1890 version of the house, we had to special order a bathtub to fit in there. It is a house that has seen a lot and been through a lot and yet, has stood the test of time and modernization pretty well.
I am reminded this week, as we are now well into Advent, that there have been a variety of Christmas trees in this old house. When the girls were little, St. Nicholas always left them a small tree for their room on December 6th. The night before, they would put out their shoes. In the morning, in addition to a small tree, they would find some candy and a pair of Christmas socks or earrings in their shoes. Some of my most precious memories are of them decorating, often multiple times, the tree in their room. They would go to sleep at night with the lights on the three lit (we would go in later and turn them off). We would read stories at bed time around their tree or listen to one of John Rutter’s “Musical Fables” with only the Christmas lights on in the room. To this day, they connect St. Nicholas Day with getting their own tree.
The family Christmas tree in the living room had to be very tall and very narrow with a flat back. The only space we had to put it in was next to the open staircase that leads to the partial second story where the master bedroom is located. When the cats were alive, we would tie it to the top stair with a small brass wire so that any climbing cat would not send the whole thing over. Fortunately, neither one was into climbing Christmas trees, at least, not too much. However, I did have to put the bell ornaments around the bottom so that I would know when one of the cats was too interested in the tree. One cat, Butterscotch, who lived to be nearly 20 years old, had a set of button ornaments on long threads that tormented him to no end. I had to think carefully where I hung those as they always called his name in the night. Many a morning, I would find them in chaos on the floor if I wasn’t careful. Now, each cat is memorialized with its own ornament on the tree: a black felt cat for Midnight and a jaunty white cat in pointed toe shoes and a stocking cap for Butterscotch. I miss their warmth in bed on these cold nights. It is amazing how much warmth a small, furry body can add to the piles of blankets on bitter cold nights.
As I’ve said in past posts, I wish the walls in this old house could talk. What stories would they have of past Christmases in this house? What weather stories would they share, as they sat uninhabited for months at a time each off-season? It would be fascinating to hear but since I can’t, I will simply be content with the good memories I have of life in all seasons and all kinds of weather that I have lived here in this old house.