Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Down from the Mountain

When I tell people my mother-in-law has a house in the mountains, I always wonder what they envision. A Swiss chalet beside a ski slope? A log cabin tucked into a clearing, smoke coiling from the chimney? A gingerbread cottage perched on the edge of a cliff?

The mountain house is made out of brick and sits on the side of a double-lane rural highway. It is not a romantic getaway-type house. But it is pleasing. Across the street Cane Creek bubbles along, and on the other side of the creek, holding onto the side of a hill for dear life, is a red barn that from time to time deposits horses and goats onto a sloping field. The land around the mountain house (five acres of which are owned by my mother-in-law, some of those acres running alongside the creek), is either flat expanse or gentle hills.

Yesterday morning I sat on the front porch in my pjs, knitting. People drove by and looked at me out of their windows; some waved, some just gawked. I felt wonderfully scandalous and at home.

My mother-in-law lives in a city two-and-a-half hours away from the mountains. She and my father-in-law bought the mountain house fifteen years ago for a song. They were both working then, my father-in-law as a truck driver, my mother-in-law as a store manager, but they escaped as often as they could up to the mountains. My mother-in-law has told me that they used to pretend they were running away when they went up to the mountains, that they joked they would never return to the city. Sadly, they always did.

Since my father-in-law's passing a year and a half ago, my mother-in-law doesn't go up to the mountain house as often. She has made the trip a few times with one of her sisters, but she doesn't like to go by herself any more (when she was younger and my father-in-law was still alive, it wasn't unusual for her to go up by herself for days at stretch).

We had planned to take her with us when we went on Saturday, but then she kept falling. One of her sisters finally took her to the doctor, but when she got there my mother-in-law claimed to be perfectly fine. The doctor examined her, took some blood, and let her go home. By the time we arrived at her house on Saturday, she claimed to be feeling better, but she didn't think she should go up to the mountain house with us, so we went without her.

I will be honest: once at the mountain house, I examined it with a proprietary eye. My mother-in-law has offered to sell it to us for what she owes on it. Once upon a time, the plan was to leave the house to us, but that was before my father-in-law died. Now my mother-in-law is worried about money. If we buy it from her, she can still have access to it but won't have to make payments on it or worry about insurance and upkeep.

The house is eighty-seven years old. It needs a new roof. It has indoor-outdoor carpeting that should be pulled up by the roots and burned. A few years ago the furnace exploded and there is still soot on the walls and the ceilings. The house is loaded with furniture and odds and ends, the kitchen cabinets filled with more pots and plates than could be worn out in several lifetimes.

But imagine the fun of walking through an old house with good bones and high ceilings and pondering what you would do here and what you would do there. You wouldn't have to do everything all at once; in fact, you could take years. Imagine this house is in an area where you can still find antiques at a steal, where beauty is as common as dandelions.

Oh, it was fun imagining all of that. Whether or not we'll end up with the mountain house is another story. My mother-in-law may change her mind. She may want to sell it for what it's worth on the market. And while the price she would ask us to pay is a bargain three times over, it still would pinch our budget.

But there's a root cellar out behind the house, and plenty of land for a big summer garden, and my boys could run across the road and be fishing in the creek in a minute whenever they wanted. No air conditioning, because the house stays cool even when the thermometer reads 86 degrees. So even though big trucks hauling loads over the mountains into Tennessee scream past the front door every few hours, and teenage boys squeal by in their souped-up cars on Saturday night, it's a kind of dream house.

Now I'm home and glad to be here. I'm still sick, if you can believe it, but feel like I'm on the mend. Today I'll do laundry and take the boys to the pool if the weather holds. We'll pick up the dog from the kennel and he'll pee all over us from excitement. It's always good to be home, to be working in your own kitchen, checking the garden for ripe tomatoes, pinching the flowers from the basil plants. But I know I'll keep thinking about the mountain house, wondering what the hardwoods would look like if we took up the carpet, imagining the hills in the fall when the leaves change, how everything smells like woodsmoke then, how the owls hoot at night like they have something important to tell you.

1 comment:

Tracy said...

The mountain house sounds completely delightful. It is fun to imagine a beautiful old house restored to glory isn't it.