Claire Schmidt and I were married in a candlelit evening service just after Christmas in 1972. The wedding was truly a family affair. Claire and I sent about 70 invitations that we block-printed. The guests were family and close friends, and it was a small enough crowd to enable us to have a reception at Claire’s parents' house in Bristol.
Claire and her sister, maid of honor Debbie, made their own gowns. I spent three days scrubbing and polishing to ready for the party. Claire’s dad, Horace Sr., a florist, added more flowers to the poinsettias already at the altar. Horace, Jr. and cousin Leon took the photos. My brother Jerome was best man, and brother Steve set up the reel-to-reel tape deck to record good friend Walt’s organ pieces and our vows. Claire’s cousin Junie McCoy did the catering. My advice to guys – marry the daughter of a florist who is also the cousin of a caterer [left].
We lived for short whiles in rented houses before we found the Haverhill homestead, first at Marge and Tony’s place (pictured below). Claire’s dad drove up with us in a van that easily held all we owned. We drove in one of our VW bugs. We had rented until June, when the owners would be up for summer and to plant a garden twice the size of what ours would be eventually. They had five strapping sons to feed.
We then paid too much rent for a place along a lake up in the hills. The summer was great, but immediately after Labor Day, it was too cold to swim. Claire had a rugged commute over an ill-kept mountain highway to Orford for her second year of teaching. In June it was time to move again, and we got all our stuff into a friend’s van and our two Beetles. Even so, we found the prospect of one-year leases and annual moves thoroughly repugnant.
Claire found the right place in spring ‘74. We rented our Haverhill house for a year with an option to buy. With the owner’s permission, I came a few weeks early and hand-dug a garden from a prior plot not too badly grassed in. It became our first successful veggie garden, and in a very few years it doubled and then tripled in size.
The Haverhill house, shown below, is a large three-story federal that we would get lost in for the first few weeks. We heat only five of the full-size rooms in winter, and use the others for storage. Oh yes, our junk now fills all the rooms and closets, and it would be nearly impossible to move it all. The house is on the main highway, but it sits back from it enough that we drove right on past the driveway the first couple of times. Eleven rooms and a bath-and-a-half. Old kitchen, old plumbing, and pretty much old everything else. We made very gradual improvements over 40 some years, but it felt comfy right away.
When we moved in, we had a rocking chair, some cardboard cylinders for side tables, a black and white TV, a dinette set, and a mattress on the bedroom floor upstairs. The lack of furniture helped to facilitate our first improvements – sanding four of the painted floors down to the spruce and pine boards. Most of the rooms had a considerable echo. Soon we made our first big furniture piece purchase – uh, um, a grand piano. No kidding. I found it in the local shopper paper. Full five-and-a-half foot grand for $250. Haven’t seen anything close in that paper since. Walt, the organist for our wedding, was studying piano at a college nearby. We had him check this puppy out. He told us, "Mozart would have loved this piano." He was right. Friends helped us U-Haul and install it. We made two more U-Haul trips loaded with used furniture and rugs given by family in Bristol. These pieces and the piano, of course, were enough to damp down the echoes.
About that grand. We set it up in the front room which has doubled as a dining/music room ever since. It helped to make our house a home right away. Claire had studied piano when she was young, and she dug her music out and started playing. It was summer, and after throwing all the windows open, I’d sit on the side porch and light a pipe. It was “The House of Bach” before you knew it. Claire resumed studies with Katrina Munn, a Juilliard-trained teacher living in Bradford, Vermont, who also happened to be the North Country Chorus accompanist.
Above: Bob having a porch sit in 2010
Next after floor sanding, we tackled paper hanging. Good friend Barbara spent a couple of hours with us while we learned the ropes in our second floor front room. We finished in good fashion, and we have done three more rooms plus the bathroom and a large hallway over the years. We also tiled around and above our tub and shower, but I have only a two-word fashion statement to say about that – cement suit.
That upstairs master bedroom facing the road proved a little noisy for sleeping when the windows were open in summer. The big trucks coming from the south have a hill to climb, and when they’re loaded, they use all 29 gears. We moved the bedroom furnishings back to a smaller, former nursery, and have been cozy there ever since.
The kitchen we inherited was designed to give you a five-mile walk in preparing every dinner. All appliances were backed to the wall and in the far reaches. We had the room stripped, insulated, and rewired. A large pot rack was anchored in the ceiling. Along with new cabinets came a center island and a dome light above it. Now Claire and I share the meal prep and enjoy not crashing into one another. On the north side of the island, I have a little liquor cabinet and a salad station near the fridge. Cocktails and first course are on the way. Claire has her own prep area with the sink on her half of the island, and generous countertops beside the stove with a hood on the wall behind her. We have room on the island’s west end to have informal meals.
Outside there is a complete palette of smells that one would expect from living in the country. Many pleasant ones come one after the other in spring. The apple blossoms, daffodils, and jonquils are succeeded by lilacs, then the sugary black locust blossoms, and the mock orange bush off our patio. The veggie garden takes our attention away after that.
At times the breezes bring the agricultural smells of freshly mown hay, corn silage being rolled into the bunker, and at other times, the smell of what the cows do with these items.
[Right: cows took an interest in us.]
Speaking of carbon footprints, well, sort of, we try to keep ours as modest as can be. We dry clothes on lines outside, or on a rack in the bedroom, and they keep a very dry house humidified in winter. We use window fans to move the air in summer. Washing and drying the dishes is a valued ritual – time spent together – and we have no need for a dishwasher that requires us to get most of the food off beforehand. We have owned only 4-cylinder cars, and only two at once when employment situations demanded it.
It’s been a life that continually encourages us to think about staying even beyond the forty-two years we have enjoyed here thus far.
Thanks for reading my stories. I'll look forward to reading yours. -UB
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