This Old Porch and The Farmer’s Wife

This old porch is like a big old
red and white hereford bull
Standing under a mesquite tree
Out in agua dulce
And he just keeps on playing hide and seek
With that hot august sun
Just a-sweatin’ and a-pantin’
Cause his work is never done

And this old porch is just a long time
Of waiting and forgetting
And remembering the coming back
And not crying about the leaving . . .
Lyle Lovett

There was a big crack in the southwest corner of the porch foundation when we moved to Spruce 14 years ago. It didn’t make me happy at the time; an obvious major project for the future, just another addition to all those repairs and renovations one comes across while living in an old house, to be dealt with depending upon the level of duress and emergency. Example one: tree roots plugging up sewer line while wedding party stays at house over the Christmas holiday . . . major stress, red lights, sirens screeching, ambulance, 911, emergency repair. Example two: leisurely removal of wallpaper from two different rooms with repainting as a pleasure, not a pain . . . a nip here, tuck there, touch up the hairdo, new outfit discretionary type remodel.
We lived with the crack for a decade or so, fixing other big ticket items . . . windows, a new chimney, guttering, a new paint job . . . but a few years ago, water began to run into the basement around the washer and dryer and the pier at that corner seemed to be settling underneath the massive concrete floor of the crown jewel of 502 Spruce, the front porch.
Repairing our foundation climbed to the top of the to-do list . . .
Here is a short version of the efforts to secure someone to take on “This Old Porch”: Two different firms that made appointments to look at the job and make a bid . . . and not only didn’t show up, but argued with Blake about the dates and times of the appointments they had scheduled. One guy that wanted to be paid just to come look at the porch and provide an estimate. One firm that did look at the job and made a bid so over the top our mouths fell open in shock and awe . . . but when he didn’t show up for six months to work on it we assumed he didn’t need that much work no matter what the money.
Moral of the story: Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys, but by all means, encourage them to become mudjackers. They’ll thank you when they retire to a condo on a beach or a dock on the lake . . . with their future secure!
There is a happy ending. This weekend Blake and I will sit in the shade of the sycamores under in the shelter of our newly repaired, square and straight, jacked up and squeezed together century old porch. Yes, indeedy, the task was begun, interrupted, reconsidered, reconceived, and then completed, all within this week. The front garden took a hit, but, as I told the man in charge, I can always plant more daylilies . . . I cannot repair a foundation.
That was one to mark off the to-do list for this week . . . and another was scanning all six years of Millie’s “The Farmer’s Wife” articles and saving them digitally. This task proceeded as one would expect: the computer running Windows 10 would not communicate with my handy scanner precipitating a return to Windows 7 (fine by me, I was forced against my will to “upgrade” as it was.) But once that hurdle was overcome, it was just a matter of feeding each week into the scanner and watching the images and stories appear on the screen.
What a joy to revisit these pieces! Like opening a grab bag gift or taking a bite out of that proverbial Forrest Gump chocolate! Sometimes she wrote about a chapter of local history like the articles about St. John’s or the bomber that crashed east of Tarkio in 1944. She followed the perennial parade of the seasons with notes about the birds in her yard and garden and feeders, how the crops were faring, the work on the farm, the good weather, bad weather, drought and floods, storms and sunshine here in northwest Missouri. We kept up on the activities of friends and family . . . and whoever isn’t part of Millie’s family is her friend and laughed with her at the antics of her kids . . . her grandkids . . . even other people’s grandkids. Millie is a humorist of the most generous kind; she is never afraid to tell a funny story on herself.
But amid the humor, there are stories of great poignancy, reminding us that all the great lives come with sorrow and loss: the week she wrote about tearing down her childhood home, the week she remembered the fire that destroyed their house, the short tribute to one of her very best friends.
We take for granted the ability to run a “Google” search whenever our curiosity is piqued. But my very favorite kind of history is this type of personal recollection; part experience, part storytelling, built on a foundation of ties to people and place. These are stories that celebrate “remembering the coming back” and “not crying about the leaving.” I am so grateful Millie has saved all these ‘hard copies’ of her efforts in tidy chronologically ordered notebooks. Millie has always told us she’d write a book someday; I’m here to tell you she already has.