“Like to come in and look around?”
Would I? You bet! Even if it’s groping down stone stairs like these.
In Eagle, that spontaneous invitation and a wave in the door seemed to be normal hospitality. For me it was always a pleasant surprise. (Cultural contrast: When I moved to my city here years ago, the local postmaster jokingly welcomed me with, “We might smile and make nice, but we ain’t letting you in to our houses.” These city folk are courteous, and enjoy going out to meet at a coffee shop or book reading or jogging trail. But here the residents don’t invite friends or neighbors into the home.)
In Eagle, house visits and tours are a favorite local entertainment. Upon my arrival, Host Family showed me around the house, narrating warm memories of the friends and helpers who assisted with the various features of home improvement. To them even the kitchen floor was not just a floor, but a happy souvenir of visits and good collaboration and bonding.
Another house tour was narrated by a good solid homeowner met during a walk in the center of town. (We’ll call him Augustine Johanson, a good solid homeowner name.) Next day I called a hello while passing the open door at the Johanson residence. Well! Augustine surprised me by waving me in for a tour of his immaculate house. That made an enlightening visit. He had gutted and renovated and masterminded and handcrafted that house for ultimate function in form, practical comfort, ease of use, and a clean clear trim pleasant appearance. Then Augustine revealed the story of his house renovation. After he retired from his long challenging career, life dealt him three misfortunes, any of which could have defeated any of us. He described with matter-of-fact logic how he weathered and forged through these adversities — by buying a fixer-upper as a new challenge! He showed me before and after photos of himself and the house. I stared at the pictures in awe. “Excuse me, but… is this the same house? And is this the same YOU?” Augustine’s method had worked wonders. His campaign of hard manual labor, salvaging needed parts, problem solving, and aesthetic creativity had left him looking years younger!
Listen up and remember, some instinct prompted me. When tribulations come in the future, you will look back and learn from this man’s example. I listened in rapt attention to my host with his renewed fresh appearance and eager eyes, looking happy in his comfortable welcoming home, now envisioning new projects and useful work. What a worthwhile hour and memorable story!
Visiting with Augustine tuned me in to an important theme in Eagle interactions. In the most casual conversation, passersby and business owners and neighbors would volunteer the history or construction or development of this storefront, or stone wall, or light fixture, or window treatment. This was their friendly way to orient and anchor me in a shared sense of the familiar. Town residents would greet one another with news of house or farm projects; the typical response was advice, and a decision to bring tools and to come help. (Opinion: We have many wonderful men here in my city. They are fine people whose work and rest and entertainment is sequestering up all alone with their computers day and night, with a few breaks for movie streaming services and takeout food delivered to the door in a styrofoam clamshell. In contrast, in Eagle it must be so rewarding for a guy to spend leisure time with other guys, talk shop, pick up a sledgehammer, knock stuff to smithereens in the fresh air, and then build something better shoulder to shoulder that they can point to with pride. In the UK they’ve put up shared “man sheds” stocked with tools, as outreach for mental health and wellbeing. In Eagle it’s just called Doing Life. No wonder a town 200 years old is in such good shape, and the men of all ages look so secure and content.)
A grand highlight of the trip came on Saturday — thanks to Mr. Jones, one of the pillars of the community, who had helped me earlier with the visit to the history society archive. Mr. Jones contacted Host Family with an offer to devote his Saturday free time to give us all a morning house tour! When we showed up in the center of town, Mr. Jones met us with a real treat in store: an excursion to three beautifully preserved and furnished historic houses. As a volunteer, he had the keys and a treasury of stories and facts. From cellars to garrets, we spent hours learning about the ingenious construction solutions and dedicated craftsmanship of early town residents.
We marveled at rooms stocked with furnishings and textiles and painstaking artwork. (The photographs below, cropped off center, did not capture their real beauty. For one thing, I had to hold the phone camera at crooked angles to dodge the morning glare.) Generations of residents had used materials at hand to produce poignantly lovely pieces to record their family history, convictions, and aspirations of beauty. This image, “Gone But Not Forgotten,” is the top detail of a memorial frame. The inscription below it named the babies born to one family, and the number of months each little one had lived.
A dedicated team of town volunteers preserve these houses in order and cleanliness in a hard climate. From other houses and antique shops and auctions they have collected and gathered numerous period pieces, and arranged them in these spaces to best advantage.
The tour of houses with Mr. Jones, generously sharing with us his knowledge and time, is an unforgettable memory. It was such a good way to round out the week. There was so much beauty and precious ancestral wisdom held in those buildings.
In Eagle, walls have ears and houses have a voice. They have caring guardians too, to unlock the doors and show what makes and keeps a house a home: shared community work, resourcefulness and skills, attention and care, stories in the sticks and stones.