6/19/22: The Gem of Eagle

On the main street of Eagle there was a tall stately stone house with wood detail in bright clean pastel tones. Signs outside indicated that the building was a historic landmark. Hoping this was not some unsuspecting family’s private home, I ventured up the stairs under the veranda with its lacy ornate woodwork trim, gave a timid knock, and tried the door. It opened, and I peered in. 

   “Would you care for a TOUR?” asked a gentleman inside, greeting me right at the entrance.

   “Uh… yes. Thank you, I would love a tour.” After the full noon sun I stood blinking in the soft light, looking around.

The unique room looked to be a museum, restaurant, visitors’ center, lending library, and book shop all in one. This blog is anonymous, so it did not feel respectful to take identifying pictures of the house. But they posted this picture themselves on their website:

Christmas time; just one corner of a remarkably well-appointed home

The host, Mr. M., was a trim distinguished-looking gentleman with silver hair and neat beard, keen bright eyes and expectant smile. He had the confident courtly air of a sailing vessel sea captain.

   “Why, that author is Mr. S.!” I exclaimed, seeing a display of several memoirs. I recognized the author’s name as our local ornithologist, a man I’d hoped to meet personally to talk about birds. His memoirs looked full of life experiences, including his service in both the Second World War and the Korean War. “Imagine the adventures he has had since 1919. And now he is 103!”

   “104,” my host volunteered with a smile. For over an hour this gentleman demonstrated a level of verbal fluency that I can not recall hearing since Tom Lehrer sang “The Elements” on TV (and even he used ready-made words, written by Dmitri Mendeleev). That command of language, as it unfolded the history of the house, had me spellbound. First, our host whipped open and spread across a table a series of laminated photographs and drawings showing phases of this remarkable building over two centuries, and its role in the history of White settlers crossing the continent. The story was in the details — 19th century engineering solutions, sections removed for one purpose, sections added on for another, transitions in uses, styles fortunate and unfortunate, owners changing hands, and finally the spiral of neglect and abandonment poised to condemn the building as obsolete and in the way. 

The house owed its existence to Mr. and Mrs. M., the volunteers who saved and renovated the building. After their long illustrious careers, they deserved a shady porch and a lemonade apiece. Instead, they went to war. The couple fought for the house, inspired by its historic value and potential. What if (they asked each other) they could somehow find the funding, focus the stamina and know-how, gut the historically discordant modern “improvements,” track down the best version of the house as it was in its golden age, and build it all back again? What if they could search the countryside for authentic building details, furnishings, fabrics, handicrafts, adornment and artwork? Then, what if they could research and devise a whole menu of historically informed recipes to reflect and honor the unique diversity of ancestors from First Nation, German, Swedish, Utopian Vegans, and the other groups that settled this part of the country? What if they could then track down locally sourced sustainable livestock and fresh produce, direct from the farmers? What if they could open this place as a museum bookstore and library and cafe, and cook the meals themselves for whomever walked in through the door on their way across America? What if this labor of love could stand as a testimony to their faith in the Lord?

Over the years, they made it all come true. Now the house was a showpiece, lavished with creativity and care. The atmosphere was soft and contemplative. It was a hallowed place outside of modern mindless static and clutter, a haven for echoes from our ancestors’ lives. It brought to mind the reverent history house museums back in Leningrad, where visitors donned felt overshoes and talked in whispers to admire roped off rooms and furnishings, in a palpable vibration of the past and its historic characters and stories. 

Mr. M. with deft agility sprang up and down steps and passageways on three levels, narrating stories with a crystalline recall for details. In an upstairs bedroom he pointed out some 19th century wainscoting made of beadboard — lined paneling punctuated with rows of round raised beadlike detailing. A piece of the beadboard had been lost, so Mr. M. set out in hopes of gleaning just the right match. Armed with a clear vision of the type of beadboard needed, he was able to spot the exact piece in an unlikely salvage source. The search made for a real detective story. Now he could point with pleasure to the panel, showing how the found piece matched the other panels to form a well-knit painted wall, seamless to the eye. “And that,” he concluded, “Was Miracle Number 204 in our renovation story. There have been so many miracles! This is why we keep a portrait of Jesus Christ in every room, and tell these stories as a tribute to Him.”

The house was a treasury of antique pieces. Some were elegant, like a tiny tea set and a case of little girl dolls in their colonial dresses.  Some were homespun, like the little velveteen bunny peeking from the mantelpiece in that week before Easter, waiting for his new child to come find him.

Back on the ground floor across from the entrance, there was a recessed wall with steps leading down to the sunken kitchen. The kitchen passage held the rarest find of all. 

Mr. M. stooped down to show me some scuffs on the wall. I looked right at and past those scratch marks; to my unaware uninformed eye, they looked like pen knife marks from a small child. But for some twenty minutes in all patience he drew my attention to every angle and side marking in the wood. It reminded me of reading Tom Brown, Jr., puzzling over some photo of a footprint in sand with a caption deciphering all the story of the person in that shoe. Mr. M. pored over those scratches with me. He told me how they discovered the markings during renovation, how Mrs. M. and her empathetic intuition sensed that the scratchwork had a story to tell, about their research, about their consulting with First Nation people in the area, about the collaboration that revealed the message: a pictograph memorial tribute to a White man who had distinguished himself by his cooperative respectful relations with the original holders of the land.    

After our tour through time, I came back to the present with an even deeper appreciation for this community. Thanking Mr. M., I headed back out to the full noon sun. The only regret was the prospect of leaving town without a chance to meet Mrs. M., who was working at their home that day. Still, that evening I told Host Family all about the house, urging them to come and experience it for themselves.

Dear Host decided to take us all to the stone house the following Saturday, and treat all of us to lunch: the family, a good neighbor, and me. Mr. M. was happy to see us. He showed the family the house before heading to the kitchen to fix our meal. (I went for the toasted cheese on fresh-baked bread. It was perfect — delicious subtly sweet toast, and richly flavorful cheese, melted but crisp at the edges.) 

While the family toured the house and I browsed the books, a visitor came in. She looked weary and out of sorts, and glanced around at the unique interior with a puzzled guarded look. In hopes of improving this customer’s spirits for Mr. M.’s sake, I went right over to greet her. We had to exchange the required “Are you from around here?” Then she confided that she and her husband had driven in from the countryside; he had a long tiring medical appointment here in town. As a break from waiting at the hospital, she’d decided to venture in to the stone house in hopes of a cool drink and a rest. Soon we were poring over Mr. M.’s laminated photos of the house. Taking an interest, she began talking about her own renovation projects on the farm. Mr. M. appeared with greetings and a menu. His gentle hospitality sooned cheered her mood as the two of them looked through the selections. She decided on an iced tea. Soon she was settled comfortably with her tea, admiring the room and exchanging cordial greetings with my party at the next table before she went her way looking refreshed. 

Then there was a group photo session on the bright pastel porch. It’s a beautiful picture to gaze at now, those dear people on a happy day together, laughing over some friendly joke and beaming up at the big sky.

The only shadow over the outing was that once again, I had missed seeing Mrs. M. There was only more day to spend in Eagle, and I was sorry to leave without hearing her side of the shared vision of this house. 

Next morning at church, after an uplifting worship service, I stood up and turned to leave the pew. The worshipper right behind me wished me a good morning. To my surprise and delight, he was a trim distinguished-looking gentleman with silver hair and neat beard, keen bright eyes and expectant smile — wishing to introduce me to his spouse! 

Mrs. M. was an ethereally fair slender lady, looking lovely in turquoise jewelry and hand-sewn period clothing in lapidary colors. It was impressive to think of the construction skills she must have wielded on the house project. In photographs she stands before the house with her husband, and with keen eyes telegraphs the message “I will not step aside for your bulldozer.” But in person the impression was more of a violet aura of sensitivity and extreme fine tuning. During the conversation she mentioned her age; on hearing that number I could only shake my head in stupid wonder, unable to reconcile it with the radiant energy before me. Mrs. M. shared her own account of the inspiration and intuition that led the two of them to save the house, part and parcel of their faith in God and in one another. I offered to come help her in the kitchen on my next trip to Eagle. She offered me a volunteer job on the spot, working in and on the house; she even offered to advise me on the grants available for historic houses like this one. 

That was a wonderful meeting. I came away with the fondest memory of the House of 204 (plus how many more of them?) Miracles, the gem of Eagle. Its facets are the labor of love, shared vision, and mutual devotion of Mr. and Mrs. M, and faith in their Lord Jesus Christ, portrayed with honor in every room. 

About maryangelis

Hello Readers! (= Здравствуйте, Читатели!) The writer lives in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and the English and Russian languages, working in an archive by day and writing at night. Her walk in the world is normally one human being and one small detail after another. Then she goes home and types about it all until the soup is done.
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