Malcolm McDowell Woods
Baloney on Wry

History enters

By - Dec 3rd, 2009 09:43 am
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Kathi Gardner

Kathi Gardner

The house I grew up in was built in 1886 by my great-great-grandfather, James Reilly Clark, for his bride, Margaret. As farmhouses go, it was fairly typical of the times, with a dirt basement, several bedrooms upstairs and on the main floor the kitchen, dining room, and what was then known as the parlor.

There was, however, one thing that set the house apart from others in the neighborhood.

I cannot recall when I first heard this story, but I feel as though I have always known it. Great-great-Grandma Margaret came from a farm family, and was not one to put on airs, but it seems that when great-great-Grandpa James undertook to build the house for her, Margaret asked for only one particular thing. She was a warm, outgoing woman who loved to entertain company, and her heart was set on a particular door for the parlor. It was, for those times, a remarkable extravagance.

The door cost twenty dollars. It was oak, embellished on the outside with carved columns on either side of a rectangular window — a window edged with squares of deep blue, red and gold glass, and in the center of the door, inset just below the window, was a brass doorbell. When callers lifted the handle of the doorbell, a single reverberating chime announced their arrival.

James must have been truly in love with Miss Margaret, for the door was in place when he carried her over the threshold into their new home, and there it stayed, welcoming visitors through its portal for more than 100 years.

For the first 20 years of my life I watched the seasons pass through the window of that door. By then, layer upon layer of white paint covered the wood, but it was still a beautifully crafted piece of work. When I was small, I would sometimes be a princess for an afternoon, welcoming my subjects through that elegant entrance into my pretend castle. When it was bitterly cold and snowy outside, I would press my nose to the gold panes of glass and imagine that I was seeing sunshine. How one could raise a handle on one side of the door and produce the deep, mellow chime emanating from the bell on the other side was a great mystery. I loved everything about that door, from the rich colors of the glass to the fairytale story of how it came to be a part of our otherwise unremarkable home.

The years flew by, and my parents passed on within six months of each other, leaving the farm to my younger brother. We all knew that to stay there was not an option — the house was far beyond the point of anything but the most major of repairs, and the property was far more valuable without the house.

When my brother, Gary, finally made the difficult decision to auction off the farm and the remaining contents of the house, he called to ask if there was anything I might want.

The legacy my parents had already given me was great; a strong work ethic, a sense of responsibility and 50-plus years of unconditional love and support. Yet when I opened my mouth to refuse his generous offer, something entirely different emerged.

“I’d like the parlor door,” I said.

There was a long, slightly bewildered pause at the other end of the phone. “The door?”

“Well, yes, the door. I know it’s weird, but …”

Gary, obviously flummoxed by my odd request, agreed that he’d see what he could do, and nothing more was said.

In July, my dear, thoughtful brother brought the parlor door to its new home. I hadn’t forgotten my request, but I had become resigned that it was probably too daunting a task to remove the door from the house and store and transport it, particularly with its ancient, fragile glass.

I was, for a rare moment, speechless.

Over the next few months, I lovingly cleaned the wood and glass, and removed the lock plates and bell and stripped the metal. I found a craftsman named Dan who was willing to help us find a spot for the door in our home.

When Dan first saw the door, he reached out to touch it with a kind of reverence that made me smile. He carefully mounted it in an unused doorway, and suggested a method of backlighting that would set off the colors of the craft glass.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” he said wistfully, “a piece of history.”

The farmhouse is gone now, and so what is left of our family will come to my house for the holidays. We will meet at the dining room table, sharing warm memories while the parlor door presides elegantly over the festive gathering from its new place in the corner.

I am sure that great-great-Grandma Margaret would be delighted.

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