Sometime around 1970, my father received an invitation from his uncle to take our family to a house that he and his family owned on the outskirts of the small town of Blue Ridge in the north Georgia mountains. We all fell in love with the area and began taking short vacations there, along with my mother’s sister’s family, including the cousins that my sister and I grew up with. Soon thereafter, my great uncle helped my parents find a small vacant house for sale located just a few blocks from the quaint downtown of Blue Ridge. Dating back to the turn of the century, the house had been vacant for years and was in rather rough shape, but my father was an electrician by trade and a very good carpenter. With his uncle’s help, Dad was able to make the little house habitable again.
Typical of my father’s utilitarian style, the house was restored with very baseline interior finishes: pine sheet paneling, unpainted molding, and linoleum square tile partially covered in large carpet pieces salvaged from our primary home. My mother, her mother, and her sister all tried to do what they could to add some charm to the interior on a very limited budget. Dad filled the three main rooms with furniture that friends and family had thrown out, making the minor repairs necessary to make them functional. The rooms served as living quarters and bedrooms, with enough beds and pull-out sofas to sleep up to fourteen people. He added a second bathroom, purchased the lowest-end appliances for the kitchen, and installed space heaters discarded by our home church. He added a propane tank behind the house that he found for free — a tank designed to be buried in the ground with the typical metal column rising from the middle to enclose and provide access to the meter and valves. Of course, he mounted the tank above ground. I joke here about my father’s minimalist approach with this vacation house affectionately, with the full realization that purchasing and maintaining a second home was an amazing accomplishment for a lower-middle-class family like ours. If nothing else, Dad was remarkably resourceful.
Over the course of the next forty years, my parents shared the use of this vacation home with extended family and close friends. My sister and I and my sons, my cousins, and now my wife all have wonderful memories of such happy, peaceful times spent at this little sanctuary. As my parents’ generation aged, they could no longer maintain the place, so the responsibility was left to my sister and me. Now, the house belongs to my wife and me, and my sister and my cousins still take a vacation or two every year to the house, as do we.
Regrettably, I was not blessed with my father’s skills. My wife and I have done some painting, and family members have graciously chipped in to do some minor repairs, but we have also spent quite a bit of money in recent years trying to keep the house from collapsing. Due to poor foundations, settling, and just general old age, the house has become even less “tight” than it was in the past. It has suffered from damage from ground hogs in the crawl space beneath and other rodents in the walls and ceilings. Mice started to find their way inside several years ago, but the most disturbing invasion was evidenced this past fall when my wife and I found a three-foot-long snake skin that had been left behind in the kitchen. In a state of temporary despair, I sat on the edge of one of the beds and told my wife, “I’m done.” She wasn’t exactly sure what I meant! We had a lengthy discussion and came to the difficult decision to finally give up on attempting to salvage the unsalvageable. We are going to demolish the house and build something new in its place.
We spent our weekend sitting on the front porch rockers using our iPads to look for house plans. My wife found a charming cottage plan, and we have taken the first steps toward this big change. My sister and cousins are understandably saddened by the impending loss of a house that holds so many happy memories for all of us. So are we. But, they do understand why this is really our only alternative. By this time next year, we hope to have a new place for the family to retreat and continue to enjoy the many opportunities for relaxation and entertainment that this area provides. The town of Blue Ridge has drastically changed from the sleepy (if not dying) little village it was when my parents bought the vacation home so many years ago. I will save for another post my thoughts about the changes we have seen over the decades in Blue Ridge.
It is never easy to let go of anchors from the past, especially when they are so concretely identified with people we have loved dearly who are no longer with us. As cliche as it sounds, this vacation house was truly a home to our families and close friends. We hate to see it go. We are fortunate to have very good photographic and video-graphic records of the house, happy times, and the people who enriched our lives there. We look forward to a new, modern structure to enjoy for many years to come, but there is a definite sense of loss as we say goodbye to this special house forever.