Perspectives on Preservation – Good Bones, from Diary of a Mad Woman

Our guest blogger today is from the opposite end of the mighty Mississippi, and is a virtual friend of our Field Rep, Erin. (The got to know each other via an online message board when their oldest children were toddlers, but have never met in person.) The Mad Woman has had more than a few life challenges, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and her husband’s recent suicide. But despite it all, she still thinks it’s worthwhile to talk about preservation, and place.

Here’s her introduction: I’m a 43 year old widow. I have 3 kids, ages 10, 5 and 2. My husband recently committed suicide. I’ve always written. Can’t remember a time when I haven’t. Now I’m sharing, what I guess is my diary. Sometimes it’s dark, sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s completely inappropriate. But it’s always therapeutic…so please don’t judge me. Better out than in, right?

PAM warning: the language is raw. Don’t read on if you’re offended by that, and please don’t judge us either. Preservation can be messy business.

Good Bones are Hard to Find

This isn’t particularly interesting or funny, but I have to set the stage for the Hurricane Katrina blogs, which are coming, at some point.

I’m feeling all nostalgic today because Dave’s brother is here working downstairs.  He’s worked for Dave for years, and he helped Dave to be as successful as he was as a contractor, because he’s a jack of all trades and a fine carpenter, too.  Dave was in the business of renovating old houses.  Since almost every house in this city is old, it was a good business to be in.  Dave was really good great at what he did, because he was a perfectionist.  It used to drive me a little crazy.  I used to tell him, “Sometimes you just have to say, ‘that’s good’ and be done.”  He wouldn’t hear of it.  I once made him house shop with me before we undertook another addition/remodel here.  Most of these older homes have additions on them.  He wouldn’t even consider anything that had been remodeled already, for fear that anyone would think *he* had done that kind of shitty work.  Some weren’t that bad.  Mostly they were shit.  People are stupid.

I bought this house we live in now in the 90s.  It was a 1200 square foot 1920s bungalow, on a tree lined with 100 year old oaks.  I remember what I loved about it when I first got out of the car that day.  I could hear the city, hear the cars, hear the hustling and bustling off in the distance, but I could also hear nature immediately surrounding me.  The humongous canopy of trees was home to hundreds of birds, squirrels, cats, possum, raccoon…..just life.  There were even parakeets in the trees.  (Still are.)  Right outside the door was incredibly peaceful, but the comforting sounds of the city were just far enough away.  I love knowing that I’m 10 minutes away from some of the finest dining establishments in the world.  Not the country.  The world.  I’m not sure how you survive away from the culture that is this city.  I lived in Florida for 10 years when I was in my 20s, and it’s the reason I left.  I couldn’t handle the small city a second more.  A certain feeling came over me every time I returned to NOLA.  I once had that feeling in another place.  It was fleeting.  I was in Paris.  I’m convinced there are many more ancient cities that would allow me to have that feeling.  I can’t wait to visit them when the darlings can allow it.

In the 1990s, people were paying $225,000 for small post-war brick cottages on city-sized lots in our neighborhood, and tearing them down to build their dream homes.  Some neighbors were freaking out about it; they were nostalgic for the old Lakeview.  There’s not much you can do to give a post-war box house swag.  If there was, I would have figured it out and bought and sold a hundred of them back then.  It ended up not mattering a whole lot anyway, because in 2005 Katrina smacked us, hard, and our whole city went under water.  Around here Katrina is a way of life.  She’s a person.  Not a hurricane.  We loathe the bitch.   But as with anything, there can always be a silver lining.  While many homes did get torn down and rebuilt from scratch, many of the 1930s and older homes got what they needed anyway.  Aggressive makeovers.  Some people were complete idiots, throwing their old double hung cypress windows, solid cypress doors, and historic woodwork on the curb.  Now they live in old houses that really aren’t old.  We didn’t remodel that way, ever.  There is a reason living in an old house is kind of neat.  The reason is that it’s old.  You can’t buy that stuff anymore.  You can have it replicated for a small fortune.  It smells old, it looks old, and it feels old.

The lady I bought this house from lived here for 70 years.  She moved in when she was 19 and died here when she was 90.  We’re only the second people to ever live here.  The 1200 square foot cypress bungalow is now a 4000 square foot raised basement style house.  After Katrina, my next door neighbors decided not to move back into their house, because it was too small and the lot wasn’t big enough for an addition.  So we bought a 1919 bungalow across the street, put an addition on it that looks 100 years old, and sold it to those neighbors, so we could have their house next door.  We dismantled whatever was valuable on it, and tore the rest down.  We raised our house up a story, then used their windows and doors, which matched the ones on my house, for the first floor basement part.  I effectively made my house a two story house then, and my kids now have a much bigger yard to play.  I remember when we were landscaping their new house across the street; a friend of mine was helping me.  My neighbor asked her if she was a landscaper.  She said, “No, I just do what the madwoman tells me.”  My neighbor laughed and said, “Me too, she told me to sell her my house and buy this one, so I did.”

More from Diary of a Mad Woman here.

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