Pillar of strength


Ours is a lovely old farmhouse. Sturdy, solid and square.

What sets her apart is the graceful and oh-so-lovely (if you squint) porch that wraps across the front and down one side.
Ten sturdy columns are perfectly spaced, joined by intricately turned balusters and railing. The plaster detail on the top of each column is glorious (although spotty) but the overall effect is still quite lovely.

Everyone who visits exclaims upon the porch. I was not immune to this charm. I saw the porch. Not the burnt-out mobile home shell and vintage autos rusting in the yard. I saw a wrap around porch with soaring columns that made me think I had found my own personal Tara.

One of the things that first drew me past the crime scene tape (yes, really) was the porch. Now it is trying to kill me.

Old home ownership

The thing is, when you invest in an old home your time, your sweat, your dreams and your effort, you are heading into territory that new-house people (and by this I mean any house 50 years old or younger) rarely face.

I have friends who try to commiserate with their new-to-me homes. Basically, if you live in anything less than 40 years old, I consider your home practically new. So you have to replace your tidy concrete stoop? That’s cute. What’s that going to set you back? A couple hundred bucks and beer for your buddy who knows how to finish cement?

Your new home’s porch is comprised entirely of easy care vinyl? You will never have to paint it and the marvelous faux-wood product is impervious to insects, weather and rot? I don’t even want to hear from you. Go sit over there and admire your Palladian window why don’t you?


I am currently living in a house that could collapse upon us all at any time. OK, this is where Mr. Wonderful would say I am being dramatic. All I know is that a few weeks ago, BoyWonder backed our truck up to the porch.

He was easing it slowly back, tailgate down, and maybe because his helper (Mom) wasn’t paying attention, he backed up maybe a millimeter too far. The tailgate of the truck tapped the newel post at the bottom of the porch steps. When I say tapped I mean tapped. Butterfly wings make greater impact.

This tiny hairsbreadth of a nudge caused the newel post to shift ever so slightly. This, in turn, caused the railing attached to move back ever so slightly and, in the ultimate unbelievable chain reaction, that shift caused the entire porch column to crack open like a peeled banana. All we heard was a crack and suddenly I was seeing daylight where a column had been for 110-plus years.

It warms my heart to report that the moment the crack happened, BoyWonder yelled for me to run. That’s love. He, momentarily uncertain if the entire porch would collapse, was concerned for my safety. I am, after all, the one who shops for groceries around here. I have value.


Once we realized that the porch wasn’t actually going to collapse, we stared in abject horror. We had finally done it. We had broken the house. Generally we find that the things that need the most work are those that were done in, say, the past 30 years. They just don’t make things like they used to.

Give us a remodeling from the 1990s and it comes apart by hand. Usually, the original parts of the house are quite sturdy. That, of course, implies that you don’t hit them with a truck. So there we were with the wide-open cracked porch. To its credit, the roof didn’t even sag.

He looked at me. I looked at him. Then we both did what has proven to work time and time again. We screamed. Loudly. “Dad!”

Well, I said “honey,” but the message was the same: “Please come save us from ourselves.”


In typical Mr. Wonderful fashion, he had the entire thing sized up and assessed as fixable before I had even finished hyperventilating. He shored up the middle with new treated wood, carefully placed the original pieces back where they belonged, and affixed them together more strongly than they have been since some time in the Kennedy era.

I dare us to hit that post with a truck now (no, don’t). Honestly, it looks so amazing and feels so solid, I’m seriously wondering what else we can bump with a truck.

I think it is inevitable that which you love may eventually kill you, or, in our case, may appear to almost kill you. But you’ll end up stronger than before.

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