My grandfather’s house on the farm has gutters again. A hundred dollars bought a pile of used guttering on Craig’s List and that plus another hundred for extra parts completed the job. Son Paul and I spent three days cutting, piecing and patching. We’re pretty sure there will be some leaks, but 90 percent of the water off the roof will now get carried away instead of going down next to the foundation and I’m good with that. Sometime in the past few years someone stole the gutters off the house and the farmhouse–the other house on the farm. Turns out they were antique half-round copper gutters. I confirmed that this past week because we found bits of the old gutter hangers and they were indeed copper. How did I spend forty-plus years around that farm without ever knowing the houses had copper gutters? It wouldn’t have occurred to me because my people were not copper people. They would not have spent money on anything but tin or steel for guttering. And I remember the gutters as being painted, anyway. Who paints copper?
It’s interesting to speculate about why the copper gutters were installed in the first place. I’m assuming they were installed when the houses were built. The earliest photo of the farmhouse is from 1913 and it appears to show half-round gutters. The other house was probably built around 1900. It was moved onto the farm in the forties, presumably with gutters attached.
So a few years ago someone drove by, noticed the gutter style and came in and ripped them off the houses. And the farm owner either couldn’t afford to replace them or didn’t see the need. As a result huge damage was done to the basement walls of Grandpa’s house. (Grandpa died in 1968). The walls began to lean in and had to be reinforced. All for the want of a few gutters. The other house doesn’t have a basement, so no real harm was done. Ah people, what were you thinking?
We went to the local hardware store for the gutter parts to finish our job. The store has been there for more than a century and the guttering is kept in a long dimly-lit storeroom above the store. Few people get to go up there unless, like us, they’re in need of guttering. Guttering has been sold out of those bins for something like forever. It was easy to imagine the original copper gutters coming out of those same bins. They probably did.
I thought about my grandpa as we worked on the gutters. He lived in that house during all of my childhood. There was a memory everywhere I turned last week. Here, by the corner of the house, is where cousin Neil and I tried Grandpa’s Red Man chewing tobacco, with unsatisfactory results. A few feet over I can see Grandpa with us kids and a stringer of fish. A few more feet and all of us cousins are sitting in a little red wagon. To the right of the back door is where we posed with Mom and Dad one long ago Easter Sunday before church. At the end of the cement walk there is a small handprint made by one of us.
We had a strong south wind to contend with as we clambered around on ladders, but other than that it was fairly pleasant being out in the country, listening to the bird songs of early spring and noting where the daffodils and surprise lilies were coming up. Long skeins of Canada geese passed by overhead and the killdeer were crying about whatever killdeer cry about in the spring. We heard pheasants crowing and the pigeons that live in the barn all seemed to have survived the winter in good shape. The 91-year-old neighbor was out on his John Deere, tilling up his ground. A new season begins.