Friday, June 19, 2009

The Old Stone House in Mahattan, Kansas - Part 2

Leif lived at 804 Moro twice, once when he was a baby from birth until he was a year-and-a-half old and we moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, and the second time from July 1992 when he moved back from Puerto Rico until he moved out to live with Nikko, which must have been the sometime between the summer of 1994 and 1995.

That seems like a short time, but that house had been a sort of constant in Leif's life from birth in 1975 until it was demolished in the summer of 2005. While we didn't live in it all that time, traveling and living around the world, we owned it and his grandmother, my mother, Marion S. Kundiger, lived in it for the years we were gone. We came back there to visit, had family reunions there. In short, it was home, the home we knew we could always go back to, the one constant in our lives besides each other.

It was where he saw his grandmother, his Uncle Donovan; his cousins Rick, Holly and Tim; sometimes his Aunts Lannay and Sherie and their families. It was where we celebrated Christmas when we could.

After he moved out, it was still the place to go back to Mom and Dad's for dinner, for holidays, to celebrate Christmas.

Leif moved back there two months ahead of us in July 1992 while we were still in Puerto Rico, to live with his grandmother and take a driver's ed course at the high school. We arrived in September. Then the grueling work began. When we had lived there before, we didn't have nearly as much "stuff" as we were moving in this time and we consulted a structural engineer to be sure the house could handle the weight, and find out where to place it.

Although we had renovated in when we lived there from 1973-1976, and had worked on it several times during the intervening years when we were there for visitis, it needed a complete renovation again. This time, we decided to tackle refinishing the floors, knowing we would never manage to do it once we had everything moved in there. Little did we know what a mess we would get into. We knew that the first floor was oak. We rented a huge sander and ran it practically around the clock, the three of us taking turns with it. It was hard work, but it was nothing compared with the second floor.

The second floor was covered with old linoleum which was on it when we bought the house in 1973. By 1992, it was badly in need of replacement, or having something else done to the floor, and we decided to rip it up, not knowing what we would find underneath. We paid Leif to help us and the three of us spent days and days on it.

First we ripped up the linoleum, which we discovered was glued to Masonite which had been stapled to a yellow pine floor with a staple gun. Whoever did it had gone nuts with the staple gun and there were thousands of them. I counted over 200 in one square foot. Leif was so strong he could rip up the Masonite and linoleum in large chunks, which he threw out of the second story window. This left all the staples stuck in the floor, and some nails, too. In one chunk of the ripped up stuff, there was a long spiky nail that was sticking up out of a pile waiting to be tossed out the window and Leif stepped on it. The nail went right through his athletic shoe and into his foot. That necessitated our first trip to the emergency room that was caused by working on that floor. Luckily, it didn't continue to cause him pain, didn't get infected, and he healed fast.

Once we had all the linoleum and Masonite up and were faced with removing thousands of staples by hand, we also saw that the flooring was in lousy shape. It had apparently never been refinished after the house was built. The walking pathways were worn down to bare wood but those areas not trodden by feet for years and years were still covered with thick brown shellac. One place in the hallway was missing several boards and the area had been "repaired" by flattening an old turpentine can and nailing it over the hole.

The three of us spent days on the floor pulling up the staples until our hands and fingers were swollen and painful, but we finally got them all removed. About this time, I think everyone was about ready to curse me for insisting we refinish the floor. Then it was time to remove the shellac. It's impossible to sand off shellac. It just gums up the sander and starts to smoke. You have to dissolve it with denatured alcohol and sop it up, removing as much as you can that way before you can sand it.

Leif was removing a section at a time in this way, by pouring denatured alcohol on, spreading it around, leaving it for a few minutes to soften the shellac, and then wiping it up off the floor with rags and paper towels. He was working around the corner in the upstairs hallway, on the way to the back bedroom, when my mother came rushing up the stairs and around that corner because she had a doctor's appointment and hadn't been watching the time. She knew Leif was there removing the shellac and how he was doing it, but she somehow didn't think there would be a slippery puddle right in her way as she rounded the corner.

She slipped in it and took a terrible fall. She knew right away she had done something bad to her back so she lay still. I called the ambulance and they put her on a board to immobilize her back and neck and took her to the hospital. She had fractured two of the vertebrae in her back. She was in terrible pain. To my shock and surprise, they sent her home, even with that broken back, with very little instruction in how to care for her safely. That in itself is a long story, and we are just grateful that she healed and wasn't paralyzed. My brother, Donovan, had an old crank-style hospital bed that he got when the contents of an old hospital he tore down to build an apartment building were auctioned. He put it in our living room and I took care of her.

Meanwhile, we continued to work on the floor. Once the shellac was off and it was sanded, I had to patch innumerable holes with wood paste before I could apply the finish. While i was sliding around the floor doing this, I wore heavy jeans and sat on a large foam pillow to try to avoid the splinters in the old pine, but I wasn't successful. I got a very large one stuck in my fanny and had to make the third trip to the emergency room. Leif thought this was quite funny and loved to tease me about it.

Eventually, the floors were done, including putting in new boards instead of the turpentine can, and we went on to other things that needed fixing. Leif helped his dad install a split rail fence in the part of the property on 8th Street that didn't have a large hedge, helped paint, work on the yard, and much more. He had a lot of time, sweat and effort invested in the old place.

The old gravity hot water furnace was out into the house in 1904, according to a sooty old paper that was stapled to a floor beam in the basement. It had originally been a coal furnace but had been converted to natural gas years before we bought the house. Peter Anthony, who was four-and-a-half years old when we bought the house, thought it looked like a scary monster. It never seemed to disturb Leif, though. It's amazing that it was still working over 100 years later when we finally sold the house for demolition in 2005. What's amusing is that we found out that our neighbor when we children lived on Fairchild Street, Dr. Oscar W. Alm, had lived in that very house in 1929 when he moved to Manhattan, Kansas with his bride. They had a chance to buy the house in the 1930s but didn't because they thought the furnace was too old!

The photos of the house show the south and back sides, the picnic table we used so often, and Leif and Peter W. working on that floor. The odd thing is, we took many photos of the exterior of the house and yard, but foolishly never took before and after photos of the interior . . . or much of any shots of the interior except what showed up in the background of the many, many shots we took of people in the house for all the occasions we celebrated. The only time I systematically did take photos of the interior was when we cleaned it out right before we sold it, and then the rooms looks sadly empty and forlorn.

The photos from top to bottom are:
1. Leif and Peter W. working on the upstairs flooring in our bedroom, August 1993.
2. The surprise Kundiger family reunion in 1993 in the backyard, held in honor of Leif's grandmother's 75th birthday, early on July 4, 1993. Leif is on the far left all in white sitting by his cousin Holly Kundiger.
3. The backyard picnic table, taken February 10, 1999.
4. The old gravity hot water furnace from 1904.
5. Looking at the southeast corner of the house and lot from the intersection of 8th and Moro Streets on March 18, 2001.
6. The east side of the house taken April 4, 1999.
7. The back of the house taken April 1999.

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