Wednesday, November 11, 2015

November 11, 2015 - The House That Jack Built


They don’t make them like this anymore.  People say, “This is the house that Jack built!” remembering the old Mother Goose rhyme, first published in 1755, although it is probably much older than that.  This certainly is the house that Jack built.  In fact, I personally know of several of these houses that Jack built here in Maine, and I lived in one myself for a very long time.

The first thing you should know about Jack is that he was not an engineer or an architect.  He never took a “shop” class.  Most of his tools were handmade and handed down to him by his father.  Jack did not belong to a carpentry guild, and he didn’t know anything about building codes.  He had never seen a level before and wouldn’t know what one was if you showed it to him.  Consequently, Jack's houses have always had a tendency to roam here and there in random directions.

This is the house that Jack built.

But Jack sure built a lot of houses around here.  He always started with the house as you see it up in the front on the right of the photo.  Simple, basic, large, and airy.  Plenty of windows to let in the natural light.  There were loft areas upstairs for sleeping and/or storage of dried foods.  There was often a crude mud floor basement, or as Jack called it, the “root cellar.”  That’s where many people stored their root vegetables, apples, lard, and pickles.  The house extends quite a bit beyond on the other side, but alas, I couldn’t fit it in the photo.

By and by, the family would grow, and Jack would need more room.  See that small section just in back of the house, in the middle of the photo?  With the two windows?  Jack put that in to have extra bedrooms.  He just kind of tacked it on to the main house as best as he could, and everyone was happy.  But the family grew again--children, grandparents, relatives in need, etc., and Jack built the back section.  It was as long as the front part of the house, although not as high, and he put another chimney in to help heat the place.  (Jack’s houses are known for being drafty.)  This gave everyone a lot more room, sort of what we’d call an “in-law apartment” these days.

Jack built sheds and barns, too, when he wasn’t busy farming, but he sure was busy farming.  The farm was how Jack supported himself and his family because he didn’t have an office to go to.  If Jack didn’t farm, if he didn’t grow vegetables and raise meat, he and his family would have perished.  There was no safety net for Jack.

So I hope you will forgive his meandering homes, running willy-nilly here and there, oftentimes wandering off in bizarre directions.  He often took his cue from the shape of the Earth and the weather patterns.  I hope you’ll forgive the sagging lines and slightly crooked doorways and windows.  And please also forgive the lack of artistic style because Jack was a very plain and practical man, not given to fits of fancy or finery.

Here in Maine, we have always loved an old place like this despite its plainness and sometimes odd shape because this is the house that Jack built, and as anyone can tell you, that means many people will come and go here, many things will happen here, and many adventures will take place here.  This is a special house.

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