‘This ole house once knew his children
This ole house once knew his wife
This ole house was home and comfort
As they fought the storms of life
This old house once rang with laughter
This old house heard many shouts
Now he trembles in the darkness
When the lightnin’ walks about
‘Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no more
Ain’t got time to fix the shingles
Ain’t got time to fix the floor
Ain’t got time to oil the hinges
Nor to mend the windowpane
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer
He’s a-gettin’ ready to meet the saints
‘This ole house is a-gettin’ shaky
This ole house is a-gettin’ old
This ole house lets in the rain
This ole house lets in the cold
On his knees I’m gettin’ chilly
But he feels no fear nor pain
“Cause he see an angel peekin”
Through a broken windowpane’
This Ole House by Stuart Hamblen
‘Our family lived here for more than 200 years,’ the young woman explained.
She was a great-niece of the woman from whom we bought the place. Attractive, polite…blonde and slight, she just walked in through the front gate and introduced herself.
‘I never lived here, but my father and grandfather talk about it all the time. It was their home.’
We gave her a little tour yesterday.
Word comes this morning that Elon Musk, sometimes the world’s richest man, sold his many lavish mansions and now lives in a tiny, USD$50,000, pre-fab house.
Mr Musk is, of course, a phenomenon.
Founder of several billion-dollar companies (the best known, Tesla)…married three times (twice to the same woman)…already father to five boys from his first marriage and now having children with his current partner…he is probably not a good illustration of anything.
That is, he is sui generis — like a man with three buttocks — an example of only one thing: himself.
Last year, Musk vowed to ‘sell almost all physical possessions’. We spent last week exploring the trend. Transitory. Transactional. The ‘subscription’ economy. In the future, says the World Economic Forum, ‘we will own nothing…and we will be happy.’
Today, we neither propose nor anticipate a countertrend.
Instead, we write in elegiac mode, not about what lies ahead, but about what is being left behind…
This weekend, we tidied up our workshop after years of neglect.
A man’s workshop, like a woman’s diary, is where he has most control over his thoughts. In his atelier, if nowhere else, he is boss. He can hammer, screw, bend, cut…all the things he might like to do elsewhere, but civilisation and good sense hold him back.
His workshop, too, is where he keeps his whatchamacallits and thingamajigs…ready to plug the leaks, charge the batteries, and restore order to the cabinet doors.
It is his command centre…the beating heart of the home. It is where he can think most clearly. And more importantly, he doesn’t have to.
Source: Bill’s workshop at his house in France
A workshop implies not just a house, but a home. It is not just something you live in, but something you take care of…something you share your life with.
A house may be transitory, but a home is permanent.
Finding a home
Our house here in France was a wreck when we found it in 1994. It had little functioning heating, plumbing, or electricity when we moved in.
But it had a workshop. And we were young and full of energy. We spent the next 18 years fixing up the house.
We left our home in Maryland to explore the world. We wanted to know how others lived. We wanted to see things…do business…learn languages and foreign customs…go places.
As soon as we were able, we went…and this was one of the first places we went to.
It was here that we raised our children. Even when we were living and working in Paris and London, we still came here for weekends and holidays…
This was home.
Memories of home
And what a joy it was. The long, summer evenings on the porch…swimming in the pond…campfires…hikes…horseback rides, with the clip-clop of eager hooves on the cobblestones…
…the brisk mornings and quickening pace of autumn, as the All Saints vacation approached…the plane trees and chestnuts, their leaves turning golden and drifting to the ground…
… a roaring fire in the dining room at Christmas time…
…green, wet spring times that seemed to last forever…
…one child always armed with wooden guns and swords…another who went to sleep each night studying his book of dogs…
…a daughter who awaited her moment of fame on the big screen…another who needed to be rescued from bad friends…
…a son who quickly grew taller than his father…another who wanted to leave us for boarding school…
…an aunt who lost her bearings…a mother who was always there and always helpful…
…the old walls remember them all.
A home remembers. A house forgets.
Solidity and timelessness
What especially drew us to the house and the area was the appearance of solidity and timelessness.
Washington’s sprawling wealth and power were smothering the old Tidewater by the Chesapeake. Practically every month, a new house went up — much like the one before it — and a new family moved in, with no attachments to the area, save a good-paying job in the Capitol.
In coming to France and putting down roots, it felt less like we were leaving our home, and more that our home had left us. Here, we were rediscovering it.
But we couldn’t stay. There was more to discover. More places to go. More things to do.
The children left France for college in the US. We had to move, too…but we didn’t entirely move on. We left France, but kept the house. One son, who now lives in Paris, comes down periodically to check on things.
But mostly, the house sits and waits. Doors locked. Shutters closed. Furniture covered with sheets to keep the cobwebs off.
Like a faithful hound at the gate, it watches the road…looking for our return.
And then, when we finally get here, it welcomes us with shutters and windows thrown open and a warm gush of summer air…
In a matter of minutes, the old house comes back to life…it is home again.
And then, we go to work…just as we did more than a quarter of a century ago. For now, after so many years, it is time to repaint the woodwork…repair the cracks…oil the hinges…and fix the roof.
An ancient relative of ours used to refer to the homeplace as ‘the family stronghold’. There was a time when houses were fortified against marauders and brigands.
Later, the family stronghold became where you started out…and where you retreated to when you were down on your luck or needed a rest.
Out in the country, big houses became centres of industry, where teams of people — men, women, and children — worked together to bring in the crops.
Friends of ours in Ireland live in the oldest continually inhabited house on the island. Surrounded by thick, stone walls, it was built for safety. Now, it presides over a large farm…and is used as a venue for music festivals.
Times change. Stone walls don’t offer the protection they once did. And farm life no longer requires so many people.
Today, young people leave…and the old farmers spend the days alone in their air-conditioned cabs.
The old houses need upkeep. And not everyone enjoys scraping paint on his holidays. The next generations make their lives in distant cities. Instead of coming back to the homeplace for vacations, they go skiing.
There are old homes in the US, too. A family friend had a certificate on his wall. It congratulated him for keeping the Maryland farm in the same family since the time of the Revolution.
Our friend had lived all over the world; he was an army lawyer, who played a key role in the Nuremberg trials. But when he retired, he came home to run the family farm.
He died a few years later. By then, his five daughters had departed for careers in New York, San Francisco, and even Moscow. None of them wanted the farm. It was a burden.
They sold it…and the old farmhouse burned down in mysterious circumstances soon after.
More to come…
No, not all memories of home are happy ones.
For The Rum Rebellion
PS: The Rum Rebellion is a fantastic place to start your investment journey. We talk about the big trends driving the Australian Economy. Learn all about it here.