Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Southern living in a cold snap

We live in a modest two-story Victorian farmhouse with a big front porch, very Southern. The house is quite old by local standards, dating to no later than 1889. The first confirmed occupants were a prominent Durham dentist and his wife (a farmer's daughter from Orange County), and our street is named after them. Although they seem to have purchased the house from a farmer, as far as we can tell, they didn't farm the land themselves. 1891 tax records indicate they owned "1 cattle" valued at $15, kitchen and household furniture at $300, and scientific instruments at $500.

In 1889, the house was out in the boonies north of town. By the early 1890s, all of the surrounding land, with the exception of three other parcels, had been bought up by Brodie Leonidas Duke, eldest son of tobacco and cigarette magnate Washington Duke. Brodie may have been a bit of a lush, an embarrassment to the rest of his family, but he certainly had vision when it came to real estate.

In the early 1900s, a street car line shrank distances and the north Durham boonies became a fashionable, flourishing suburb. Today, the street car is gone, its tracks paved over, and Durham has expanded so much that our one-time suburb is now considered a downtown neighborhood.

One of the disadvantages of living in an old Victorian farmhouse is that it's drafty. When there's a cold snap, you have to remember to leave the pantry door open overnight to prevent the washing machine plumbing from freezing. When you forget, the washing machine valves freeze. (In our house, whenever something stops working, "it's the valves"). Water leaks onto the floor, where it runs under the wicker laundry basket and behind the 2-gallon jug of cat-pee-odor-be-gone before puddling against the wood molding along the outside wall. Then it freezes into a nice little skating rink for the mice, who don't take advantage of it because they're bundled up inside the wall of the study, trying to stay warm.

This morning, long after S had finished cursing in Bairisch about the broken valves and the frozen puddle, I received an email message--too late, alas--from the City of Durham entitled "Durham Offers Advice To Help Residents’ [sic] Protect Their Pipes From Freezing This Winter: Quick Tips to Prevent Extensive Water Waste and Property Damage." One of the many linguistically interesting things about the message was that it mentioned "busted water pipes in the home." It has been a long time since I've read about "busted" anything. "Busted" is an American colloquialism that the OED dates to the early 1800s. By definition, colloquialisms are informal, but here in the southern U.S., folks are pretty laid back. When the city writes to you about busted pipes, you know they have only your best interest at heart.


Lisa B. said...

Perhaps if the mice put on their tiny scarves and earmuffs,they'll be able to muster more enthusiasm for skating...

mom2homer said...

I think they have a comfy sofa and a few beanbag chairs in their spacious nest between the walls. They spend a lot of time hanging out there.