The Unique Soul

Our house was built in 1937, and before we purchased our cottage last year, we knew the original cedar shake siding, now brittle and moldy-black, would need to be replaced. Along whole swaths, the siding is thin as onion skin and in scattered spots the woodpeckers have rap-a-tap-tapped right through, leaving a series of circles, like it’s half of a tic-tac-toe board waiting for the X’s. I soon learned that cedar siding was one of the most expensive and labor-intensive options, so I went in search of alternatives. We considered clapboard and board and batten — I even took a very short look at several cedar knockoffs (no thanks).

Knowing my dispositional inability to stroke a check without pressing for every conceivable way to cut the numbers, Miska allowed me my necessary time to roam and research. However, she just kept saying, “You know, Winn, cedar is part of this house’s character. It’s what belongs here.” I nodded politely as I showed her numerous Google images of lovely homes with all kinds of lovely siding. She appreciated each option, but repeatedly reminded me that homes, like all beautiful and sturdy things, have their own soul, a character. You have to pay attention to where you are. I heard her, even as I kept searching, kept finagling, kept downloading Google images for her to view.

As you must already know, we’re now replacing our weather-whipped siding with new cedar, culled by our neighbors to the North from their Canadian forest. Several friends who know what they are talking about encouraged us to stain the siding before installing, so Seth and I have set up in the back yard, dipping shingles in 5 gallon buckets of mocha colored oil, brushing and stacking. We haven’t done all the staining, and I won’t be doing any of the installing, but it’s felt good to participate in the restoration of this old place, to know we’re contributing to our home.

Frank, our carpenter extraordinaire, has finished one stretch. And it’s absolutely true. Cedar belongs here. It’s part of the soul of this place. It’s wonderful.

Every home, every person, every street and village, every borough, every family, every marriage and friendship and church, has a unique soul, a unique identity. And we must honor this marvelous particularity. We do great damage when we assume we can stuff everything into one basket, give it a common name, draw broad-stroke conclusions and assign some generic fix or plan for marching efficiently on. We do great damage when we compare one unique person to another unique person. There’s all kinds of beauty in the world; we want to honor each and every one.

7 Replies to “The Unique Soul”

  1. Wonderful piece. I’ve just been talking to a friend about our home and how there are presences here and how it’s not been a welcoming place. I think it resented all the changes we made. Old homes seem to have a spirit of stay the same. (We need to do a house blessing.) But I also love how you are honoring this home and it’s particular soul and how you encourage us to honor ourselves and others and their soul. So wise. Thank you.

      1. Then I don’t feel so bad! We need to get it done because I’ve known the place has needed it…I hope you post pictures of your siding when it’s done. (Bruce and I also put a lot of ourselves into the renovation of this place. Our contractor gave us the space to do that. We tiled our own floors, did our own painting, prepped the floors for varnishing…We did a deep renovation with thought towards who might follow us by adding an upstairs laundry and a big walk in closet…)

  2. But cookie-cutter homes are so neat and tidy and easy to replicate and fix … and, often lack depth of character and warmth, culture and peace. Thank you that I want my home … my life … to be a unique place of peace.

  3. Couldn’t agree more, Winn. I’ve often told my kids that my most favorite piece of furniture in the whole house is the kitchen table. It may be knicked and scratched, but easily my favorite.

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