Friday, July 11, 2014

Pioneer Schmeer and the Homestead

When I first met Mr. Quist and listened to him tell me about the little pioneer house on the land I'd fallen in love with he told me about his frequent visits to the home and the family that lived there. He spoke of the fireplace, always ready to warm him from the long walk to this house, and once inside and sitting by the fireplace he would deliver a message of faith to this family. He was a boy of 13, and he was doing his 'priesthood duty' by 'home teaching' to this kind family.

Mr. Quist spoke in such tender terms about this fireplace and all it represented to him; about faith and duty. About the kindness of a mother who prepared her home for the 'home teacher' to come, stoking the fire and making sure a warm drink was waiting for his arrival. About how he learned about ministering as he attended to this duty and how he came to understand the Love of God through loving this good family. I hadn't been inside the home. I hadn't seen the fireplace. But I wanted to keep it with all my heart should this property ever be ours.

When Mr. Quist finished his story and with emotion and tenderness promised me he would consider allowing us to be owners of this homestead, I felt a desire to keep the symbol of what this home meant to him. Once the property was ours and we could make a full inspection of the fireplace and the house, I thought maybe it could remain in tact and be a part of our new home. It wasn't in keeping with the 'style' of the house we had in mind to build, but it was so important to me to maintain the history and feeling of the property we would now steward. I begged our architect to find a way to include the fireplace in the home's design. He flatly refused. It didn't sit on the property in a place where it could be used. There was no guarantee that it could structurally withstand the demolition of the little house it had for a century kept warm and the building process of the new house that would become our homestead. He was willing to work the stones into the design of the exterior, but no way would he be able to keep the fireplace intact.

So we set about picking the fireplace apart stone by stone. This was no small task - it had been made to withstand the ages and it was prepared to continue to stand through ages yet to come. Built with what is called 'pioneer schemer' the fireplace's stones were not just fronts of stones, but actual small boulders that had been set in the sticky pioneer era cement. Each rock had to be carved out of the schmeer.  It was difficult, time consuming and not incredibly successful as some stones would chip or crack and other stones would come free of the schemer but have large chunks of it scaring the rock. 

This effort was going on about the same time we met our builder. He suggested letting the bulldozer knock over the fireplace, and then saving the stones and basically chipping the extra schemer away from them to use the rock in some way. After a lot of emotion and discussion (mostly with me talking and John listening patiently) we decided that was the best option. I was sad that we might lose a lot of the rock to the pushing over of the fireplace by the beast of a bulldozer, but the expense and time to remove the stones one by one was simply not worth the end result.

Either way we would end up with a pile of rocks that really were only important to me.

So on the day the house came down, I came over to watch. It was a sight I won't forget - the house had literally been built around the fireplace. Insulation tucked in between the walls and the bumpy fireplace surface..the frame of the house being cut in the bumpy shape of the fireplace's facade.

And the fireplace wouldn't move. It stood solid and still as the house around it crumbled. The dinosaur bulldozer tore through the walls and the wood, revealing layers of paint and wall paper and pulling down the roof to reveal an old attic bedroom long ago abandoned. the house fell fast, but the fireplace stood.

I felt the emotional worry of knocking over something that was meant to last forever. I didn't want to take lightly the work that had gone into its creation, nor did I disregard its usefulness for so many families over so many years. It had stood the test of time and had provided a much needed service and now we were knocking it over. 

The neck of the bulldozer bent low to the fireplace and began to knock away. This is when I turned away and with tears in my eyes heard the sound of the machine hitting stone. Our builder, a great guy and not insensitive (but still a GUY) was commenting on how cool it was to see the power of the machine. But I felt the power of the story surrounding the fireplace was much stronger and more full of meaning.

the fireplace fell, eventually. It took effort on the part of the bulldozer. At last the stones laid in a heap on the ground, and the dozer scooped them up and placed them in a corner of the property that would remain untouched by the construction. They'd be safely kept there for us to scrape off the schmeer and discover what we could do to use the stone in remembrance of the way those stones had helped make a minister out of a young man.

Eventually we found a good use for the rock; and I must admit by the time the building project was done some of the intense emotion about that fireplace had faded. But I am so glad we have those stones to speak to our kids in some form, to witness that good things had been brought to pass on the property we now call home. A Young man became a good man on this land. A mother taught strength, kindness and quiet power to the neighbor boy who came monthly to teach her. We have those stories to remember when we see those stones in their new place here at the Homestead.

And we tried to make the hearth of our home something worth remembering too. In a different way we made it a symbol of strength and family. We gathered pieces of our family history, pieces of the construction of our home, pieces from the piles of rubble that were left when the original home came down and even a little piece of the old fireplace and we put them in the new. I hope it becomes a place where boys become good men, a place where I can teach - the mother who lives here now - about quiet strength, service, compassion and consecration. I hope our new hearth is a focal point of warmth both physical and spiritual. And I hope it can stand for another long age as we live here and grow old.

The boys are pictured in front of our pioneer era fireplace...
we tried to dismantle the fireplace, but it had been built to last forever.
The fireplace stands in defiance of the bulldozer's quick work. It took a lot of effort to level the 3 foot thick structure. You can see how the walls of the house had been built around the fireplace, instead of the fireplaces being built to suit the home.

The new hearth of our home. I am standing with Gordy Meldrum, who was the craftsman who helped bring our idea to reality. We worked closely together to make everyday and family history items into a sculpture surrounding the hearth. 

Some of the pieces mean a lot, some mean very little. Together it makes for a place to stop and look, to think about what it means to be a part of our family; and to feel warm inside and out as past experiences are reflected in the items surrounding the fire.

A fly fishing reel that belonged to John's dad, a piece of the wall that had surrounded the original fireplace, a metal chicken that was the marketing symbol of our favorite restaurant in Johannesburg, and pieces of light fixtures from the floor of my dad's shop work room are all found in this panel of the new fireplace.

Our kids pose here the night before Mason left on his mission. The fireplace wasn't quite done yet, but we knew it would be the perfect place to gather as we sent Mason away from this homestead to serve the Lord as a missionary. I am eager to gather my kids here once again when he returns next year.