Farmers are notorious for their frugality.
New is anathama to them, a drain on their
hard-earned income and often inferior to what they replace. Old and used are
like lost friends, shouting for a second chance.
This makeshift kitchen in our barn is so crowded with lost friends I can barely move. The doors were pulled out of a remodeled mansion in West Lake. The clay bricks beneath my feet were hauled out of an abandoned field across the road. They sat stacked beside the barn for years, waiting for their resurrection.
The sink was found in an old warehouse before it was torn down. The wood-frame windows came from an auction at a Wimberely Farm ($20 bucks a piece whittled down to $15). The countertops were headed to the landfill when a friend remembered we were building a house.
The list goes on and on. Even the table I am writing on was abandoned by another friend who sold out to developers and couldn’t fit it in his U-haul headed to Ohio. Half of old Austin, it seems, is being demolished or renovated, waiting for cheapskates like me to breathe new life into its castoffs.
The cypress shutter that fills in the gap between two windows (also given to me) is my favorite find. An antebellum mansion just off South Congress was sold recently and I arrived late to the auction. Wandering off limits, I peered inside a dilapidated shed out back. It had recently housed chickens, but under a mound of loose hay was buried treasure — the green cypress shutters that once protected the windows — and privacy — of this three story home. As I pushed away moldy straw and cobwebs to assess their condition, the auctioneer caught me poking around.
Are they for sale, I asked innocently?
She was so tired from a thousand questions she simply nodded and said $50.
“Isn’t $50 a piece a little steep?” I asked.
“No, that’s for the whole pile. But you need to take all of them.”
Which is what I did. Eagerly. Voraciously. More than 20, some 8 feet long, all still working, including the one in this kitchen that makes me feel like I’m connected to a sliver of ruined aristocracy.
That mansion was sold to a California couple, for what I’m sure they thought was as much a steal as these shutters. Still, I felt guilty removing them. They were custom-made for this house, one of the first to be built on the south side of the river.
My guilt did not linger any longer than I did after I loaded up my van. This entire house was going to be remodeled – with new windows, undoubtably.
And farmers, of course.