Celebrating a 250-Year-Old House | Mary's Farm
Late in the evening, my cousins arrived, and once they’d all piled into the house, soaking wet, we gathered for dinner by candlelight and exchanged stories of our adventures–so far. After dinner, I put the beans to bake in the oven overnight–and then slept soundly for an early rise.
The day of the party dawned like a stage set. The tent was standing ready. The power was back on. The smell of baked beans filled the house. My sister and I set about to decorate the tables beneath the tent with Mason jars filled with Joe-Pye weed, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, and black-eyed Susans, all cut from the roadsides. In the cool, dry, blue-sky morning, we transported all the platters and drinks and jugs of iced tea to the tent. My friend Jonathan set up a sound system, hanging the speakers from the apple tree, providing music and also a microphone so that I could say a few things. I wanted to thank so many people who had helped me all along, and I wanted to raise a toast to Benjamin Mason and what he had started here so long ago.
A stream of guests arrived, happy in the warm August sunshine. Under the shelter of my barn, food and drink were arranged on several tables. I felt a happy, festive mood all around me. After everyone had enjoyed a good meal, I got up to take the microphone, but as I did so, my friend David came over to me and showed me the weather map on his smartphone. “I don’t mean to alarm you,” he said, “but you might warn people that they have about an hour before this hits.”
The blue skies above us belied what showed on his screen. I didn’t need to look hard at the device to see that a huge storm was headed right at us. So I didn’t get to say all that I wanted to say. I said a few things, most especially the expressions of gratitude I wanted to make, and then I told everyone to hurry and take their tours of the house and grounds–because a big storm was coming.
Everyone fanned out toward the various highlights of the old farm. The hour passed swiftly. Even with our warning, the skies turned black and the thunder rolled in with such swiftness that it still seemed like a surprise when the storm arrived, with bucketing rains, lightning, thunder. I watched as my guests headed for their cars and hoped that everyone would stay safe. The power went out again, which made clean-up a challenge. I kept thinking what it would have been like if that storm had arrived even one hour earlier, while we were serving lunch–and what it would have been like if we hadn’t had that warning.
The next day, a friend called to tell me something else. She and her husband had fled in the storm, perhaps a bit ahead of the others. They’d driven through the downpour a very short distance down my road–the one that Benjamin Mason originally built–when there to one side a tree was on fire, a brilliant blaze. While they watched it spread to the next tree, despite the torrents of rain, they called 911. A wire dropped into the road. Then, in one single moment, a huge billowing cloud of steam burst upward as the pouring rain finally extinguished the blaze at once. “That was a supernatural ending to your party,” my friend told me.
I wish I’d seen this brilliant flame turn to steam in the driving rain. It made me think about the order of things, how there had been so many obstacles to pulling this party off, how we had somehow managed to schedule it for the weekend when we were to experience two of the most intense storms of the summer. I was especially intrigued with the loss of electricity two days in a row–two very important days in the life of this house that Benjamin Mason built. We don’t lose power very often in the summer. But as we’d lit the candles for our meal the night before, I was reminded that Benjamin Mason had never had any power to lose.
In so many ways, we had summoned Ben Mason into our present, into our 21st-century reality. Maybe he was answering back–maybe throwing a lightning bolt down into the trees to give us the fireworks we lacked–maybe doing some handstands up in heaven.
It might have been the beauty of this land and its dramatic sky that brought me here, but the house, its history, its voices, the thought of the many feet that have touched its floors, this is what is so meaningful to me now. I’m only here to make it better, to make it last.