When we first discovered Ohio Log House in the early summer of 2015, my expectations were only to have a cool spot to use as a “base” for a joint vacation with our friends, Elle and Jack, as well as a generally-located stopping place between a wedding we were attending and our visit to our farm.
I had no idea how hard I would fall in love. And not just with the house.
Yes, it’s an incredible structure filled floor to ceiling with enough stuff to fit an entire season of Antiques Road Show and American Pickers, along with a period movie and probably a couple of television shows.
Yes, the area where the house is located is equally beautiful and quaint and so very Americana.
But I fell in love with a man there as well. And his is the real story to tell.
Jim and Virginia Casto met when she was sixteen and came to work at a swimming pool that Jim and a friend had opened. As all good love stories go, she didn’t fall for him immediately. He had to work to win her. Eventually, he brought her gladiolas, grown in his garden at his mother’s house. The deal was sealed. They married and began the journey that eventually led them to a wonderful pair of buildings, the Scandinavian-inspired chalet that is home, and the centuries-old log house that is their business.
Last summer, when we met them, it was Virginia who handled the business details and phone calls. I’d tried calling the house and actually did speak to Jim initially. We did not hit it off so well. He seemed confused about my call and I was equally confused by our conversation until he explained that it was his wife who normally handled “all this stuff” and gave me her cell number. I booked our visit and promptly forgot the old man on the phone.
So, it was a bit of a shock to come upstairs that first day from our cave-like bottom floor suite and find a very lively fellow leaning against a porch post, bending Mike’s ear. I joined them and was a bit embarrassed to admit that I was the shrill who’d harassed him on the phone. In his gentle way he dismissed the entire thing and picked up his story. For close to an hour he stood thusly, sometimes shifting his feet or turning to point a spot in the distance. But he never sat down that first day. Eventually I realized Jim Casto is not a man who sits. Like my own daddy, he was born on the go and grass didn’t grow under his feet.
Each morning, Virginia would cross the driveway between her home and her business with a basket laden with the beginnings of our breakfast. She and Jim would join us at the table and, from those morning conversations, we learned that Jim had purchased the old log house to save it from destruction. He dismantled it, moved it down the road a mile or so, then spent more than a decade bringing it back to life. When he was finished, he and Virginia carefully filled it with antiques and artifacts collected over the years from sales and shops encountered along the way. It was amazing to watch his face light in animation as he talked about the pitfalls of turning primitive workmanship into livable modern convenience. At one point he’d been standing in the middle of the second floor, home of a spacious living/dining area, a snug kitchen the likes of which Country Living might boast, and a massive remote-controlled gas fireplace, when his son asked what had him puzzled. Jim replied, “I need a bathroom” and that was how there came to be a small powder bath hanging off the back of the house far enough to make you understand how bears feel when they sit in the woods. I kept asking more questions in hopes he’d forget there was anything to do aside from answer me.
By the end of our trip, I had the sound of his voice in my head and he had a piece of my heart.
I was truly looking forward to sitting with Virginia and Jim again at breakfast and listening to them recount their adventures. I’d spoken with Virginia again when I’d booked the cabin and she mentioned Jim wasn’t as active as he’d been.
Pulling up, the place was even more picturesque than I remembered, even in the pouring rain. Eventually Virginia made an appearance and explained that Jim was no longer able to get around without a walker and spent little time at all outside.
My heart cracked. This was a man who’d spent as much of his life as humanly possible outside. I spent the evening trying to imagine how he was coping.
Next day, we were up for breakfast at 8:30 and Virginia elaborated some on Jim’s condition. He began to decline in the fall and winter after we’d been up for our stay. He was now on oxygen during the daytime and confined to a single floor of the house. He walked only with the aid of a walker and she had help to bathe him. She began to talk about his inability to recall the facts of his days and their life together. This morning, she’d left him with their wedding photos in hopes of prompting his memory into recalling who she was. A tear made its way down her cheek and I simply had to go to her and put my arms around her. Surely she’d known that commitment to a man so far her senior would possibly lead to this day. But it was evident that no amount of preparation could have readied her to lose him in such a cruel manner. We both regained ourselves and she was out the door to check on him as we left for a pumpkin festival nearby.
Saturday we were up and gone and spent almost all day in and out of shops in town as well as a huge pumpkin patch we’d passed on the way back from the pumpkin festival the previous day.
Sunday morning at breakfast, we talked again of Jim and his declining health. He was having a “good day”, Virginia said and Elle asked if we might visit with him. We agreed to shoot for midday. But then we ended up too far from the house at the time we’d set. As disappointing as it was not to see him, it allowed me to simply recall the man who’d taken my heart and how he’d managed it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see him diminished and cooped up. In my mind, he would still be out on his mower, tearing across the hills, making hay while the sun was high and bright.
And then, it was Monday morning and we were packing the cars. Elle and Jack would head northeast and Mike and I would turn southwest. My mood was gloomy. Our weekend, while longer than the last one and filled with much more time together, was still far too short. And too, we were heading to a less than cheerful task a bit farther down the road. The setting would be just as lovely, but nowhere near as comforting.
I asked Virginia to join us for a group photo, just as I’d asked the Castos to be in the one we took on our first stay. She finally agreed. Then Elle mentioned missing Jim and next thing I know we’re off and crossing the driveway to see him. My heart beat a bit faster; I am not good with this sort of thing at all. I tend to get teary and usually embarrass myself by saying the wrong thing more loudly than intended. I almost hoped he’d be napping and we’d leave him undisturbed.
Jim, it seems, had other plans.
“You folks have been here before!”
It was his eyes that let me know he did, in fact, know us. Maybe not our names, but he knew he’d met us before and he was genuinely pleased to see us again. I hugged him and kissed his whiskered cheek. And wished for more time to sit and listen to that voice. To hear his stories about the cabin and the Erie Canal and the lucky people who lived in his houses. We told him again how much we treasured the gift of the old log house, with it’s huge timbers and solid floors. We all agreed that fall was the best time to be there, then changed our minds when a glance out the window beside his bed gave us the full view of the apple orchards and pond. How gorgeous it must be in spring when the trees are blooming under a blue bird sky.
Then it was truly time to go. I kissed him again and got a kiss in return. I held his hands and tried with all my might to soak in all that I could of him before he was gone from my sight. Possibly for the last time.
I hope to see Jim Casto again. The odds are against it, I know. There’s a long cold winter coming. He is well into his 8th decade. His health, after living such a robust and useful life, is failing him. For now, I need to pack up a little box with some sweet Parker county peach jam and a print of his beautiful house and send it to remind him that the story isn’t over just yet.