Posted by: morrowsl | August 18, 2015

What A Little Determination Can Do With A Set Of Willing Hands

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J&V CASTO  1813

“When I got her, I got a real gem.”

Jim Casto is talking about his wife, Virginia.  Together they own and operate the B&B where Mike and I, along with my best friend Elle and her husband Jack, are staying for the long weekend.

You don’t hear men say such things about their wives these days.  For one thing, men don’t say “gem” in reference to their women anymore.  Such a description belongs to a time when women wore aprons in the kitchen to cook, but could still pull on a kick-pleated skirt and Jitterbug a Saturday night away.
We spent three mornings at the breakfast table with Jim and Virginia, and never once did he say a cross word against her.  Nor she against him.  It was a wonder to witness.  A lesson in compatibility, and respect, that all married couples could learn.

Ohio Log House Bed and Breakfast is located in Canal Winchester, Ohio.  It’s a wonderfully massive old log house with four floors lovingly restored by Jim and managed by Virginia.

But there’s so much more to this story than just marriage and a simple business partnership.

I found the B&B in an online search of places to stay while we were in Ohio for a wedding.  There were myriad reasons why a hotel in the city wasn’t going to be ideal.  What was needed was a quiet spot with some room to walk and stretch out, not too remote, and possibly something we could navigate on our own.  As soon as I saw the house, I knew I’d found what I wanted.  I just had to make sure the rest of the group agreed.  Elle was on-board immediately.  Jack and Mike were somewhat indifferent.  What we did all agreed on was booking the entire house to avoid having to share with strangers.

I keep wondering which was the greater stroke of genius – renting it at all or renting all of it.

Mike and I had already been in Ohio for a week, so an hour’s drive had us knocking on the door of the Casto’s private home in the early afternoon on our arrival Friday.  Nobody answered, so we walked across the parking lot and found a note chalked next to the front door with both Jim and Virginia’s cell numbers.  I opted to call Virginia.  When I’d called initially with questions and got Jim on the phone, it hadn’t gone so well.  Eventually he told me his wife was the “business” and he was just a guy that worked in wood.  My conversation with Virginia went much smoother, “Go in and get settled.  The house is ready for you.”

Elle had pre-selected their room from the pictures on the website, but I decided to wait and see what the others looked like before choosing.  Once inside, it became obvious that Mike and I should take the cavernous Sycamore Room on the lower level and leave the entire upstairs for Elle and Jack.  The floor between held the common rooms – a full-sized kitchen, living room, sitting room, dining room, game area and half bath.  And there was a loft room at the very top that seemed to be meant for children.  Harry and Norcross would need to explore that surely!

I stayed below to unpack while Mike went up to unload our ice chest.  When I came up, he was in a rocker on the front porch talking to an older gentleman dressed in a tee shirt under faded blue bib-overalls and the most disreputable straw hat I’ve ever seen!  This must be Jim.  I stepped outside with a small knot in my stomach.

“Look who I found!”, Mike said with a Cheshire grin.  Apparently, he already liked our half-host.  Under the hat was a face that was all at once familiar even though I knew we’d never met.  Ice-blue eyes locked on mine and the hand that shook mine was large and still quite firm, in spite of the slight appearance of the body attached to it.  I began to settle immediately.  But the familiarity of this man gnawed at me like a mosquito bite.  His voice was soft and sometimes almost too thin to hear.  He cleared his throat a lot, as old fellas tend to do.  He never sat down, just leaned against the porch post or his cane.

Jim Casto

Jim Casto

Jim spent close to an hour talking with us.  He’d been a custom home builder in the area for thirty-odd years.  He told tales of his finds through the years and how he’d incorporated those into the log house.  All the while I watched him, the feeling that I’d sat and listened to him before never left me.

The original deeds and papers for the house burned in a fire, but its massive size conjured images of a roadhouse or inn more than private home.  It is situated not too far from the original Erie Canal and there’s some thought that it might have been related to that waterway.  Or it could simply have been owned by someone of great wealth.
There are timbers in the living room that easily span 18 to 20 inches in width and twelve to fourteen feet in length.  All bear the signs of hand tools and long hours of skinning off layers one thin strip at a time.  The rebuild, beginning with deconstructing and relocating the building one log at a time, took Jim almost eight years of working “in my spare time”.  The finished project included three solid staircases, a new bathroom on the main floor, a bay window in the kitchen, hand-painted faux brick walls in the lower living area, hand-cut doors and hinges, slate floors, and hand-cut shingles for the roof.

Exterior wall of the main floor.

Exterior wall of the main floor.

At last Elle and Jack arrive and the four of us begin our mini vacation.  As I’m telling them about meeting Jim, it dawns on me why he seems so familiar.  I pull up a photo of Shelby Foote on my phone and there is Jim as well.  The similarities are more in the mannerisms than just the clear blue eyes and thin white hair.  Shelby tended to tilt his head when he talked, as Jim does.  Jim’s brows knot up then smooth out until one brow lifts over its eye like a little rooftop, just as Shelby did.  Staring off into the distance in deep thought as if seeing the scenes they describe is a characteristic of both men.  The only discernible difference is the sound of an Ohio accent where a Mississippi drawl should be.

The next morning I am up at my usual hour, outside trying to capture the magic of this place in an image that does it justice.  I sit on the stone steps leading down to the meadow below and watch as the sun finds her way through the trees and onto the grass.  Little birds are singing all around me.  A hummingbird whizzes past on its way to the flower garden in the center of the parking area.  Almost out of earshot is the buzz of a road and I think of the constant hum of the interstate that greets my mornings at home.  I am beyond happy to not hear the big trucks and the honking traffic.  This is peace.  This is how mornings should be met.

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Morning comes to the meadow.

Breakfast the first morning is a plate full of scrambled eggs with bacon and toast, orange juice, and fresh-cut fruit, including apples.  Virginia asks if they may join us.  “Of course.”, we all say, delighted to have them for company.  I ask if the apples are from the orchards surrounding the houses and they are.  We learn that another family, fourth-generation apple growers, farm their fields as well as the ones on this property.  They don’t sell to retail, just local farmer’s markets and a roadside truck market.  I am lost in the idea of one woman starting a small orchard that can now support her family, three generations after her.  That is a devotion few families these days would undertake, much less understand.

The meal is over all too soon and we are off to see what “town” has to offer.  We find a Blues and Ribs Festival in full swing and spend some time being carried around the town square on the extraordinary smell.  Too bad we’re eating later at the wedding.

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Apples in the pond.

It is hot and humid in Ohio and we only venture out for short periods.  There’s a pond in front of the property that needs exploring, so we walk down after breakfast on Sunday.  There are apples floating in one end.  I meant to ask, but forgot, if those were for the fish or just accidents that managed to find the water.

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This dragonfly was colored the same as the grass in the pond and VERY hard to pick out!

I asked Jim about the huge wood hinges on the front door and he laughed, “I made that myself.  Then, when I was done, I had to make another set for the other door.  Never again!”  The hinges alone are a marvel, but they move the heavy door as smooth as butter.

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Jim’s handmade hinge.

It was hard not to wander the house continually.  Every nook and cranny is filled with delightful finds, the result of their early married life, “before the babies came”, as Jim put it, when they went to auctions and antique stores and tag sales together.  Oil lamps and lanterns of all sizes and shapes, locks and keys, jugs with corncob stoppers or hand-carved wooden ones, vintage glass and pottery, hides of animals, books, and everywhere the Longaberger baskets Virginia sells and loves.  Each morning, our table was laid out with a simple yet lovely set of green and white china, also Longaberger, but produced in the US before the operation was moved overseas.  It made a pretty table and made me feel quite special to have the use of it.

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Kitchen bay window.

The bay window in the kitchen “didn’t belong” but was added because it added character to the room.  It is wide and offers a view of the woods beyond the house and the flowers planted just underneath the window’s edge.  It is filled with a host of jars filled with buckeyes and other seeds, a pair of wooden shoes, a huge bowl filled with rolling pins.

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Lantern collection.

Overhead the kitchen are huge hand-hewn wood beams displaying an assortment of lanterns and kitchen utensils, some of which we managed to figure out on our own.  Others we asked about.  Only one or two defied explanation, even by our hosts.

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Kissing couple carved wooden stopper.

In the dining room are two albums filled with photos of the log house project.  For the most part, Jim is alone in them, but now and then there are others.  He was a robust man.  Always smiling.
I asked Virginia if she ever once thought the project wouldn’t be completed.
“Never.  I knew he’d finish it.  And I always knew where he was!”
Then she told us how the two met.
“Jim and a friend owned a swimming pool and I went to work there when I was sixteen.  When I turned eighteen, he brought me gladiolas from his flower garden.  We married when I turned nineteen.  Jim was thirty-two.”
It was a sweet story made more so by the smile on her face as she told us.  They are an extraordinary couple.  A great team.  They fit.

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Locks with keys, utensils, and sleigh bells hang over the wood-fired oven in the kitchen.

Monday morning dawns sweet and cool and Virginia comes in with homemade quiche.
“This is it”, she says, “if you stay more than three days, I have to start repeating recipes!”  She says they had a party once that stayed ten days.  She fretted and worried what to feed them.  Somehow, I can’t see her running out of ideas.
Yesterday she made pancakes, light and fluffy and sweet enough to eat without the syrup.  I didn’t, but could have.  There is always fresh fruit, which I can never resist.  She fed us homemade stewed apples that would have been perfect over vanilla ice cream.  She is a remarkable cook.

Jim is late for breakfast; his visiting nurse comes on Mondays.  He arrives at last, freshly showered and anxious to get his day started.  She asks if he’s fed the fish yet.  He hasn’t, so we’re invited to go down to the pond to watch.  Elle and I walk down, following the golf cart.

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Even before he is out of the golf cart, the giant Koi are circling the dock where they spend the hot summer days in the shade.  This is how I will remember him, feeding his livestock.

The morning is a bit overcast and the fish are easy to see.  I wish I’d thought to bring my filter, but don’t want to waste time going back for it.

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And then, much too soon, it’s time to pack the cars and head out.  Elle and Jack will go east.  Mike and I southwest.  The time has flown by.  We are already talking about coming back.  Elle and I want to see it in fall.  And we want more time for “just us”, with our tea and our talking.
It’s hard not to be teary.  It has been a good weekend.  We’ve had a lot of laughs, enjoyed some long talks, spent time with two amazing people who figured out early how to do things their way and seemingly have no regrets.

I ask for a group photo and they seem a bit surprised, but willing to sit with us and be a part of the group.  There’s no way I’d have left them out!

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It was a truly wonderful trip.  I hope we can do it again.  Soon!

Finally, the car is packed and we are saying our goodbyes.  Virginia opens her arms for a hug and it is as if I’ve known her always.  She is already like family.  Jim is still sitting in the rocker where we parked him for the picture.  I take a chance and kiss his cheek, then hug him hard.  I thank him for this wonderful old house with all its history and beauty.  And for sharing it with us.  He tells me we are “good people” and I reluctantly let go.

I look up in time to see Elle and Jack drive away.  The sunglasses go on.  The tears build.  There’s nothing more to say.  Until next time.


Responses

  1. Perfect memory of a perfect weekend!!!

    • This is the kind of place I imagined I’d create at the farm. Maybe still…

  2. It’s gorgeous!! No accident, perhaps too, that the couple is named Jim and Virginia…?

    • Believe me, that coincidence wasn’t lost on me!!

      • Steel trap, Mamba. STEEL. TRAP.

  3. Indeed. At least for now!


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