When I was a little girl, I was surrounded by books. Sometimes literally: I clearly remember the day I accidentally bumped against a bookcase and brought an avalanche of paperbacks down on my head. No matter where someone was in the house, there was a book within reach. Each one took me to a different world, opened up a new perspective, offered new insight or simply made me laugh until I cried -- or cry until I laughed.
As anyone who loves books knows, there is always that particular one. Or maybe, if you're very lucky, a few of them: Those books that open up a world so beautiful that you will never forget what you read, or where you were when you read it, and how it made you feel, and perhaps even how it changed you.
For me, that was a dog-eared book about southern Appalachia.
The day I met Foxfire
It was a thick book, with very simple pages, black and white pictures, and an eye-catching font: The Foxfire Book.
And just underneath the title: Hog dressing, log cabin building, mountain crafts and foods, planting by the signs, snake lore, hunting tales, faith healing, moonshining, and other affairs of plain living.
That book was well-loved. It had rips and stains, a few pages were loose, the cover had seen much better days, and there were notes in the margins here and there, mostly in my grandmother's flowing Palmer script. I took the book to her. "What's this?" I asked.
She gave it a glance, then gave me a longer one. "That's the way things used to be. You should read it."
Ten minutes later I tumbled into a new world. It was like nothing I had ever read before. The language was beautiful, the interviews filled with a dialect and cadence I could hear in my head. The pictures told entire stories themselves. I wanted to know those people, and I wanted to know what they knew -- I wanted to build my own log cabin and make my own soap. I even (albeit quite briefly) wanted to slaughter my own hogs. I wanted to go out to the garden and plant and watch it all come up.
I was perhaps ten years old, and the past was suddenly the best thing ever.
Foxfire books and old house living
I have since collected all the Foxfire books, including a copy of the original volume, which now has my own handwriting in the margins. Those books taught me where to find ginseng and mushrooms, how to use hardwood ashes to make lye soap, and how to weave baskets to hold it all. I gleaned tips on chicken coops, natural hair treatments, and proper seasoning of a cast iron skillet. I learned to plant by the signs, just like the book said -- and it all worked.
Foxfire books belong in an old house. They speak to a time when life was simpler, when the work was hard but satisfying, when a home was where you were born, lived, and died. In those pages is how to do just about everything, from figure out what is wrong with your wood stove to building the house that it heats.
Isn't that do-it-yourself, enterprising spirit a trait that old house owners share? Isn't that part of the charm, to know that you are restoring and protecting something that has stood the test of time? Few things will help get you closer to your old house than living the way the original occupants did. Though not all of them would have employed the things you find in Foxfire books, some of the stories definitely apply -- it's just another fantastic way to immerse yourself in old house living.