So itís like this.
Working in an old house is a feat of prestidigitation and sleight of hand.
Iím not complaining, mind you. Like a typical old character, itís been through a lot, you understand. My great-great-great uncle, Alexander Darden, built it. I donít know much about him, but he was a Chief, and somehow had better access to good materials than a poor Indian of the 1840s should have. I wish I knew what he did for a living. The framing of the house is of milled lumber. Its beams are mortise-and-tenon, with joints expertly crafted. I have a photograph of Alexander, a handsome, youngish man at the time with riveting eyes.
Alexander and his sister, Clara, took in a niece to raise as their own. She would be my great-grandmother, Delphine.
Then, the house was laid out this way: A front porch that took up half of the width of its façade. The stairway was on the porch to the left, leading to the single room under the steep roof. Behind that were two other rooms, and that was the main house. To the rear, separated by a "fire break" of a foot or two, was a kitchen area, with a porch on either side. The whole thing sat about four, maybe six inches off the ground.
My grandfather, Emile Anatole, was known as "Biz," short for "Bizzute," the meaning of which I donít think I ever knew. The gift shop at Cypress Bayou Casino is named after him. All of the Stouff brothers had left the Reservation in search of opportunity and relief from prejudice. Biz was born in 1904, in that house. All of them were.
Biz was working in Ft. Worth for Mr. George Rogers. My grandfather was a bit of a character, as is normal with the menfolk in the family, and prone to caustic humor.
"I was working for old man Rogers in the city," he told me one day while we broke for lunch in a patch of river cane we were harvesting to make baskets with. It was somewhere on Lake Dauterive. "So for good business, I married his daughter."
My grandmother was Josephine Faye Rogers. Never was she called Josephine. She made that perfectly clear. Her name was Faye. She told it this way. "Your grandfather told me if I married him, heíd bring me to Louisiana where he had a little white Cajun house with a white picket fence and a rose garden."
It took them three or four days to get from Ft. Worth to the reservation back then. "When I got there, all I saw was this little shack that had never seen a speck of paint, a dilapidated wooden fence and one scraggly, half-dead rose bush."
She said she cried for days, called her father to come get her, but he refused. In time, she became as much the heart and soul of this place as those born there.
Octave died first, and Delphine passed away in 1940. My grandfather had come back to the reservation and inherited the house. He raised it, I think in the 40s, to about two-and-a-half feet. He also joined the off-set kitchen area with the main house, and at some point, closed in the porches both in the rear and also in the front, so that now that stairway that used to be outside is in my living room. He added a little bedroom to the north side of the house (it sits with its four corners almost perfectly aligned to the four directions Ö a conscious decision by Indians, Iím sure) and a "breezeway" to the south side. The north wing became my "piddling room" and the south wing later would be a crafts shop where my grandparents and father sold Native American crafts to countless thousands of customers. Itís my workshop today.
Anyway, about those magic tricks. In a house with that much history, strange things happen all the time. You could trip on an uplifted oak floor board in the middle of the night, but itís flat again by morning, especially if the temperature changes drastically. As the seasons change and the barometer with them, it snaps and pops and grumbles and groans, sometimes subtly, sometimes loudly.
The kitchen cabinets were built over two layers of old ceiling tile. I pulled down the kitchen ceiling years ago, both layers of tile, insulated inside the rafters and replaced the ceiling with bead board. Came out quite nice. But the old tile inside the cabinets has been collapsing, allowing that old blown-in insulation, dust and what-not to fall inside.
This weekend at my girlís request, I took on the task of putting in new ceilings inside the cabinets. One corner-fitting cabinet in particular. I tore out all the old tiles and installed whatever backing I needed to nail a new ceiling of panel board to. I installed insulation as well.
I measured fore and aft, hither and yon. I checked length, width, breadth, circumference, diameter and used pi in my calculations, along with a little bit of Aztec astronomy. I think it was the Aztec thing that did it: The panel actually fit on the third try! The opposite corner was a little more difficult, but I managed to get it done, too. A little molding to seal the seams, and voila! Cabinets with ceilings!
Iím still working on the ceiling in the new bathroom, which will also be bead board. I got a little crazy and thought I would try to do a pattern or something. You know, a diamond in the center, or herringbone, something nice. I then slapped myself to my senses by recalling that you canít hang a picture in this house without a laser level, surveyorís transit and compass.
So the quest continues. Someone asked me just this morning if I was done with the house yet. I laughed and was about to say, "Maybe when Iím 60," but one of my pals nearby beat me to it by saying, "Maybe when heís 80."
Couldnít argue with him, either.