But I didnít come here to tell you all that.
What I was planning on getting around to talking about Wednesday was what happened when I first got into the house.
After it was clear there would be no saving the marriage I was in at the time, I prescribed and duly enacted an immediate property division and settlement: I hooked my dadís boat up to the truck, put all my clothing, books and my computer into the boat, and my English springer spaniel Shadow and my cocker spaniel Chance into the boat as well, and headed to the old Stouff homestead. The dogs thought it was the coolest thing they had ever done.
My father allowed me to begin rehabilitating the old place. Ma Faye, my grandmother, had been in the rest home for a year and a half, and a house that had been continuously lived in since about 1840 for the first time in its existence had been empty. Old houses donít do well. They get lonely. You can laugh all you want about that statement, but itís true. You can live in an old house ten years and lift not a finger in maintenance and it weathers pretty well inside. You leave it empty for a year and it starts warping and nails start pulling out, paint starts peeling. New houses donít really react that way, because theyíre usually built with far less material that was Ė and in many ways, still is Ė living.
It took me six months to get it livable. I was working at The Daily Review in Morgan City at the time, and worked on it every spare minute I had. I stripped two layers of linoleum off the floor in the living room to reveal a magnificent oak floor, laid diagonally to the room. I had never seen a diagonal floor before, and I inquired with my dad about it.
"The old man did that," he said. He explained that the room was probably so out of square, my grandfather laid the oak diagonally to avoid a serious set of problems otherwise. As I worked on the place more and more, I realized there certainly was little in the house plumb, square or level. It wasnít all that obvious, itís not like the place is wavy or anything, but itís not exact by any stretch.
Maybe thatís why I love it so: Neither of us are very plumb or level or exact.
But I didnít come here to tell you all of that, either.
Over the years, Iíve managed to do 98 percent of the living room and piddling room, which are conjoined, and 99 percent of the kitchen. I never seem to be able to finish 100 percent of anything, because I usually get fed up with it and go fishing for a couple years, then come back and start something new. I have no staying power on these projects. I predict that by the time I hammer my last nail in it some years hence, Iíll stand back and proudly proclaim, "There! Itís nearly done!" and call it a day.
Iíve had little gifts given me along the way. When I redid the piddling room, I found an inscription on a header board inside one of the window frames reading E.A. Stouff Ė 1947. Of course, my grandfather, Emile Anatole Stouff, left his mark there when he added that little room to the house. In the workshop, which was originally a breezeway, cookout-kinda thing, I found his initials, but no more. In both rooms I took a Sharpie and signed my own name and the year.
Once I pulled off a baseboard and a little mathematics flash card fell out. I remembered it completely. My grandmother had used math and alphabet flash cards to teach me early on. I could read before I went to grade school thanks to her efforts, but I was never very good at math despite her best intentions.
Under the house, I found a set of oars, about 10 feet or more long, nicely made. One corner in the attic revealed a large Indian head penny and within a cabinet a partial set of silver engraved "C. Stouff" which, we believe, belonged to Catherine Stouff, who immigrated here from France with husband, Jean Pierre, in 1845. They were brought to Louisiana to oversee the plantation of Martial Sorrell, and did so until the Civil War was lost. One of their children married a Chitimacha medicine woman, and thatís how the Stouff name came into the tribe.
While metal detecting in the back yard around that time, I found a spoon from the set, also engraved. I imagine one of the six children Ė Nicholas, Emile, Octave Jr., Fred, as well as Constance and David, who died as children Ė swiped it from the house to dig in the yard and forgot it there or lost it en route back.
Still, thatís not what I wanted to tell you last Wednesday.
While I was working on building my wall, I recalled a day when I first moved in to the old house. Of course, I had always been here, never really left. My familyís been here since it was built and I was carried into it by my mom, who married my dad in its living room, and I crawled and later teeter-tottered and finally walked and ran on its floors. Iím as umbilically linked to it as my grandmother was.
One day while I was piddling around, working on the floor or something, my dad called me on the phone.
"Say," he said, "when you get into that bathroom in the back, if you take all the paneling off the wall down to the old centermatch, youíre going to find a treasure map drawn on it."
You can imagine how surprised I was. How could the old man have hid such a family secret from me for so long? I remembered then that my grandfather used to tell me how his old aunt, Aunt Clara, would lock all the kids in the house when they got short on money. Theyíd watch her through the window and sheíd amble down to the bayouside and vanish below the ridge, returning a bit later to the house to release the kids from captivity. Sheíd always have a few silver coins in her hands, too.
"Really?" I asked Dad at his disclosure.
"Yeah," he said. "Itís going to show a map of the property, with the house and the old oak tree and bayou on it, and a big X with the words ĎThis is where my money is buriedí next to it."
"Really?" I blurted, shaking now.
"Sure enough," he said. "But donít pay any attention to it. The old man put that there to fun with whoever lived in the house after they did. You werenít even born yet."
I was crushed. I said, "Well, Iím certainly glad you remembered to tell me that before you went on to the Happy Hunting Ground yourself! Iíd have been out there with a back hoe digging up the whole yard!"
He just laughed and said, "Well, you know how your grandpa was. He was quite a character."
I never did get that deep into the other bathroom, the one Iíll do later. But Iím anxious to see if that map is really there.
And thatís what I came here to tell you.