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To Save a Wall

Bob"s grandfather, Fred Portigue, was a skilled mason. A major motivation in this farm project for Bob has to been to save and repair as much of his grandfather's handiwork as possible. This includes both the stone fireplace in the den as well as the original garage walls. Time and New England winters have weathered the masonry, especially the garage which lost its roof several years ago. Its walls stand defiant but exhausted; saving them will require intentional design work and careful reconstruction.

On our first work trip to the farm, we worked on clearing the area, especially the patch behind the current garage which will serve eventually as a roofed lean-to area for parking tractors and other farm equipment. Wonderful wild raspberries had to be ripped up and multiple trips to the dump made to get rid of years of discarded stuff. A veritable walk through the years was had as layers of beer cans were uprooted and discarded.

On our second work trip, we had to start by again scraping away the brush that seeks to grow back at all costs. Bob and Bobby worked to clean out the garage, uncovering in the process treasures such as old chicken feeders and milk jugs. Angry hornets, furious at being disturbed, halted our work while we waited for the insecticide to do its thing. I usually take a "live and live" approach to most creatures, but hornets are a different story.

Once cleared, the true state of the garage walls was revealed. The masonry was mostly intact and the New Hampshire stones were lovingly arranged, varying in size and color in a wonderful mosaic that could only have been created by someone with an artist's eye. But time and frost have had their way and the walls really aren't load bearing anymore. We are lucky to have a team of people- family, neighbors, friends- who share the vision for the farm and are skilled carpenters and engineers. And who own heavy equipment. Several days were spent in the hot sun over the Fourth of July weekend, breaking up old concrete, burying the frost posts, leveling the area, spreading gravel, and clearing the remains of the old cinder blocks off the stone walls.

We have a plan: the walls will be reinforced inside the garage with cement and Bob's talented carpenter brother David will build walls up from the stone.

In many ways, it probably would have been easier to just level the existing stone walls, clear out the rubble and build a wood or metal structure. Maybe even get a pre-fab garage. But that was never contemplated. All of these men working in the heat to save these walls had been touched in some way by Bob's grandfather. They grew up working on the farm, learning both skills and a work ethic from this quiet man who valued people and took great pride in his garden and farm. To have destroyed the wall would have been tantamount to denying the safe haven and role model that this man was.

And so we toiled and rejoice that while the farm will no doubt look different, it will remain a tribute to Fred Portigue.

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