Cobweb Crown

  • October 21, 2015

My mother-in-law loves telling the story of “Jocelyn and the Moth.” The story goes a little like this…

324327_207195462685799_117809310_oOne crisp autumn morning in 2011, our small family of three combined forces with my husband’s family of four. The seven of us piled snugly into the Ford Explorer and set off on a grand leaf-peeping adventure. My brothers-in-law–both Mark and Neal–were crammed into the back. Billy and I sandwiched our little guy’s carseat in the center. Julie sat shotgun. Bill drove. (This was before he lost his fight with ALS in 2013.)

Given that this was early October, the leaves had yet to reach their peak. Every so often, we glimpsed a vibrant patch of orange amidst the green canopy… but that was the extent of our leaf-peeping excursion into the wilderness. Despite the disappointing foliage, the nauseating back-road venue, and the cramped conditions inside the Explorer–I’m able to look back on the occasion with fondness. Well… that is until the moth came into play.

313483_207188329353179_2040037440_nThere I was–hunched over and trying to hold down my breakfast on the snaking roads–when a malicious, winged demon from hell decided to flutter across my peripheral vision and dive into my stiffly-teased hairdo. I squealed and nearly jumped into the carseat with my son to avoid the kamikaze moth. Looking back–I may have overreacted just a tad but I’ve never been real fond of creepy-crawlies and this bug had it out for me.

The confines of the Ford Explorer erupted into chaos. Julie was yelling at me to calm down. Bill was trying to stay on the road. Billy was laughing hysterically without any compassion for his fear-stricken spouse. Neal was trying to decide whether to pity me or the moth. All the while, Ashton was sound asleep. Finally, Mark jumped into action. He gently corralled the little bugger into his hands and released it through a cracked window.

Now, whenever I tell my mother-in-law that I’ve spent the afternoon creeping through a schoolhouse crawlspace for ink wells or exploring a mosquito-infested swamp for civil war remnants–she resurrects the story of “Jocelyn and the Moth.” She can not wrap her brain around an imagine of me–hater of all things creepy and crawly–braving winged beasts and blood-sucking insects in the name of scrap-metal and soda bottles.

This was the case on Sunday. Mike Sheesley and I visited my dear friend at her historic schoolhouse. The schoolhouse–Mt. Zion School in Cumberland County, PA–was built in approximately 1858. (Though I may get a text from her after posting this, because she follows my blog.) My friend–Sue–has been restoring the schoolhouse with great attention to detail. She went so far as to piece together a broken shutter with splinters and scraps of wood that she found in the basement–all for the sake of historical accuracy. Sue is a sucker for history, which is probably why we’ve become such quick friends.

11828541_1665934540308993_6700924208892093907_nEver since meeting Sue and her darling schoolhouse, I’ve been itching to strap on my knee pads and explore the narrow crawlspace beneath the school. Truth be told–however–I kept putting off the task. My reluctance may have been attributed to the century-old cobwebs strung between the supports or the skull of some long-dead critter peeking partially from the layers of stove ash. I just wasn’t all that eager to jump in there and stir up the dust–or the spiders, the centipedes, the thousand-leggers, and–God-forbid– the moths. Shudder.

On Sunday–however–Mike was pushing to explore the crawlspace. I wasn’t about to let him climb in there without me and take credit for finding all the goodies. So, we ventured to the basement–half of which had been dug out decades ago to allow for standing room. The other half offered about three feet of clearance and even less beneath the cross-beams.

12107009_982376145167723_6251455063451145574_nI strapped on my knee pads and hoisted myself over the retaining wall and into the crawlspace. Luckily, the only spiders immediately visible were the dead ones snagged on sooty cobwebs. I crept on my knees through the dark space, careful not to plant my palms on any broken shards of glass peaking from the ash. On instinct, I went straight for the back of the crawlspace. All the while, I could feel the webs clinging to my hair and my back. I tried not to imagine all my new friends skittering across my back.

As I mentioned, Sue is restoring her schoolhouse. Without any early pictures of the schoolhouse, Sue is forced to guess a lot of the details. She keeps everything true to the era–such as the antique hardware, the heirloom roses planted at the base of the chimney, and the swirled panes in the windows. She hates having to guess at these details, but she does a fantastic job nonetheless. One detail she guessed was the style of shutter-dogs. (A shutter-dog is the hardware that holds the shutters open.) She had guessed that a schoolhouse of that era would have a utilitarian style.12065768_982379625167375_8743051220951285830_n

While I was scratching around in the dirt–breathing in particles of decomposed vermin and black coal dust–I found a particularly ornate doodad. Had I been able to stand without clobbering my head on the ceiling, I may have performed a little happy dance. Instead, I just did a little wiggle and shouted: “I found something awesome!” Which seems to have–unintentionally–become a catchphrase of mine. (In hindsight, I should have coined something a little cooler than that.)

With this proclamation, I scrambled towards the light at the end of the crawlspace. Sue waited eagerly. Before handing over my discovery, I instructed her to brace herself. With the building anticipation, I handed her a complete shutter-dog with the tine still intact. She gasped in excitement. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen anyone so excited about a piece of hardware. This silly piece of iron had great significance to Sue. This was another clue to her restoration process. This was one of the original shutter-dogs that had been affixed to the brick wall of the schoolhouse.

I suppose that when it comes to rescuing history, I can brave the creepy-crawlies and the moths. I emerged from the crawlspace with a nice cobweb crown and a dirt mustache. But heck, it comes with the territory…

10411249_982376158501055_5433273095713193077_n 12122571_982443708494300_2819599051229181360_n 12088464_982445058494165_8799714745528337146_n