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WHEN the last pair of roof rafters are set on a new house the workmen tack a green tree, usually a cedar in New Jersey, at the peak of the roof and the house is officially launched. I don't pretend to know where this custom originated. Possibly it has something to do with the dove bringing the green twig to the Ark when Noah knew it was time to order his grape vines from the Ararat nurseries to prepare for the celebration. (If you want to know more about this event see Genesis, Chapter IX).
Perhaps since a cedar tree bears juniper berries which are now chiefly eaten by partridges and heath hens, but in the early days were used to flavor a vile beverage called gin, there may be some significance in this. At any rate, the whole neighborhood used to gather at a house-raising. The frame was pinned together and raised into place. Then refreshments were served. To-day houses are erected one stick at a time.
The Invitation to the Housewarming.
At any rate, the green tree means that the future owner is expected to appear the next Saturday at the time when the men quit work and pass around the seegars. It is good business to do this. In the final analysis your house is at the mercy of your workmen. If a cigar or two will make them think the owner is a good guy they may make their mitres a little more carefully or drive screws with a screw driver instead of a hammer. You might also serve a little ginger ale. It isn't necessary to have imported brands like C and C. Any good domestic brand will do. I don't feel that this phase of the subject requires any greater elaboration.
But to top off your house-building experience with an occasion that will remain in your memory as a bright spot in an otherwise drab existence, by all means give a house-warming to your friends when it is finished. On such an occasion, you will receive such an earful of praise and congratulation that it will make you like your home better every day you live in it. A house-warming in a chicken coop would be a success. There is something about new wood and the smell of fresh paint with everything spic and span that makes even the most conservative guest grunt: "Pretty nice ranch, Bill." If you are really proud of your home you get the thrill that comes once in a lifetime when you show it to your friends.
Our house-warming date happened to fall on the sixteenth anniversary of our wedding. So we decided to kill two birds with one boiled ham and make it a combination house-warming and skimmerton. If you don't know what a skimmerton is, ask any old snoozer who was raised in the country. In the old days, the young blades of the neighborhood used to visit the home of the bride and groom armed with cowbells, horns, tin pans or anything that would make a noise. It was something like the modern kitchen shower — but not much. Callers were prepared to make the night hideous for the newlyweds. The groom either peppered his guests with a load of salt from his muzzle-loader, or he invited them in to partake of apples, doughnuts and cider (depending upon whether he liked to have parties thrown at him or not).
After sixteen years as we did not expect a skimmerton, we staged one ourselves. We invited one hundred people. Ninety-nine appeared. The other one was arrested for speeding to get there. They looked the house over, and then were gently but firmly shooed down into the cellar, where a concrete floor was proof against an elusive plate of salad or ice cream.
That cellar idea is a positive inspiration for serving refreshments. Consider the case. It is relatively soundproof. Here you are a comparative stranger in a new neighborhood. You can be reasonably sure that the man who lives next door doesn't want to be told a dozen times, in barbershop harmony, that his neighbor-to-be ''is a jolly good fellow." This will be especially true if he heard it the first time. He may remark, 'Too damned jolly for this neighborhood, I think I will call the police."
Also the neighbor aforsesaid is interested not at all in the fact that your guests spend most of the day "working on the railroad" and prowl around half the night "seeing Nelly home from quilting parties." He may think a quilting party is some kind of a petting party.
It is going to be hard enough for you to explain to him the next day how someone happened to drive through his lawn with the bumper of the car bearing in its teeth his choicest Hydrangea Paniculata var Grandiflora. When the guests leave, offer a silent prayer as you hurriedly put out the lights so that you can make him think it was a couple of other fellows who were talking so enthusiastically about "good old Bob and his lil’ home."
With a cellar party, you can be reasonably sure that you will not find holes burned in your choicest hook rugs or those cunning little rings etched in the top of your wax-finished tip table.
Our house-warming was a great party. One fly in the ointment was when we discovered the next morning uneaten all of the sandwiches we had prepared — caviare, anchovy paste, sardellens, pate de foie gras, even plain rat trap cheese. The sandwiches were mislaid and the caterer neglected to serve them. Hors d'œuvres don't seem to go so well for breakfast, especially after a house-warming. Even the doggies refused them, so they landed in the garbage can.
If you ever come to this house of ours, you will see a magnificent reproduction of a Duncan Phyfe game table, the kind with the lid folding up in back to keep the roast haunch of venison from slipping into somebody's lap while the master of the hunt is carving. This table was topped off with a magnificent Sandwich glass vase and filled with as exquisite a bouquet of flowers as you could imagine. This was a gift from twenty of our friends in the neighborhood.
By all means have a house-warming, even if you have to worry along without a kitchen sink.
Some people would approach the job of building a period house as some kind of a strange adventure in the musty past. That isn't the idea at all. Early American architecture is just as good for 1932 as it was for 1732. People who build unusual houses sometimes live to regret it. No one ever lived to regret building the kind of a house described in this book.