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The winter of 1978 was the snow winter. Where we lived the ground was covered with several inches of snow for about six weeks. That was the winter we spent planning the house we would build in the summer of 1979.
They say the Piney Woods community of Clinton County has been taken by the sage grass and the Sheltons. The Sheltons are the builders of the county. Some build barns. Some build furniture. Some build houses or commercial buildings, but the Sheltons are the builders.
So, in the winter of 1978, Eva and I sat at his kitchen table many a cold night with Arthur Shelton, the architect, and sometimes, with Elmer, his brother, and planned a house to be built into a hillside and sheltered by the earth.
As you can see there are steps up to the front door. Our house has a crawl space underneath two feet high. The crawl space is lighted and has a concrete floor for easy access to plumbing and electric.
Clinton county is about 150 miles from any cities, about equidistant between Lexington and Louisville in Kentucky and Nashville and Knoxville in Tennessee. Our valley is surrounded by mountains. There is practically no TV reception. Hence the large satellite dish you see behind the house. We can get great reception on numerous channels via satellites 23,500 miles up but nothing from stations 150 miles across the earth.
The chimney is a brick structure 6 feet across by 3 feet wide by 30 feet high from the concrete footer at its bottom to the top you see in the photo. It contains 3 flues. The center one is for our big fireplace in the bottom floor. One of the others is for the 500 pound steel stove which has supplied all our heat since we built the house. The third is unused.
In 1993 Chris and I built a rustic curving walk behind the house from old used bricks taken from chimneys from long forgotten houses in the county and taken from the old Maple Hill hospital when part of it was torn down. In the summer of 1994 we built a lily/fish/frog pond between the walk and the house and this smaller pond nearby.
This is the bigger pond.
This is the lotus in the pond.
This is a flowering crabapple in our back yard.
Our house lot is 4 acres in size. Part is a terraced vegetable garden including a strawberry patch. Part is grown up in trees and there is a deep drainage gully through the center grown up in brush, briars, and vines that is a perfect habitat for wildlife.
Our back lawn is about 3/4 acre in size. It is surrounded by a wooded fencerow with probably 50 species of trees and shrubs. Eva has a herb garden and flower beds with something blooming most of the time. We have an orchard with a few fruit trees. A rope and board swing hangs from a huge red cedar tree. A hammock swings between two large dogwoods in the shade of the fencerow. There is a stone ring for campfires and stone benches at various locations. There is a large and very used bird feeder and a few bird houses, a sundial, and lawn chairs and a small table near the lily pond.
A large steel door through the 12 inch concrete wall on the left side of the kitchen opens into a 12 X 12 foot underground pantry/storm shelter. Here we have our canned goods, freezer, and living supplies. On the right side of the house a staircase leads to the upper floor where there are three bedrooms, a full bath and sliding glass doors opening to the back lawn at the top of the stairs.
From each of the front bedrooms sliding glass doors open out to the 8 foot wide railed upper porch. This porch holds the porch swing, a large barbeque grill, chairs, and a picnic table. From the porch a wooden ladder leads up the wall to a trap door in the attic. The attic is 7 feet high in the center and floored there giving lots of storage space.
The house is insulated with 10 inches of fiberglass in the bottom of the attic and another 10 inches between the upper and the lower story. The exterior walls all have 6 inches of insulation and the interior walls have 4 inches. This, the underground construction and the venilation grills in all the floors make the house cool in the summer and very easy to heat in the winter. Winter heating usually takes about 10 to 15 ricks of firewood.
But the thing that makes the house described above into a home is the living that takes place there. It's the kids and grandkids coming to visit, the family get-togethers when as many as 20 or 25 people crowd the house, the Sunday afternoon cookouts when we eat on the porch or the patio or the lawn and Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's the smells of breakfast cooking or a bean dinner, or steaks grilling, or the Thanksgiving turkey and mince pie. It's the smell of cedar at Christmas. (We always cut a real Christmas tree; better than artificial trees.) It's the noise of kids and TV and the dog barking and the cats begging for a snack and Christmas music, and talking and laughter.
Eva begins cooking about three days before Thanksgiving. She and her sisters finish the cooking and preparation on Thanksgiving morning and by about 1:00 they have set two huge tables for the adults and one for the children. There isn't room on all the tables for the food so we spread that out on the kitchen cabinets and on the bar and everybody forms a line to get food. After turkey and ham and six or eight vegetables and plates of home baked rolls at each end of every table and topped off with six or eight pies and cakes, we all relax. The men sit in the living area and soon fall asleep. The women end up in the kitchen where they pretend to be cleaning up but are really engaged in a hen fest of conversation.
We usually eat Christmas dinner (that's lunch for you city folks) at one of Eva's sister's houses. We then have a small family supper by candlelight when we all get home after a long day. The house is dimly lit by Christmas lights. They are strung all over the front of the house and around each window upstairs and down. Those and the tree lights and the candles give a warm glow. If the kids will leave the TV off we usually have Christmas music playing in the background. Christmas wrapping paper is spread all over the floor and the wood stove gives a pleasant feeling of comfort. All the surfaces of mantle, hearth, windows and open furniture tops have been decorated by Eva and the kids are entranced by the magic of it all. (So am I.)
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Last revised October 11, 1999.
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