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Our arrival in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia should have been at the beginning of the season known as “summer” in North America. It was the end of May, and June is generally considered one of the summer months. The weather gods did not see it that way. Spring in the Annapolis Valley had been cold and wet, and June followed up with more of the same. But when the sun managed to peek out from behind the clouds, the angle of the light was long and glorious. And now that the weather gods have given us a taste of the summer to come, it is beautiful. There are long shadows across the ground, playing with perception, treating us to moving images conjured from the interplay of light and shadow among the rich cover of earth and plant.

When I first came to this house it was late summer, 1987. My wife had agreed to buy the house from the other two potential inheritors, since neither was interested in taking it on. They probably believed that it was a white elephant, a money pit of major proportions, and that assessment was not far off the mark. In short order, we had engaged a contractor to have the back chimney propped up with great lashings of concrete. Carpenters were busy rebuilding a rotten corner of the living room, replacing the paper thin siding on the front of the house, replacing sills and the old shingles on the roof.

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Thanks to the reserved, Scottish character of my wife’s great aunts, the Stewart House had been empty for ten years. No one had been asked to look after it.  All my spouse knew was that it was still standing. A local antique dealer had been asked to appraise the furniture. He must have believed that he had a good chance of acquiring the lot, since he came up with a figure of five thousand dollars, and offered to haul away the “junk.”

After driving by the old house, our first stop was a local cafe that has been in business for a very long time. It is now called the Evangeline Cafe. We called it after the family who owned and ran it– Stirling’s. When I came here it was run with an iron first by the indomitable, grey haired Miss Stirling. She closed up the adjacent Evangeline Motel at 7 PM. One day I worked up the nerve to ask her why she closed so early. She looked at me in surprise. “Why, you never know who might be traveling at that hour,” she said. Right, I thought to myself. You just never know when the werewolves and vampires, ax murderers and serial killers will come out. It just might be at 7:15 every evening, but it won’t be dark until nine.

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Stirling’s featured lobster chowder, “hamburgs,” cucumber sandwiches and a very good selection of pies. The pies attracted people from miles around, and Sunday after church the parking lot was always packed. That afternoon back in 1987, we stopped to have lunch and to kill time before our rendezvous with the neighbour with the key.  We had no sooner sat down and ordered than we found ourselves overhearing some local gossip. And it wasn’t just any gossip. “I heard that a New York lady lawyer got the Stewart House and she plans to tear it to the ground. That would be a real shame. I was through there just the other day and it’s a bit run down, but you could live in it and there’s some nice stuff in there. Wouldn’t that be a shame if she threw all those old things out?”

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The woman who confided to her neighbor that afternoon may well be among my acquaintances now, but at the time I didn’t turn around. I gently put my hands on the shoulders of the New York lady lawyer to keep her from levitating. We owned the house and unless this lady worked for Canada Trust, she should not have been going through the place. Lawyers are a little touchy about things like that.

We will never know how many people traipsed through the house, or how many antiques walked away in our absence. We had no intention of tearing the old house down. It had been in my wife’s family since it was built, over 200 years ago. That summer we started the process that led to its registration as a heritage property. Each time we come we spend a considerable amount of time, energy and money attending to the needs of its creaky bones and joints. I look forward to the day when all the problems have been addressed, but I know that day may never come.

The thing is, when the light falls across the old siding in the late afternoon, or when I rediscover a pencil drawing done in 1898 inside an old suitcase that we packed away when we first arrived, and see that the subject is our old back stairs, a shiver goes through me. It is magic. Like the summer light. And I’m ready to do whatever it takes to keep the magic alive.

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