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The Mantel

My husband and I have this old house, built in 1910. We often say that we are undoing the way it's been 'Home Depot-ed". When we bought the place over 2 years ago, the only fire place in the house that we could see was in a 1970's family room addition, embedded in a brick wall that would have been the trend during that era.

I knew then that I would want to make that fireplace wall into something reflective of the rest of the house with it's old world architectural features. So I went on the hunt for a mantel.

Building Values is a local store that reclaims architectural features from houses around Cincinnati. It's the sort of place that you never know what you will find so it's best to go frequently without an agenda.

One sunny day last year, I happened to be in there, and on a whim asked the clerk if they had a mantel with a fifty inch opening, the substantial size a challenge when thinking of old houses and mantels for old fireplaces. Yes, she had one but it was in a trailer out back.

Adventure is sometimes the best part of the find. I followed her out through the back door to a part of the yard where a few trailers were packed full of odds and ends. She pointed to one with a set of rickety stairs leading up to it.

I climbed in, unafraid of dust and grime. In the very back, tilted against a wall was the mantel. It's opening-52 inches. The shelf a substantial piece over dental moulding, stacked on top of a box that likely housed a massive fireplace in some old home in one of the once-wealthy areas of town.

I called my husband with the urgency of finding a blue light sale and said, "This is it."

And so, the mantel lived in our shed during the winter and on our deck as I painstakingly removed the old paint this past summer. With each layer of paint removed, each piece of dental moulding picked and scraped, I envisioned what it might look like mounted to the brick wall, and knowing that we would cover that brick to bring the room with 9 foot ceilings into a form reflective of the expanse of the rest of the house.

Yesterday, I hung stocking on the unfinished mantel and I didn't expect to feel anything more than festive. As I placed the first hanger and the first stocking something happened inside.

The lights blaze on the front of the house. The 9 foot Christmas tree in the foyer has each important ornament from twenty years of marriage and many more years of children and their memories. And yet, the placement of each hanger and each stocking on our work-in-progress mantel brought a renewed sense of the season.

Before this, it felt as though we were just ticking things off the list. But now, with this part of our house on its way to be what we want, the holidays have finally begun to mean something more than just a list to tick off.

Merry Christmas from us to you!

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