Sarah Winchester, widow of William Winchester, heir to the Winchester Arms fortune, moved from New Haven Conn, to San Jose, Ca., in 1884, after the deaths of both her baby daughter and husband. Some folks say that she made the move because she needed a change and wanted to make a fresh start. But legend has it that a medium had told her to make the journey west and to atone to the spirits of all those who were gunned down by the Winchester rifles. To do that, required she find some land and build a mansion. The story gets more unusual in that it’s said she opted to keep the spirits at bay by making the house intolerable for them to haunt the home. Maybe she just didn’t like pandering to ghosts. From 1886 to her death in 1922, Sarah continually remodeled the 7 room, unfinished farmhouse into a 7 storied,167 room mega-mansion. That included 40 bedrooms and 6 kitchens. I guess she hoped that all the construction racket would encourage the spirits to give up bothering with her.
Some also say that she thought that if she never finished the mansion, then she would never die. To do that, she made doors that opened into walls and stairs that led nowhere. It was both ornate, and confusing. Mostly built from sturdy redwood lumber that she hated, Sarah had the wood then painted with a wood grain pattern that she liked. It was painstakingly painted by hand. More busy work to keep the house an in-process project. She also had a séance room put in. And she played around with the number 13, a lot. There were 13 bathrooms, 13 windows in the last bathroom built, and 13 hooks in the above mentioned séance room. There were also 13 parts to her will, which she had to sign 13 times.
I have visited there many times over the years. I went to college only a few miles away from where the house is located. It was a fun place to take friends when they visited. It is an odd house to be sure.
But in truth, all these stories are just guesses as to why Sarah Winchester made the choices she did. She was a pretty private woman, which in turn added to all the suppositions.
So, why am I telling you all this?
Because it dawned on me the other day, as I was working in the yard, that Sarah and I have a lot in common:
20 years ago, I bought this place as a fixer-upper. The house needed work and so did the yard. I expected to do some hard work. And I have. I also figured (hoped) that I would be done with all of the repairs before I retired.
I am not a skilled crafts-person. I have some basic talents, common sense, and a low budget, which all of those things required for your average DIY-er. I have done a lot of things around the place myself and other fixes I budgeted and saved up to have someone else do for me. I am a better gardener than I am a handyperson. I also enjoy it more. Consequently, the yard gets more attention than the house. My much adored hubby has the gift of brute strength when I need it, which has been life-saving many times. But he isn’t a handyman either. I knew that when I married him, which is why the repairs are still in my fumbling fingers, some 12 years after he moved in. Some spots in the house are a little bit wonky. Still, it’s an improvement from when I bought it.
I was still forging through on projects when I became ill. I had to put most of those on hold for a year, while I recuperated.
Sadly though, things that are broken, become even more broken after a year.
The list of projects grew.
Good news is that I’m now almost done.
I have some painting to do, and some wall repairs, and then I will just be in “puttering” mode. No real projects until one final fall task.
You would think I would be working a little bit harder to finish, knowing the end is in sight.
I’m getting slower. Things seem to get harder the closer I get to finishing up.
I been thinking about it a lot. The “why” part of it all.
And I think I finally have figured it out.
I have had things that I have to do for so much of my life, that the thought of not having something that I must do, is a little bit scary.
I’m a little bit intimidated by that.
I know I am more as a person, than the work I do.
But in practice, it’s a learning experience. Old habits are hard to break. A lot of who I think am has been wrapped up in tasks of life. But life has changed for me. It has slowed down and I don’t have to prove anything. And rather than using my projects as a reason to be busy, I could take a break and start being a little more present in my actual life.
And maybe that’s how it was with Sarah. Maybe it wasn’t that she was worried about being haunted by the hounds from hell and every spirit wronged by the Winchester Rife Co. Maybe, the projects filled the void created by the loss of her family. Maybe she was afraid to stop, because if she did she would have to face who she was at that moment, and make a new life for herself.
It is a scary thing, to change and do differently.
But kind of exciting, too.
Now, I just have to do it.