There is just something about old clay bricks. I have long admired brick pathways and patios with little ground covers like Irish moss and creeping thyme growing in between the cracks. My Grandpa Jack also recognized the crafted quality and value of old bricks enough to dismantle a brick hearth in their home and clean the mortar off of every single one to re-use for a future project.Years later, he ended up moved the pile of bricks to their new house on Bainbridge Island, and that future project never came along, but at some point I noticed and appreciated the brick pile on their back patio, and that's where this project began. When my Grandpa's health was failing a year ago, I told him I would come and get his pile of bricks and make a patio out of them. He passed away not long after, and in his honor I wrote this eulogy: Old Growth: A Eulogy for my Grandfather, and brought a utility trailer up to Washington to make good on my word and pick up the bricks after the family memorial.
We hauled over 300 bricks my Grandpa had cleaned and moved to their house on Bainbridge Island all the way back to our homestead on the McKenzie in a little utility trailer. It blew a tire going down the freeway, which was a little more excitement than I was looking for, but it all turned out OK and they made it to our house. Once we started measuring the area and really calculating, we realized we were going to need more bricks. We had some shenanigans with new bricks from the hardware store. I won't go into all the drama, but the big lesson there is new concrete bricks are nothing like old clay bricks and they do not match at all. To be perfectly honest, they are hideous in comparison. I finally found the rest of the bricks we needed on Craigslist from a guy who demolishes historic houses for a hobby on the weekends and saves all the vintage building materials. He had done a fairly decent job cleaning them off, and while we were loading them he told me the story of the 1910 farmhouse they came out of with two fireplaces. I liked knowing these bricks had a history of their own.
There was a little more work to be done removing the mortar from the farmhouse bricks, and Corey said he felt like he was really connecting with my Grandpa when he was working on them. It really gave us a perspective on the quality job he had done cleaning his bricks. They were immaculate, and we know from experience now that that was no easy task.
Since this was meant to be a memorial project, it seemed fitting that we spend Memorial Day weekend working on it, and just in time for my Grandma to come for her first visit to our homestead. We were advised to do things "the right way" by digging, filling with gravel, compacting the gravel, and leveling a layer of sand. These steps took a lot more work than I anticipated, but it did make for a fairly even surface to begin working with. A group of friends came over to help dig the area out, and another came to haul loads of gravel the next morning up the hill of our driveway. Another friend helped us build a wooden frame around the area to hold the bricks in, which I didn't really like the look of, but we figured out creative ways to hide it on most of the edges. This really ended up being a community effort which made it feel like even more of a fitting tribute to my Grandpa.
Pounding those bricks into place was a lot of hard work. We pounded bricks for a couple of days straight, and it's trickier than you might think to get them all level and even in the sand. Another friend came to our aid, and pounded many bricks into place one evening.
Seeing all the bricks in place was a really good feeling. I am sure my Grandpa would be pleased to know all his hard work on those bricks went to such good use for his family, and it really makes you think about all the ways that our work can outlive us and benefit future generations.
After the bricks were all set and pounded into place, we dumped wheelbarrow loads of sand on top and swept it into all the holes and spaces around the bricks.
Corey built a wooden frame in the middle and we set our campfire ring into place in the middle. This was the same campfire ring we put together with rocks gathered from a nearby creek with my son a few months after we moved in, so they had their own special significance.
Once we started pouring the concrete around the campfire ring, it started setting up faster than we anticipated. The mosaic had to be made in a hurry, but all in all it still turned out very nicely. Again, we had a little help from a friend who showed up at just the right time.
When my parents brought my Grandma into town for the kids Waldorf graduation, we had an inaugural campfire that she had the honor of lighting.
Then we all got to sit around and enjoy the results of our labor. She told stories of my Grandpa cleaning all the mortar off the bricks and I think he was definitely there with us that evening.
A big part of what really makes a home a home is all the hard work and history behind things. Our family may not have been living on this homestead for generations, but there are pieces of our family history everywhere. Grandpa Jack's brick patio will always have a story, and in this way his hard work and our hard work on it will live on. Plants from my Great Grandmothers are growing in the garden, our books are on a shelf made by my parents, family hand-me-downs and the stories behind them are everywhere you look. We may live in a day and age where staying in place on the family homestead is a thing of the past, but we're doing our best to create one where we're at. I think my Grandpa would appreciate that.