Old Stone House celebration a feast for the senses

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Susan Shinn
You drive down a two-lane blacktop on a cold, damp, misty morning.
Fog shrouds the impressive house, tendrils of smoke curling from the fire in the front yard.
Preparations are nearly complete for the day. At the moment, it’s pretty peaceful save for a few snatches of conversation and the crows cawing in the woods.
Welcome to Christmas at the Old Stone House. The annual celebration continues today from noon to 4 p.m. at the house, built in 1766 by Michael Braun. It’s located on Stone House Road off U.S. 52 in Granite Quarry.
Around the campfires, you see Kaye Brown Hirst and her sister Amy Brown. They’re eighth-generation members of the Brown family and Hirst is executive director of Rowan Museum.
Brown, who lives in Greenville, S.C., comes up every year to help.
The sisters point out apple butter you can smear on small squares of bread; there are also gingersnaps and rosemary cookies.
“I know they’re good,” Brown says. “I made those.”
“We introduced them last year and they were such a hit,” Hirst says.
“We made them smaller this year.”
You notice the cookies are about the size of a nickel. Don’t take a whole handful, Hirst warns you.
You also meet their cousins, Netra Brown Bollinger and husband Tim of Salisbury, who are volunteering today.
Then the wind turns and the smoke gets in your eyes. It burns. So you walk around the fire and go and say hello to volunteer Susan Waller, who’s weaving a small green basket. A thick wool blanket across her shoulders wards off the morning chill.
The fire also holds pots of vinegar chicken, potato soup and apple cider, so you know you’ll be back there.
You notice volunteers Erika Easley, an eighth-grader, and sixth-grader Madeleine Nagy waiting for visitors to come and dip a candle.
They both look cold.
Before you go to the house, Hirst mentions the event’s sponsors: Ramsay Burgin Smith Architects, Cato’s Salisbury locations and Food Lion.
Then Robbie Cochran fires a musket ó without warning ó and you jump along with everyone else.
The morning is cold and wet but not entirely unpleasant.
A little before 11, minivans and SUVs begin to pull up to the house.
You run into Deanie Brown Jones and some dozen members of her family.
She has visited several times over the years, she says.
Volunteer Jerry Brown (no relation to Michael Braun) comes up and says “Wiegeht’s!”
That’s German for “Hello!”
Brown’s family has been in Rowan County since 1749. He says he loves everything about the house.
Inside the kitchen, you greet Trish Creel, who’s waiting to talk to visitors. She missed being here last year because her son Cole was born on Dec. 10, 2007. He’s just before walking now, she tells you.
“I really enjoy doing this,” she says of her work as a costumed interpreter.
“The kitchen is so much fun,” Creel continues. “Everybody says it looks so romantic.”
Then she tells visitors how hard Colonial women work and they change their minds.
Upstairs, Joan Hartsell has taken her usual place at the loom. Next to her, Hannah Walls, 14, spins wool, while her sister Emily, 16, holds a gigantic Angora rabbit.
Four young children are absolutely mesmerized by Hannah’s spinning.
They stand mute.
Emily has been teaching her younger sister to spin. Emily taught herself.
“My thread is still lumpy,” Hannah admits.
Back out in the yard, you see Narv Parks carving wood and Steve Martin working a wooden lathe.
Parks is chiseling away on a huge cedar owl. He realized when two branches were cut off a tree close together that the piece was meant to be an owl.
You pick up a few cedar shavings and they smell wonderful.
“I don’t know if I’m gonna like it as much as the Indian,” Parks says, gesturing to “Sad Face” close by. Parks also has a variety of walking sticks for perusal.
By now, late in the morning, a nice crowd has gathered. The fog has burned off, and the sky is lightening. It’s going to be a good day.