Heinar`s Website

Our Summerhouse

 

In 1973 we had the chance to buy an old, small farmhouse in a lovely location and at a reasonable price.  It did not take us long to decide.  We were given this opportunity so we jumped at the chance.  The next pages of my story tell of our summer house's history during a quarter of a century.

 

 

Kobru village 

 

I am quite sure that many humans in Estonia have never heard of this place, nor had we before one of our friends invited us to spend a weekend in his country house.  On a mutually agreed day and time a small bus arrived and we all boarded the bus and our trip into 'the unknown' began. 

 

First we drove along the Haapsalu road through the small towns of Keila and Vasalemma.  Soon after that our bus turned left which led us to the forest.  The signposts indicated that this place was called Kasepere.  This was a typical forest road, dusty, containing potholes and as characteristically serpentine as many village roads, with pine forests stretching along both sides.  Only rarely were some small country houses seen dotted here and there.  When we had driven about 7 km, the road divided into two.  Our bus turned to the left and into a real forest road which was very narrow, only a bit wider than a path, on each side of which was a dense forest of tall pines and thick bushes.  After 2 km we stopped at the gate of a country house.  We had reached the end of our journey and were standing in the gardens of a Kaasiku (Birch Grove) country house.   

 
Our host of this house, Ilmar Sepp, was a cousin of a colleague  Although we knew him well we did  not know that he owned such a wonderful place to live.  Of firm build, average appearance, with a content smile on his face and with his amusing stories he seemed like a real, rustic  countryman until he opened his mouth to sing.  Even people who were not fond of music would stop and listen to his singing.  But, this was not a miracle - Ilmar Sepp had been a singer in the famous RAM (Estonian Academic Male Voice Choir).
 
Ilmar Sepp (on the left) with his neighbour 
 
 
We had a wonderful weekend.  Our lives went on, but somewhere in the deepest part of our hearts there was a tiny thought - why could not we have a summer house too?  Actually why not?  At that time we were living in a flat, those four concrete walls restricting our latitude and energy.  I shared these thoughts with my colleagues at the workshop too.   Then, one day we received joyous news - we too could buy a property not far from the country house in Kaasiku where we first got our taste of the country life because a small farmhouse had come up for sale.  When we went to view the property we saw that it was a small house and needed quite a lot of renovation work. 
 
 
 
It consisted of two parts; the oldest part, which served as a kitchen, was an old wood-beam building.  The newer part was built in 1950 and had quite a good roof, covered with roofing felt,  but the old roof were made of boards which were affected badly by dry-rot.  The whole building seemed sad and in need of our 'tender loving care'.
 
In the Spring 1974. I have already built the fence 
 
  
We did not let this worry us and therefore went ahead and bought the house.  There was also a shed included with the property, but that was in worse condition than the house.
 
The shed in 1973
 
And now we were the owners of two buildings which badly needed repair.  Perhaps we should have taken more time to think about it and "looked before we leaped" into the unknown, but we were young and energetic then.  Our only problem seemed to be transport.  We could not even hope to own a car at that time because it was almost impossible to buy one, not because of the lack of money, but there were no cars for sale during the Soviet time.
 
Luckily most problems were solved very easily.  Our neighbour, Ilmar from the Kaasiku country house (we called them neighbours even though there were two other houses between our properties) had a problem with his roof too, so we united our strength and bought the material between the two of us.  It was not just buying cars that was impossible, but sourcing and getting materials delivered was sometimes very stressful, and besides, I have never been a good organiser!  
 
The most important job was to repair the roof, and since it was quite small, I did not need any help with this.  My colleague, who was the prime culprit of the operation "The Summer house" helped me to repair the chimney, and since he had worked as a mason in his youth, this job was easy for him.
 
 
 
After these initial repairs were done, we could look to the future more hopefully.
 
 
 
What did our 'real estate' look like?  Through the front door, which contrary to any logical rules opened inwards,  one blundered into a small living room, 16m2.  In the facing wall was an opening which led to the kitchen which wasn't big either - 12m2 - but as the kitchen in our flat was only 5.9m2, it seemed big enough for us.  From the kitchen a door led into a buttery, and that was it!  Behind the kitchen was a very small granary.
 
One thing leads to another.  After a short discussion we decided that walking 8 Km every weekend loaded down with groceries and household necessities did not seem an exciting prospect so we had to begin to think of buying a car.  As I already mentioned, this was a very difficult task.  It was much easier to find a summer house than a car! The Government in Moscow purposely restricted the amount of cars available on the open market, and in order to be lucky enough to purchase one of these cars you would have had to have been, for example, a favourite of your Office Manager or a very good friend of the head of your local Trade Union because these were the people who decided who was fortunate enough to have a car.  But above all, priority was given to war veterans.  I am sure that this kind of system is considered alien to anybody who did not live in the Soviet Union during the Soviet years, it must seem incredible to them that such a thing could happen.  So our situation was hopeless.
 
There were also difficulties in buying a second-hand car as not many came onto the market, and when they did the owners took advantage of this situation and asked prices much higher than the cost of a new car!
 
To our luck (or misfortune) we had an acquaintance who had a car to sell.
 
It was a Russian miracle named Zaporozhets ZAZ-965 and well known here as 'The Bump of the Road'!  This small car had already seen a lot in its long life.  My knowledge of cars was not too great at this time and as its owner had a very good talent for persuasion, we bought it.
 
Zaporozhets ZAZ-965 
 
Our  old banger served us quite faithfully for two years, but when I wanted to change its rear wings, the truth is, there was nothing left to weld them to! The complete car was full of rust, and even that rust was very old!
 
We had to think about buying a new vehicle again, and luckily for us my colleague knew a man who was buying a new car and wanted to sell his old one.  It was an altogether much better car this time and there was no need for us to feel ashamed when driving down the road because at that time this was quite a popular model.
 
 
Zaporozhets ZAZ-968 
 
 
Now that we had the car and therefore could drive to the countryside any time we wanted to, we were able to concentrate on rebuilding our little summerhouse.  And there certainly was a lot to do.  While I was working as a repairman, Juta was working in the garden which, I must say, was not in any better condition than the house.  First there was all sorts of rubbish everywhere which took a long time to clear, and the wild meadowland grass reached up to my knees.
 
 
 
 
We had both seen grass cut with a scythe, but had never actually done this ourselves, so now was our time to try it. 
 
 
 
We never learned to use a scythe properly, but nevertheless, somehow we managed to clear our jungle
 
You may ask why did not we use an electric lawn mower to cut the grass.  This might be the best option, but I have yet to mentioned that our summerhouse wasn't supplied with electricity.  Of course this all added to the romance, but at the same time it did not allow us to have all the 'mod cons' which most of us are used to today.  We had to cook on an old and dilapidated kitchen range.
 
  Sometimes we cooked in the garden. 
 
 
I shaved with a razor, which I learned to hate first, but later got so used to it that I did not go back to using an electric shaver.
 
For lighting we used candles, like our ancestors.  The oil-lamp might be better but the kerosene at that time smelt horrible and after putting out the lamp a disgusting kerosene smell hovered in the room to such an extent that we could not sleep.  Town people, as everybody knows, are lightweights. So, candles were our only source of light.  In the summer evenings we did not have a problem with this because of the light evenings, but as Autumn drew closer, the darker the evenings became and getting our house connected to electricity supply seemed to be impossible.
 
After removing the old and dirty wallpaper and putting up the new, our room suddenly had a pretty nice fresh new look.  As the only source of heating was the old kitchen range, I decided to build a fireplace. 
 
 
 
 
 
This was a very brave decision, because I have never done this kind of thing before.  The design was fully my own.  As there was a lot of granite everywhere I planned to use this natural material.  The heart of the fireplace was made of bricks of course, but for the walls I used granite.  It was very hard work to split them, but using a big 16 kg hammer I could get plenty of material to use.  The end result was very good, even if I do say so myself, although at first a small amount of smoke came out into the room. After I modified and rebuilt the heart of the fireplace, it worked perfectly well.
 
One day in the woods I came across a large Spruce tree which had been uprooted by previous heavy winds.  I had already decided to make a kitchen table for our summerhouse and when I saw the Spruce's roots helplessly outstretched on the forest floor before me, I got the idea to use the lower part of the trunk of the tree, including its roots, for the stand of the kitchen table.  The table I made was really nice, so much so that two of my friends wanted to buy it after we left the house.  However, I was sure that the table must remain there, and only there, where it was born from my own hands.
 
 
 
The next task was to build our new beds.  As our living room was quite small, the only solution was a bunk bed. For this I also used local materials - for the sake of a good night's sleep the big Juniper sacrificed its life. It was either due to the fresh air or tiredness, but we never slept so well anywhere else than in our new beds.
 
 
 
 
The next big problem was water, or actually lack of water.  Yes, we had a well, although we first had to search for it for two days - but to no avail. After being given more exact directions we found it about 150 meters from the house, in the forest, for the simple reason, as the previous owners told us, that the water level there was higher. Well, this might be one reason but the local people told us later, however, that the old owner of the house was a very famous distiller and this job needs a lot of water. Making alcohol has always been forbidden in Estonia and so the 'workshop' was hidden far from the house.  Whatever the reason for the well's location, although the water was of good quality and the level usually quite high,  it made drawing water for domestic use our biggest problem as not only was the path to and from the well not hard-surfaced but the manoeuvering between shrubs and trees while carrying two filled water-buckets was not the most pleasurable of tasks.  And after all, if a dry season lasted for a long time, the well dried-up.
 
 
Bringing water 
 
 
So, the next job was to drill a new well.  My friend who owned the Kaasiku country house had the same problem, and it was he, of course, who found the manpower to drill the wells. I had only to pay for my well and then start using it.  The new well was drilled in the early Autumn.  The question was: how to get water when you don't have any electricity?  I tried to use a petrol engine but the result was a lot of noise and smoke, but no water.  Too slow an engine could not get the pump working as fast as it should.   The only solution was an old and foolproof Alweiler hand pump. 
 
 
 
It was bothersome to crank the handle back and forth, but much easier a task than carrying heavy buckets of water. All the more that Juta's agriculture and gardening were well advanced so we needed a lot of water.
 
Our house was now more or less in good order.  Now it was the shed's turn.  First it had to agree to have a new roof of tarred felt.  For its complete rebuilding we did not have the time nor the resources as there were jobs waiting to be done in the garden.  Although the area we could use was not limited, and I did not even know where our boundaries were, I built a fence to surround the house and planted little fir trees around the outside of it.
 
 
Planting trees 
 
Gate 
Gate and fence 
 
 
Actually they were only little for the first few years, soon they became really large lovely trees and branched out over the path leading to the gate.
 
 
Trees are big now
 
There was a plentiful supply of many kinds of berries and mushrooms in our forest, namely strawberries and blueberries amongst others. 
 
 
 
I was not a good berry-gatherer unlike Juta, but I liked to pick mushrooms instead.  This was one of my favourite hobbies.  Though there were a lot better berry patches in Estonia we always managed to pick a lot of berries and mushrooms from our forest.
 
A parasol mushroom has found its new owner 
Returning with full baskets 
 
Even though we were such unenlightened mycologists in the beginning, we soon became quite wise.  We always had guests when it was time to pick berries or mushrooms, and none of them returned with empty baskets.  Later on, when I'd had enough of picking mushrooms, my duty was preparing dinner for the mushroom-pickers.
 
 
 
 
The year of 1979 was a kind of milestone for us, this was the year that the Kaasiku home owner succeeded in finding local electricians to install a line to our house.  This was not a cheap job, but was worth every penny I paid for it.  We had had to wait for a very long time because the electricians were busy with many customers.  The poles had already been delivered to our house, and had lain there for about two months before they were erected. 
 
 
 
To make ready for the big day I had prepared all the installations inside our summerhouse and at last everything was ready.  My duty was to dig a trench for the cable running from the last stake to the house which was about 60 meters in length. 
 
 
 
 
 
I had never before done any work with such enthusiasm because this meant that at last the dark evenings were to be consigned to history, and, what was more important we would be able to use all kinds of different electrical appliances.  And then it happened - for the first time our house and garden saw electric light!
 
 
 
While I was working on everything else, Juta's garden was blooming in its beauty. 
 
 
Juta among her flowers 
 
This all took a lot of work too and sometimes it felt that I had taken on a second job although this was not the case because after a busy day at work one can go home and close the door on the day's work but this was impossible in our case.  Our working day lasted from the early morning until the late evening, but we never grumbled.  Every time we came to our summerhouse we quickly changed our clothes and forgot everything connected with the town. 
 
 
Juta and her rhubarb 
 
During the first year that we owned the summerhouse my annual holiday entitlement was only 2 weeks, and in only every third year could I take my entitlement during the summer.  But in my new job, which was hazardous (a chemical factory), I got much longer annual holiday entitlement - one month and always to be taken during the Summer, which we spent in the countryside.  There was a grocery van which came to the village every Monday, but if we needed something special we rode our bicycles to the nearest shop which was 8 Km away, these were wonderful days.
 
The summerhouse now being supplied with electricity made it possible for me to do such work that I had never even dreamed of before.  When the shed was renewed I built a small sauna/bathroom inside it.  The result was wonderful. Our water was soft and after washing it was possible to feel a special cleanliness we never felt in our town flat.  We were not fans of the vapour bath, which are usual in Estonia and in Finland,  so it was not the classical version of the real Sauna. 
 
One of our first electrical appliances was the pump of course. At last we could water our garden whenever we needed to.  Usually watering took more than an hour. Our estate was quite big already, our arable land I had cleared and tilled ready for cultivation with hard work, and Juta's garden full of flowers needed a lot of water. 
 
 
Juta watering plants 
 
The lawn mower was the second tool I made, every kind of hand tools were part of our 'arsenal'.  Later I built a small turning-lathe for wood crafting.
 
There had been a cellar near the house but it was largely unusable so as we did not need this kind of cellar I filled it in and built over the top a sitting area with a wooden swing, although we did not have much time for sitting and using the swing ourselves. 
 
 
 
However when guests arrived we had a lovely outdoor place to sit and drink coffee. 
 
Behind the house I dug a small pond which I lined  with plastic.  There was no need for this, but it was just for something to do, even though it might prove to be useless.
 
 
 
 
 
Our summerhouse was situated in a very nice place, there was a lovely forest and a cornfield surrounding it, but one thing was missing - there was not anywhere to swim within easy reach of our village.  The narrow river was not deep enough for swimming and the closest lake with its boggy banks was about 15 kms from our summerhouse and the coast was 50 kms away and we did not want to waste time driving to the coast.  Yes, our river was quite high in early spring when melting ice and snow threatened to wash away the wooden bridge, but this lasted for just a short time.  In summer its water level did not even reach up to a man's knees.  The only place we could swim in the river was where it was a bit deeper, but very muddy. 
 
 
 
Nevertheless our river offered us other entertainments than swimming.  There was a plentiful supply of Crayfish, however, one needed a license to fish for them, but we ever bothered to apply for one.  And it happened that on one jolly evening we spent on the river bank three officers of the law happened along.  We, needless to say, were given a fine but the situation was very comical.  The next day I wrote a long poem about our experience which soon was quite well-known amongst the villagers.  In the poem I did not give the officers particularly polite names, so it was just as well they never heard about my poem.
 
There was something strange with the water, at least in our garden anyway, in that when we arrived there on a rainy August evening we were very surprised to see that there was a river running through our garden and not just a small one, but one that could easily compete with the officially existing river! 
 
 
 
This trick of nature gave us the possibility of enjoying the benefits of a water course on our land, even though it was a little chilly, but it was OUR river!  If we intended to sell our house at this time of year the price would have been twice as much, but we never even thought about selling our dream summerhouse.
 
 
 
 
Of course this kind of 'miracle' of nature did not ever last for long, and did not happen every year, but it was unforgettable.
 
 
 
In 1975 a new member of our family arrived.  No we did not have a baby.  This newcomer was a four-legged one, and very hairy, and his name was Joss.  This was our cat. 
 
 
 
It was clear that during our holidays we could not let him stay in our flat alone, so this caused a few problems.  Although Joss liked to live in the countryside, he could not stand traveling in the car as he was very restless even though he knew where we were going.  The situation was different when we reached the summerhouse.  When we arrived every nook and cranny had to be checked-out and this took him a lot of time.  In the beginning we did not let him run loose because he had never been outside before and had no experience of 'the big outdoors'.  However, later, after a few months, we saw that we no longer had any reason to be worried and we allowed him gradually more freedom and Joss always stayed near us and always came when we called him.  But in time his self confidence grew and often we could not find him where he should have been so we became very worried indeed, only to find him in a neighbour's cowshed sitting in the hay rack glaring at the cow!  Later he went walkabout to the next village, this was a big shock for us so it meant that for some time after this escapade of his he was 'grounded'!
 
 
 
 
The place of rest our little friend found in the countryside is under a big bird-cherry tree, where forget-me-not flowers surround his grave and birds are singing a lullaby to him.
 
 
 
 
Our neighbour's dogs offered consolation, they all were our great friends, so great that sometimes they came over by themselves to visit us.
 
 
Tuksi 
Terri 
Nassu 
 Timbu
 
There were other animals around us too.  During the first years we owned the summerhouse there was a field behind our garden.  The local collective farm raised heifers who spent their days in the field. 
 
 
 
 
They were especially interested in what we were doing, sometimes dozens of them stood by the fence just watching us.  Sometimes they trampled down the barbed wire fence and came into our garden, but as we did not have many flowers in the garden at this time, they did not spoil anything.  Juta in her endless love of animals made friends with them, and when possible she fed them with all the bread we had with us.  The next friend was a horse, who did not belong to anyone, all the villagers owned him.  Although Juta was a bit afraid of horses she always patted and fed him.
 
 
 
 
There were always a lot of guests to our summerhouse.  Our colleagues and friends visited us, especially at the end of summer and in autumn when there were berries and mushrooms in the forest.  We did not mind at all because, as I explained earlier, I did not like berry picking and Juta felt safer in the forest with companions, though there was nothing to be afraid of.  Having people to stay overnight was not a problem as we had a large armchair which converted to a bed, and when more than one guest arrived we made them beds in our guest room in the shed.  Sometimes we had guests from more 'exotic' places such as:
 
... Georgia ...
 
 
... Latvia ...

 ... and even from Finland.
 
 
In the Soviet time foreigners from the west were forbidden to leave the area of Tallinn.  We, however, were lucky and nobody was charged with spying.
 
 
 
End of the first part