Stoop to Conquer Page 1

August, 2008

    We still have a list we made up when we were buying Lake Drive. One of the items on it is “replace front stoop.” That list was made seventeen years ago. I just crossed that item off the list.
    After I finished the new deck, the front walk looked pretty shabby. That’s what happens: you fix one thing and everything else needs it. Loie and I talked about what should be done.
    “I don't want anything that will be hard to maintain,” she said. “We can't have another weed situation.”
    “That's for sure. That old gravel walk is just a weed bed. But what about the garden?” I called it a garden, but the little strip between the walk and the house has always been just a mess. We didn’t garden in it.
    “It can’t have big things that drop mess on the walk,” said Loie. She was thinking of the peonies, which we love as flowers, but which can make a mess if the flowers are left to droop and drop.
    “Well, I'm thinking that the walk should be a line of huge stones,” I said. “And around them should just be grass, so I can mow it.” Loie and I looked at each other, and said, “Grass.” We were both thinking the same thing.
    “Just make it grass,” said Loie.
    “Like on the other side of the front,” I said. “All the way in to the wall, just grass.” And that was that. A walk of big stones, surrounded by lawn. Easy as pie.
    “But what about the stoop?” said Loie. “What should that be?”
    “That's a good question,” I said. “Maybe it should be some kind of concrete, to go along with the wall. But right now, I really don't know.” We asked our friends what they thought. Suggestions were numerous, including a small deck to match the new one. Nothing really struck us as being appropriate for our house.
    “I’ve got an idea,” I said. “Let’s drive around Westminster and look at stoops.” So one day on our way back from something, we spent an afternoon inspecting front stairs and stoops in the older parts of Westminster. Loie liked the idea of stone steps made of ashlars, big pieces of stone stacked like the famous marble steps of Highlandtown in Baltimore. I liked a concrete stoop with a bullnose around all three sides. So now we had some ideas, but as usual the project languished a bit.
   Terrie got us started in earnest. Some time early this spring, she said, “There's a place over in Shrewsbury that's selling stones you could use for your walk.” I found the garden center she was recommending. They didn’t have any flagstones that were interesting, but they did have a pallet of pieces of beautiful white marble. I told Loie they were selling it off for the rock bottom price of $50. But that the pieces were leftovers, and not consistently sized.
    “Just buy it,” said Loie. “At that price, we'll figure out something to use it for.” Three trips back and forth to Shrewsbury later, Trucker had hauled the marble, and I had stacked it. Loie and I agreed it was probably too irregular to make a good walk. Now though, I was eager to find the right stones. I did some looking on the Internet and identified several local places that claimed to have big flagstones. After visiting three places, I saw that they all had the same kinds of stones, mostly squared off, uninteresting and not as big as I was imagining. Except for Irwin Stone in Frederick, not far from where Loie works. We were doing all this investigating during the time Loie had her broken foot. I was driving her to meet a car share every morning, and picking her up in the evening.
    “Could you come to Irwin Stone?” I said. “I could drive you to work after. You’ve got to see some of the stones they have. They have some really amazing huge stones.” Loie agreed, and we went to Irwin Stone early one morning. We parked by the office. In back of the neat and trim little stone building was a graveled and paved lot of several acres, stacked with different kinds of paving and building stones.
    “Can you walk down to see the stones on your crutches?” I said.
    “Yes, this doesn't look too bad,” said Loie. “It’s flat and very clean. I thought it might be messy and jumbly.” As we began to walk through the lot, an employee came by on a forklift.
    “You can drive down here,” he said when he saw Loie bravely negotiating the lot on her crutches.
    “Oh, that'd be great. Thank you,” we said. I went back up to get the car, and picked up Loie for a drive among the stones. I showed her some stepping stones in natural shapes.
    “But these aren't as big as I want, and they're awfully thick. I'd have to do a lot of digging.”
    “What are those over there?” Loie was pointing to some beautiful sandstone flagstones from Arizona. They were a subtle rose blush color.
    “I looked at those. They're really expensive.” That didn't deter Loie, who decided those were what we wanted. She was right; the stones were very flat, big enough to fit my idea for a walkway and thick enough to look sturdy.
    “OK, but just for fun, come and look at these, too.”

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