At Home with Jo Wolf — Cottage Style…Telling the history of the people who live there

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Buzz and Jo Wolf.

ARTICLE Jo Wolf   |   PHOTOGRAPHY Jaren Beavers

After 30 wonderful years in Southern California (Oceanside just north of San Diego, and Huntington Beach, just south of Los Angeles), my husband, Buzz, and I decided to retire to Mountain Home. This was my third move to Arkansas and my last! Having lived in and visited many foreign countries and all of our United States as an Air Force brat…I know what’s out there. I am happy to be here.

The front of the log cabin.

My first Arkansas experience came about when I was living in Honolulu. I was home for the summer after a year of classes at Seattle University, minding my own business working at the Hickam Air Force Base Officer’s Club, when I met a flight surgeon from Jonesboro. We married shortly after meeting. My father was the commander at Hickam Air Force Base, so many dignitaries attended our wedding. John McCain’s dad, Admiral McCain, was commander next door at Pearl Harbor. He, the mayor of Honolulu, the Chinese ambassador to Hawaii, and several other notable people attended. At the end of a radiology residency in San Antonio, my husband and I moved to Americus, Georgia. There, we attended the dinner at which Jimmy Carter announced his bid for the presidency. Jimmy’s sister, Gloria Spann, and I began a business selling painted and embroidered work shirts to local stores. Gloria helped this world traveler acclimate to the customs of a small Southern town.

The dining room and kitchen.

My marriage ended after 14 years and two sons. I was 32 years old with a high school education and no career or work experience. I was quite frightened. My sons, 11 and 12, chose to live with their father. I could not match the lifestyle to which they were accustomed. I moved to California to be near my parents for a brief period. Missing my boys brought me back to Arkansas where I worked and attended Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1989.

During this period, I met my second husband, Buzz, who was an executive with Emerson Electric in Paragould. Emerson transferred Buzz to San Diego, California, and since my boys had both graduated from high school, I felt comfortable leaving them. Six months after moving to California, Buzz and I returned to Jonesboro to get married so our Arkansas friends could be there.

Jo with her lighted onyx island.

While in California my career began in full swing. I was accepted to graduate school at San Diego State University’s School of Social Work. While attending classes for three years, I worked as manager for a large drug treatment facility. Following graduation I obtained my dream job at a wonderful 900-bed hospital working with a thousand nurses and eight medical social workers. What a terrific team we were!

When Buzz and I met in 1985, he lived alone in a log home on five acres in Paragould. It was an older log home with a loft, full of rustic charm and character. Window curtains were made from loosely woven burlap potato sacks with the company imprint still visible. A round, potbelly wood-burning fireplace prominently adorned the space between living and dining rooms. That little house was in the back of our minds during our 25 years in a gated beach community in California. We were focused on our careers and saving for retirement. Salaries are good in California and, yes, saving is doable despite the higher cost of living.

Buzz and I gave little thought to where we would retire until right before we did. Consequently, our thoughts were a bit scattered on this issue. Belize sounded good. Many American expats live on Ambergris Caye, an island just off the coast of Belize. Sailing is good there. We used our sailboat often in California, and island life was attractive to us. We flew to Ambergris Caye twice to explore real estate opportunities. We contracted a real estate agent featured on the HGTV series “House Hunters International” and looked for our Caribbean retirement home. Many beautiful properties and many discussions with locals later we decided medical facilities in this developing part of the world would be OK for someone healthy and in their 40’s. While I love the notion of adventure, the idea of flying to Houston or Miami for emergency care seemed downright dangerous.

The bedroom.

In my mind’s eye, the leap from Belize to Mountain Home was perfectly rational. We have family here and Baxter Regional Medical Center. My years at the bedside of patients whose lives were suddenly and irrevocably changed as the result of a catastrophic diagnosis or accident helped me know the importance of creating the life you want….now. As I observed hundreds of families struggle to cope with losing a loved one, I came to feel a sense of urgency about nurturing family relationships.

Because I grew up in the military, relationships during my early years were transitory. They were warm and fun….but temporary. I always had to leave, not just to another town but often to another country. People got lost in the shuffle well into my adulthood. My first husband, my children, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends—I had lost touch with many people. My two sons had both left behind relationships with the women who bore my two amazing granddaughters, Alexis and Kayla. All of these losses had begun to weigh on me.

When I thought about retiring to Mountain Home, I realized what a wonderful friend I had in my son’s former wife, Ashley Hunter. She has been the most consistently loving and loved person in my life. From the time of her marriage to my son, the birth of Alexis and the subsequent divorce, Ashley has been my friend.

Although we never lived in the same town at the same time, Ashley and I developed a strong and supportive bond. She was loved by my family too because she always remembered my mother, Great Nana, with letters and notes about Nana’s great granddaughter.

Jo relaxes in the living room.

Ashley knew how to do something I did not—how to maintain a relationship over the years, no matter what. She is my rock and most admired person. She created a way for me to be a part of my granddaughter’s life despite divorce. Ashley’s mother, Cindy Turner of Mountain Home, brought Alexis to Southern California several years ago to visit me. As they say, the fruit does not fall far from the tree. Both women understand the importance of family. They have taught me much. So the sensibility of a move from California to Arkansas became perfectly clear to me. Buzz, however, was not on board. A dedicated sailing man, this leap was confusing and not one bit to his liking. We had difficult discussions for weeks as I carefully explained reasons Mountain Home is best for our retirement. Buzz was adamant….No!

Jo’s cherished scrapbooks from the 1800’s.

On a sunny California morning, a sudden and dramatic change in his thinking became evident when he confidently stated, “We can go to Mountain Home and build a log home.” Following a celebratory call to Ashley, the search for a builder began. Buzz and I flew to Mountain Home. We wanted to get the house started before leaving California. We met with Karen Kinsel at Real Log Homes in Eureka Springs. Karen helped us design and prepare blueprints for our retirement home. Kelly Horne at Century 21 in Mountain Home took us to a heavenly wooded lot complete with lake view. During the lot purchase process we talked to builders. A couple of them said they were not interested in building log homes. Log homes are reportedly more difficult to construct than “stick homes.” One builder, Steve Esposito, said he had not built a log home before but was willing to give it a go. We liked Steve and immediately gave him a go. That turned out to be a great decision. Steve has an extremely talented team. I was so impressed with his ease at turning my sometimes extravagant design ideas into affordable reality.

As work on the house progressed, Buzz and I returned to California to say goodbye to our wonderful neighbors, coworkers and friends. We said goodbye to warm winter weather, sailing, seagulls, beautiful mountains and beaches and the movie star culture of Los Angeles. We sold our house and began packing.

Jo holding the Guamanian hat Florencio made for her when she was 15.

Arriving in Arkansas, we said hello to family, Midwestern/Southern hospitality, greenery, trees, lakes, small birdies, woodland critters, pontoons and bluegrass culture—a bit of heaven, we believed. Going to work with Ashley at Posh gave me the opportunity to meet women from Mountain Home and the surrounding areas, and to make new friends. Customers sometimes come into the shop having experienced a difficult day, and as they talk about coping with life’s stresses, the social worker in me is also at work, smiling inside as I offer kind support. I am so happy to help Ashley and contribute to the lives of people I love, and have the opportunity to keep up with the latest fashions Ashley brings to Mountain Home.

“Shabby chic” home decorating came into vogue during our last years in Southern California. Rachel Ashwell created the shabby chic style and lived just up the road from us in Malibu Beach. Several local stores procured vintage wood furniture and painted it with the chalk paint Rachel made famous. When the paint dries, the furniture piece is often distressed by a tool that scrapes paint from areas that would naturally show wear and tear. The paint color is usually a soft linen white. I began collecting this sturdy, old, beautifully painted furniture long before a log home was in our conscious thought.

Decisions made during the building of our Mountain Home log cabin were greatly influenced by our collection of painted furniture. I poured through books about “cottage style” decorating. Cottage style best complemented the Rachel Ashwell philosophy of decorating. Plus, I am a devoted paper crafter/scrapbooker dedicated to documenting my family history. Many of our household artifacts were passed down from my grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Cottage style has a colorful, comfortable look characterized by painted furniture with graceful lines, weathered finishes, textural elements such as natural-fiber rugs, and colors taken straight from a lush flower garden. But—most important to me—it tells the history of the people who live there.

Because a distressed finish is significant for most of the style elements in our home, we engaged the services of Christi Cooper from Mountain Home’s Interior Marketplace. I needed Christi to help me find lighting, ceiling fans and window treatments that fit our cottage style motif. Christi did an excellent job pulling together weathered birdcage light fixtures and ceiling fans with a vintage finish, all in linen white. We even whitewashed the interior log walls.

Christi’s talent with fixtures was terrific, but her architectural expertise made the biggest impact on our home. She saw a problem with the kitchen layout on the blueprint and fixed it by moving the island. What a difference that change made for sensible traffic flow in our house!

Some of Jo’s favorite glass dishes.

 helped us find cottage style, distressed kitchen cabinets. Again, in linen white. Our kitchen island, however, is black and distressed—a balance for our black wood-burning fireplace. I had surveyed Pinterest for weeks looking at glass countertops fit for backlighting.

These countertops are works of art!

Unfortunately we were unable to find a local glass company to produce a multi-colored work. Here’s where Terry and Stephanie shine. Terry suggested translucent onyx instead of glass. At first I was skeptical, but I agreed to onyx when I realized it was an element we could actually obtain…in Kansas City! So off we went to pick out a slab of light-colored onyx. Terry meanwhile worked to configure how we would backlight our slab. His first effort resembled runway lights. Two lines of light with no diffusion. Yikes! Instead of giving up, Terry researched until he discovered a company in Canada proficient at backlighting translucent substances. Today we have a beautiful, softly illuminated conversation piece thanks to Terry’s talent and persistence.

The Village Carpet sales rep was a bit perplexed when told I was looking for distressed white hardwood flooring for our log home. To his credit he took me to the bowels of his store…way, way, way down to the bottom of the sample pile. There it was!

Once the floor was down Erica Mize and I got to work painting more furniture. Several pieces, including two entire bedroom sets needed the shabby chic chalk paint touch. I believe Erica was only 24 at the time, but her work reflected the talent of someone very experienced.

A wall of memories (top photo) and a scrapbook detailing Jo’s family’s arrival in the United States (below).

As our log home came to be, so did our Mountain Home family relationships. I am thrilled to live close to my 20-year-old granddaughter, Lex, and 11-year-old step grandson, Raine. And we are closer to my 12-year-old granddaughter, Kayla, in North Carolina. As time progresses I will be helping my granddaughters know their family history. The loft in our home houses several family scrapbooks dating back to the 1800’s. I have 14 binders filled with family letters arranged in chronological order. The first letter is from my maternal grandfather to my grandmother dated 1915. Since people generally communicate by text or email today, much of our written history is lost. We do not preserve a text from mom for posterity. To this point, a newspaper in Southern California, The Orange County Register, devoted two pages of images and facts featuring my family letters.

All of the letters between my parents and their siblings were saved. What an insight these written communications give us into WWII times, the fabulous 50’s and the turbulent 60’s. My grandmother and many mothers before her saved ephemera, memorabilia and mementos in carefully crafted scrapbooks. I have embroidered family samplers dating back to the 1700’s. I feel a sense of obligation to keep this ball rolling. I cannot let the documentation of our family history stop with me, and I will do my best to encourage one, or both, granddaughters to continue.

Buzz’s mother and grandmother were also avid scrapbookers, and we have Buzz’s maternal grandmother’s diaries depicting her dating experiences in Boston in the 1920s, among other interesting aspects of life in the 20’s. Buzz’s real name is William Taft Wolf. His paternal great, great uncle was President William Howard Taft. His mother’s family goes back to John Quincy Adams. He is from an old East Coast Massachusetts family.

Many items in my home were collected by my parents as we traveled the United States and the world as an Air Force family. My dad was a noted WWII pilot and also Commander at both Hickam Air Force Base and Anderson Air Force Base in Guam. I am proud of the framed pictures on our walls of Mother and Dad greeting United States presidents and many astronauts as they stopped in Hawaii for various reasons. I was fortunate to be present at many of these events. My favorite images are from parties with John McCain’s dad, Admiral McCain, and my father when I was 20.

Another favorite is my Guamanian hat that was woven of palm leaves by our Filipino housekeeper, Florencio Minending, when I was 15. I have kept it for 53 years. He wanted very much to return to the United States with us. Unfortunately, immigration said no. Guam’s close proximity to Tokyo, Okinawa and Hong Kong allowed for frequent visits there. Okinawa was famous for beautiful glass creations, of which we have several.

Jo’s collection of Franciscan Desert Rose dishes.

We obtained batik paintings in Japan and gorgeous silk material in Hong Kong. A Guamanian seamstress turned the silk into fabulous dresses for my mother. I have those dresses protected in our log home.

I display some silver trays and bowls collected by my mother during our years in London. We were there for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. That event is well documented in a scrapbook.

My collection of Franciscan Desert Rose tableware was handed down from my great Aunt Irene. She and my great uncle lived in Laguna Beach during the 1950’s in a home that looked out over the ocean. Exquisite red Bougainvillea vines adorned the spacious patio. The Desert Rose pattern exemplifies the breathtaking beauty and magnificent culture of those long ago California days. It was manufactured not far from Laguna Beach.

Our Chinese Mandarin Square, also known as a rank badge, was sewn onto the coat of Imperial Chinese officials. It is embroidered with a colorful bird insignia indicating the rank of the official. Mandarin Squares date from 1391 to 1912. It was given to my maternal grandfather by Chinese men with whom he did business as owner of Fairhurst Lumber Company, a large Northern California business.

1814 banjo clock depicting a scene from the War of 1812.

The banjo clock in our living room was crafted in 1814, right after the War of 1812. Two battleships from that war are depicted on the front of this clock.

The art in our home, specifically the oil paintings, come from Mexico, Germany, Southern California and Jonesboro. Peggy Hughey of Jonesboro painted one of our most prominent works—the wall of blue pots with red flowers in the living room.

Creating the life I want now includes giving back and supporting Ashley and our “modern” family. I am grateful for the opportunity Ashley has given me to be close to my granddaughter and pass on knowledge of her marvelous family history. Granddaughter Kayla in North Carolina is closer now, too. Her mother is equally family oriented. She has also been my friend of many years. We are hoping for a long summer visit with Kayla this year in Mountain Home. It is especially exciting to think about how the girls will be a part of the Arkansas history we will collect in the years to come, and eventually pass on to them. M! April/May 2017

 

 

 

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