First Person (plural) Possessive: Edith Sarra

Stunning twilight photo by Edith Sarra

“What is this, a Ben-free zone?” asked my friend Ben Sturbaum, surprised to have found no mention of himself, nor any other Bens, in a story I’d written about the home of a mutual friend. No anecdotes about the cabinet he’d built to house her 1940s sink, the walnut mantels he’d restored, the floors he’d reconstructed. Not so much as a single word about the woodwork he’d stripped by hand, the rotten soffits and gable returns he had replaced, or his role in preparing the attic to be insulated for the first time in the house’s 150 years.

Worse yet, there hadn’t been a peep about the other Ben—former husband of the story’s subject–despite the mention of her first and third husbands and the fact that she and that Ben remain very close friends.

It wasn’t that I was trying to avoid you, Ben(s). Just that the story dealt with other aspects of Edie’s history with her house. 

The window visible here was the sole original survivor from the house's pre-Civil War construction. Edie and her first husband, Robert, used this window as a pattern for the new sashes they commissioned for the rest of the house. Those sashes were constructed from walnut with pegged joinery, just as the original windows had been.

Ben Sturbaum first mentioned Edie and her house to me more than a decade ago. “My favorite house in the world,” he called that place near Gosport. Coming from  him, that meant something; Ben and his wife Peggy have painstakingly restored their own historic gem, and Ben has worked on countless old houses that are to die for. I sensed from his epithet that there was something extraordinary about the mistress of this place.

“You’ve got to meet Edie,” he told me repeatedly over the next few years, his urging always related to our shared love of old houses.

Who was this exotic Edie, I wondered? How had she made such a deep impression on Ben Sturbaum, the personification of down-to-earth?

Ben, seen here with Grover, says of our mutual friend's home: "Edie's house is the place where I learned to love what I do, and after crawling over every inch of it over a span of twenty-plus years, I do feel connected to it." Hence his part in the possessiveness referred to in the title.

In the end, we met in 2006 at a local brewpub, where I had gone for dinner with a man I was seeing. She was sitting at a table with several friends. I was struck by her elegance–that hair!–and later, tickled to discover that the photo on her faculty profile at Indiana University, where she is an Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures, was a snapshot of her dog, Genji, a Belgian Tervuren, to whom she bore an enviable resemblance.

Edie and her house make up a chapter in A Home of Her Own (published by the Indiana University Press and available at bookstores; see the book cover in the sidebar for ordering information). And Ben, you are mentioned in that story!

Ben and Edie's Uncle Benny on the front porch

See more of Ben’s work in the August-September 2011 issue of Old-House Interiors, which features the home of Bloomington architect Christine Matheu. Ben, working for Golden Hands Construction, Inc., was the project manager for Christine’s kitchen.  See another story about Edie’s house at the link below.

Ben in winter beard mode

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