Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.
J is for Joist
Historic preservation includes many fields and subjects, but at the core of the preservation field itself is buildings. Understanding the construction of a building and its elements will go a long way in conversation and in finding solutions. When looking at the “bones” of a building, joist is a good component to recognize. In the above picture the three members shown lengthwise are called joists. A joist is a parallel horizontal beam that supports the floor and ceiling boards.
What you are looking at in this image are three joists with the floorboards of the second floor shown above the joists. In this particular instance, the ceiling plaster and lath has been removed, exposing the space between the ceiling and the second floor. The white marks on the joists are marks left behind from the plaster keys. You can also see knob and tube wiring (white ceramic cylinders and black wires) as well as new electrical wiring (yellow wire). Joists can be made from wood (timber), steel, or reinforced concrete.
Joists are important, obviously, as they hold up ceilings and support floors. The best way to illustrate the function of joists? In college my professor told us that if we were unsure of the structural stability of a floor to be sure to walk on the joists. You’re more likely to go through a floor than a joist (not that you should put yourself in such a precarious position in the first place, of course).
The moral of this story? Learn your structural elements. And walk on the joists.
While the Christmas spirit is not about material items, we can all admit that a bit of visual Christmas cheer emphasizes that Christmas feeling. Whether it’s your small town Main Street decked out in lights and trees for the holidays or the city’s storefronts elaborately decorated, the sight of candy canes, or your own Christmas tree, we all have our favorite pieces of holiday elements.
December has long been my favorite month of the year, partially because I have dear memories of my childhood home turning into a Christmas wonderland. My mother has acquired many Christmas items over the years, enough now to redecorate every room for the Christmas season. Plates, framed photographs, snowmen, Christmas trees, candy canes, towels, wreaths, tchotchkes, snowflakes, candles, blankets, books — it’s like living in Christmas. Combine all that with our standard 12′ Christmas tree, and our house was and is always a welcome place for Christmas guests. My sisters and I love it, and Mom continues to decorate, with help from whomever happens to be home. The exterior is less complicated, but Dad has settled on lights and garland around the porch railings, nothing of the lawn ornament kind.
My Christmas collection is only a fraction of my mother’s, but I have a few treasured pieces. These featured below belonged to my great-grandmother Ethel. A few years back when my grandmother was still alive, I was visiting her around the holidays and I took out a basket of Christmas decorations. Included in that basket were a few ceramic figurines that hadn’t been displayed in a while. My grandmother began telling me that her mother always brought these out at Christmas, and she kept them because she always liked them (which is significant coming from a woman who never kept much). When my grandmother passed away, I made sure to keep these Christmas figurines because I knew they were important to her.
Now I proudly display these Christmas heirlooms, knowing that so many of my family members have seen them over the years. To me, knowing that something belonged to my family makes it significant. I’d rather have those heirlooms than something new. I’d rather add myself to the story of the heirloom.
What about you? Do you have a favorite Christmas decoration or any favorite family holiday heirlooms?