You take an old house that’s gutted when you bought it, limited carpentry skills, and no money for tools and materials…and what do you get?
A constant reminder that you might have a shot at doing a better job the second time around.
We are constantly re-doing. I am amazed when I tear out a section of the old repair and realize how wacky what I did before can be. “Holy Smokes!! Check out this used 2×4 that I scabbed together with this cut down 1×6 to give us enough room to balance this part here...it’s INSANE!!!” It’s like digging up a shot of weirdness from the past…3 Stooges archaeology…but it’s just me.
Jenny helped me to a crazy degree…hauling 5 gallon buckets of dirt out of the hand-dug, water- proofing project ditch behind the house (when she was 7 months pregnant), sitting on every board I had to rip because the thrift store table saw blew up, painting…sanding drywall with a baby on her back,etc….so I don’t want to give the impression that it was all my effort…that wouldn’t be even close to true. But I think that looking back on it all, most of the really weird element was my doing.
Occasionally, I’ll come to a part of the house that really surprises me with an elegant and appropriate solution to a problem…but that is pretty rare. Usually, it’s a strange, overbuilt compensation for fear and a lack of knowledge…”maybe if I double up on these 6×6’s, it won’t cave in on us in the night?” (this is the kind of post that they use in the building inspector’s deposition later).
We bought our house before our first child was born. Our firstborn “worked” on this house in the womb in tandem with her mother…so she grew up with the whole hopeful process. I think that when we bought the house, we thought that “6 months from now, we’ll be featured in Architectural Digest”…that 6 months from now we’ll be warm and dry and safe and FINISHED!! We were inappropriately optimistic about the whole process…babes in the woods (or at least as close to the woods as you could get and still be sleeping inside a structure).
The reality of the situation was that the first winter we spent in the house we didn’t have any insulation in the ceiling…just rafters and tin and a too small wood stove downstairs to keep us warm. It was cold…our friend Steve Longenecker helped me pound nails in the ceiling with his piton hammer…getting it insulated and ready for the next winter. He’s a long time wilderness instructor…spent a lot of time camping and climbing…and he said that he’d rarely been that cold.
That’s the way to keep a recent wife and new mother happy and comfortable, huh?
We are getting ready to celebrate our 19th anniversary in about a week.
My wife was looking at old pictures the other day and commented that “we had an awesome life!” That’s a good thing…to have some way to put it all into perspective. The natural tendency, I think, is to hold onto the hard memories…to catalog the pain behind every callus, the embarrassment of the home improvement project gone awry, the lack…and to build them up into a monument and reminder of “what should have been”. It’s hard to avoid wishing that things had been easier….but we wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t have that set of experiences. The “spin”…the ability to take something hard and see the bright side of the situation…that’s an awesome ability and legacy to shoot for.
The title of this post isn’t really appropriate. There really isn’t anything that I’d want to tear apart…literally or figuratively. There are a lot of things I’d like a “do over” on…I think I could probably do a better job when I had some of it all figured out…but I don’t think that I’d want to tear it all apart.
Little by little, we fix a house and move on in. Year by year, we build a life and a family. I’m glad it doesn’t happen instantaneously…I don’t think I’d know what to do.