Sunday, March 6, 2011

A little background on the house and its progress

I own a (approximately) two hundred fifty year old house in an exurb north of Boston. I will have been here seventeen years this month. The house has been in my family since the Civil War, with the exception of a few months when my godfather and a friend owned it. I bought it from them. When I bought it, the house had not been renovated since said war, and had suffered what I've termed 'active delapitation' - as opposed to mere benign neglect- in the decades previous to my purchase.
 I bought the house fully aware of the long road ahead, the work to be done, the constraints of my budget, etc. But I knew I could do it. I was on a roof when I was 3, and had since worked on nearly all aspects of construction, renovation, and home repair with my father. I would have his help, and that of my family and friends. They would work for beer and food- which I not afford, but more than willingly supplied, and continue to. (As you'll see, they also get to laugh at me- A LOT, which I swear is their preferred method of cocompensation.)  I was twenty-two.

 I didn't mind  my bed in my living room - it was fun falling asleep with my Christmas tree lit beside me. (Although the sound of the decorations clinking in the breeze, while lulling, was an additional reminder that there was a windchill factor IN the house.)
 I didn't mind not having heat- I could split my own wood, out of my own backyard (although my godfather immediately forbade me the use of a chainsaw, on the grounds that I'm accident prone. So he cut, I split.)
 I didn't mind that the electrical work hadn't been updated in nearly a century- I bought and was given extension cords, and did not own enough gadgets or appliances to really worry about it.
 I didn't mind the dirt- I cleaned (although only friends who were there often could tell if it was clean or not).
I didn't mind the smell, especially strong at the yearly advent of spring thaw. It was the combined smell of years of animals ( including the chickens the former occupants had for years allowed  in the then living room- to keep them safe from coyotes and hawks), combined with a general old, dingy smell. - It got better over time.
 I didn't mind my belongings'  hasty arrangement, with most in boxes, scattered around the unused and unusable portions of the house- I knew where everything was.
 I didn't mind the hodgepodge of decor  left behind in the previous decades' neglect.  I could see it as it would be, all of it, in my mind's eye.

I moved in a week shy of my 23rd birthday. Myself, my mother, a female cousin, and a close female friend  comprised my moving crew, as my father was busy finishing the renovation on the apartment which would (theoretically) provide half the mortgage each month. On said birthday, Dad and I filed the deed and the mortgage (I was a homeowner!), and purchased a shower set-up for my claw foot tub (only a week, and schlepping down the street to my parents' house @ 5AM daily to shower for work was already old- for all 3 of us). We installed it, and were joined by Mom, brother, cousin, and her two girls, who came bearing gifts for my new home. After 5 minutes, we realised that we shouldn't ALL be in the upstairs bathroom together, as the floor joists might not hold. But it was mine, and they were nearly as proud as I was. But, I digress.

I will be forty in 22 days. Somehow, I still love my house. However, I am, shall we say, not seeing through the same pair of rosy specs I was lo those many years ago. Seventeen years in, I have come a long way. And it's been a long journey.

I have had a bedroom for nearly sixteen years, and I love my faux post and beam cathedral ceiling, the exposed beams, and the light.  It still has no molding, and  at present needs a good cleaning and a fresh coat of paint- (yup, the rehab is not done, and it's time for another go-round). I turned the adjacent small room into  a walk-in closet, also unfinished, but serviceable- and also in desperate need of a good clean out. But, the master suite, complete  with its horribly appointed old bathroom, is wonderful, if a mess.
The heat was installed 9 years ago now. I'd had enough of 14 cords of wood warming me several times before It burned, yet never  sufficiently warming  either me or the house. My 95%+ furnace has served me well, even if the kitchen sink still freezes up occasionally during windy cold snaps. I also have central air, which was the running gag in the neighborhood for the two years I had it, but had no walls throughout the downstairs.  (I had to get the air before the walls, because the summer humidity was mouldering my floors and belongings, owing to lack of proper foundations and air space beneath half the house.)
My new electrical service is 4 times the size of the old one, and all of the remodelled rooms sport outlets in numbers that far-exceed code specifications. My goal has been to never run an extension cord again, having run so many, for so long, often supporting  entire rooms from a remote location. (This has caused more than a little muttering, and in fact occasional near mutiny among my blue board and sheetrocking  crews, as all those little holes are a bitch to cut out and line up. )
The dirt is nearly all mine now, but is far more manageable with new surfaces. I'm running out of  old house related  excuses for the grime, in other words.
The smell abated gradually.  One of my favorite memories is of bringing my cousins up during my Dad's 50th party to show them around. Only one had been there before, but not for years,  and the others were appalled when I asked her what she thought and she responded with an enthusiastic "It doesn't smell anymore!" After watching me jump around with glee, yelling "I know! Isn't it great? It really doesn't!", for about 5 minutes, and a lengthy background explanation, they were finally convinced it was in fact a HUGE compliment, and not 'the worst thing I've ever heard someone say'.
Many of my things have real homes now, and it seems this could be the year many more are finally organised into less temporary places.  But I have moved- inside this house- more times than I care to think about. At one point, for a couple of weeks,  I had one room which was living room, kitchen, and also held all the appliances and cabinetry for the new kitchen. Naturally,  I decided to make dinner for about 16 people who had been helping with the remodel. Fun night, especially when I set the casserole of enchiladas on the hot burner and shattered it all over everything and everyone (plan B dinner was shrimp scampi over angel hair). Most of them stayed. I really have good friends and family.
I have nearly eradicated all the old decor- most of the house is new from the sheathing, in, now. . The place is starting to look like I saw it in my head. The new walls are insulated, if they remain unmolded. The custom built windows work, and fit the period nature of the house. During the time I've been here, I've inherited all the furniture I loved as a kid from grandparents, aunts, and cousins. If I could bear to poke holes in my pretty walls, I could hang my pictures on the walls I painted in colors I picked.

 I look back at old pictures in  near disbelief. What the Hell was I  thinking? That place was my dream house? That  I lived in it, entertained in it-  hell, the fact that I bought it, the way it was, seems crazy at best. But I knew. I knew I could do it, and I have. More important, I've had the constant help and support  of my fantastic family and friends. The memories they have shared with me and  helped to create here are more than I could have hoped for. All those moments are what I try to bring to mind when something falls apart, or costs way too much to do, or goes wrong in whatever way; which it often does, and will continue to.
They laugh with me and at me. They allow me rants that border on breakdowns over the stupidest things which become the proverbial 'straw that broke the camel's back' house wise  and send me spiralling into  (oft alcohol-fueled) rages wherein I swear I'm putting the place on the market.  They continue to show up for parties planned and impromptu, ignoring whatever messes or projects surround us. I couldn't have done it without them, and have no intention of ever trying to.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Christea! I wanna come see this house sometime! Sounds great. :)