The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Camping Out in a Half-built House

Monday, June 18, 1979

The shell of a house goes up quickly.  Then it seems to take forever to finish.  In 1979 my father-in-law joked, "Your children will never know what it's like to live in a finished house."  He was right.  I began working on the final room of the house in 2002 in preparation for my daughter's wedding and didn't complete all the details until 2008.  That's 29 years of construction.

By June of 1979 the house had exterior walls, rough plywood subfloors, and bare stud interior walls.  Scavenging from garage sales and the city dump, I furnished the interior with a couple of giant wooden cable spools and a few chairs.  I was doing construction jobs for other people while desperately carving out time to write a novel while raising two small children while grabbing a few spare hours to work on my own house.

A friend named Nick had just broken up with his girlfriend.  Wanting to focus his mind on something other than the breakup, Nick volunteered.  He was particularly interested in learning house wiring, so I gladly handed him my big Makita power drill with a half-inch bit.  Ironically, Nick was an electrical engineer, but his job involved micro-voltages.  After the first day of work, Nick said with dismay, "I didn't realize electricians spent so much time drilling holes."  He would soon learn that the other activity of electricians involves pulling Romex and driving staples.  It's vigorous physical labor.  Connecting wires comes at the very end.

For a week Nick worked for no pay other than beer and sandwiches.  To keep Nick on course, I took a week off from working for other people and concentrated on my own projects, such as hanging the exterior doors so that random people and raccoons would stop wandering in. 

On June 18 I hung the final exterior door - with lovely beveled glass from a garage sale - while Nick wired the hot water heater.  Now we had a house with lockable entryways, one flushable toilet, one claw-foot bathtub with hot water where we could wash dishes.  Such luxury!  There was no kitchen, no furnace, no electric lights and no privacy.  But on that day, it became our home.
We wouldn't make the final move until the end of the year, but already in the living room I could sit at the cable spool table with a pot of coffee and work on my novel.  In the dining room we could eat at the other cable spool table and wear goofy hats.

It's true that the kids never lived in a finished house, but they knew - instinctively, as kids do - how to make a home from what was at hand.  Even a cardboard box:

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