Those of you who have been reading this drivel for long enough will recall that, many moons ago, I was all het-up about remodeling my house.
In a 160-something-year-old house thereís a lot to be done, as you can imagine. I was working on it every spare minute I had, then I took a break. That break has lasted six years.
I burned out on it, I think. But over the last few weeks, Iíve rebooted and have actually been enjoying the heck out of, despite the usual discomforts that come with renovations.
The house was originally a main block, with a porch that was later taken in to become part of the existing living room. There was a detached kitchen in the back, just a foot or two separated from the main house, as a fire break. It had two porches on each side, both of which were later taken in as well. Over time, walls were moved here and there, and a late 1970s, early 1980s remodel left the overall interior appearance of the historic, tradition-ridden family homesite looking a lot like one of Herb Tarlekís suits.
I did the living room, piddling room and most of the kitchen, before I took a leave of absence for six years. The kitchen only needs a little finishing-up work. But the main areas in need of work now are the bathrooms.
Thereís two: A big, main one in the rear of the house, and a small closet-sized one in the middle. The smaller one is the target at present. It was at best a half-bath, but Iím taking in some extra space behind the rear wall, about 60 inches worth, which I hope to divide in half and make a new water heater closet and then add a shower to the bathroom. At the point when this one is done and functional, Iíll gut and renovate the big one. The small one will still be very small, but at least itíll get the job done.
So I started by gutting the little one. I was pleased to find sturdy walls and floors. The walls were center-match boards, inside and out, adding significantly to the awesome strength of such old homes. Demolition is exhausting but fun work. And itís the cheapest. Total cost of demolition: $6 for contractor grade garbage bags. No trips to the dump, I have my own burn pile in the back. Extra benefit: I used the debris paneling and lumber to send smoke signals to my neighbors off the Rez. They did not reply, much to my chagrin, but then, they might not have the correct decoder ring.
In order to take in the extra 60 inches of space, Iím going to have to install a header over a nine-foot space to support the wall, which once was the exterior edge of the detached kitchen section, leading out to the northeast porch. This header, of sistered two-by-twelve boards, will support the wall in lieu of the studs Iíll be taking out to perform the task. And yes, I did consult with a professional first!
Demolishing old rooms in old houses reveals lots of interesting things, the best of which was an identification button my grandfather must have worn when he was a contractor on the widening of the Panama Canal project. The worst of it was decades of nests built by critters in the overhead rafters. I found no cache of gold coins, though, dangit!
I find that as I peel away that horrid remodel job and get back to the bare roots of the house then bring it back up to something more fitting of its heritage and lineage (which, admittedly, is circa Poí Injun) the old place seems to renew, revitalize. As if it appreciates the effort.
So over the next couple months Iíll install a new water heater, then plumbing to it as well as the new bathroom fixtures and the new laundry area, all of which will be in close proximity of each other. Then Iíll get my contractor pal to come over, hook in the water supply and hopefully Iíll have done it right with no leaks! After that I can begin to cut and restore the big bathroom.
Now and then I stop and go to the piddling room, the room where I tie flies and store all my fishing tackle and my fatherís crafts. The back wall has a bunch of photographs hanging on it, one of them is a young Indian man, Alexander Darden, who built this old house so long ago. I donít feel his presence here, though. The dominant existence here is my grandmotherís. Why should it not be? She spent 70 years of her life within these walls.
And sometimes, when Iím on hands and knees pulling up an old linoleum tile floor, a shadow will dart over me swiftly, almost unnoticed; or Iím pulling a piece of sheet rock down and a whisp of dust will move impossibly in the opposite direction of the rest, and then Iíll know sheís there, looking over my shoulder, surveying my work. Like she always did, whether I was grinding coffee by hand in the same kitchen, or trying my hand at beadwork on a loom now carefully stored away, or whittling some silly caricature of real life from a piece of cypress knee. Her watchful eyes, warding against sharp edges, splinters, heavy hammer blows on fingers.
Do you know, for nearly a decade after she left this world to join her ancestors with the Creator, picture frames would not hang straight in this house, no matter how hard I tried? I have only just begun to succeed at a straight-hanging picture frame. As if the old place is settling in with me, holding her close but accepting me as its new occupant, of the same flesh and blood thatís occupied it since it was built, and itís less restless, more tolerant of new picture frame hooks and fly rod racks and, most of all, me.