Fresh Start

Explanatory note: I have been trying to build a house for my family. I started last summer with a garage — with an apartment planned above it, to be occupied first by our 23-year-old son. The building was framed and roofed last summer and then stalled.

I haven’t posted about the garage project since my meeting with Dean the carpenter in June, described here. That meeting left me unsettled. I knew I should not re-hire Dean after last summer’s experience; I knew I was being buffaloed and a strong person wouldn’t put up with it. But I was feeble and I couldn’t draw the line.

Days went by and I sank into the familiar let-down following big promises and no action. After two weeks of silence I called Dean, saying I was surprised not to hear from him. “Oh, didn’t you get the message I left on your cell phone?” he asked. There had been no message on my cell phone. He said he needed a fresh copy of the floor plan. I drove into town to drop one off at his current work place. But this time I was so frustrated I finally made myself put a call in to a contractor my friend Alison had recommended.

Now I didn’t hear from anyone. Another week went by. I felt near despair.

Last fall I’d stacked all the remaining building materials on stickers inside the garage. Allen very kindly brought in some of his reinforced clear plastic sheeting as a present and helped me cover the garage door openings to seal it for the winter. I had been so happy to see the project neatly wrapped and protected. I’d thought Dean and I would be working and Allen’s plastic would keep us snug against the snows. But Dean never came. Then I had to empty my toolshed into the garage to build the sauna for DH. Gradually the garage became messy. Winter storms shredded the edges of the plastic. And almost without realizing it I began to think of the unfinished garage building as a giant symbol of my failure. My heart was so heavy I avoided even looking at it as I went to chores twice a day.

To keep my spirits up, I tried to concentrate on other things. The land was always there. Allen was always cheerful and ready with ideas. He stumped the back acres. He figured out how I could get my outbuildings moved. Then he got sick and I couldn’t see him any more. I felt as if one of my last props had been kicked out from under me.

This summer has been battle with depression. There was little time to work on the farm. Briars grew up in the fields. Allen’s beautiful stone walls were lost under weeds. I was struggling with a writing project I hadn’t wanted to do, trying to keep Lucy entertained, and sinking under the knowledge that I had dragged our family into appalling debt with little to show for it.

I have known for months that the only way forward was to finish the apartment and get a mortgage that would pay off all the bills. But this relatively simple thing — finishing the garage — seemed out of reach.

Then two weeks ago my cell phone rang. A cheerful voice said, “This is O.B. I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to return your calls. I’ve been flat out, wrapping up a big project. But I’d like to come out and see what you want done.”

I met O.B. at the site the next day. He is a local boy in his forties, shortish, round, and freckled. His real first name is a double-barreled family name, much like Orenthal James Simpson. Like O.J., O.B. has been known by his initials all his life. He was pleasant and business-like. We walked around the building. He told me his rates (cheaper than Dean), his schedule, and his plan of attack. He told me he’d bring his plumber and his electrician subcontractors over to see the project, gather all the estimates for labor and materials, and get back to me. It was so undramatic and brass tacks, so very unlike my previous experience, that I boggled.

But I was so heartened that I steeled myself and called Dean. I told him that I’d found someone else, whose rates were cheaper, and I had to give him a try. I winced into the phone as I stumbled through my apologies; it is so very hard for me to be tough. Dean was curt. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

The estimates came in last week. I gulped and called O.B. I explained to him that this would be a financial juggling act and there was zero fat in my budget. We would have to be in constant communication, and any “idiot work” would be done by me to save costs. But I wanted to go ahead. It was a deal.

On Friday O.B. came by the farm and spent several hours re-organizing the garage as a work site. The trash, old t-shirts, wrappers, and beer bottles left by Dean and his helper were bagged to be thrown away. The clapboard siding was re-stacked to one side. The floor was swept. And the plastic over the doorways — which had become a symbol of my failure — came down. Saturday O.B. came by again and built temporary stairs out of old 2x12s I had in a corner (bought by Gary in 2008 to be our cabin scaffolding). Yesterday, Lucy and I swept all of the trash out of the future upstairs apartment and made a run to the dump.

Work starts tomorrow, Monday. I know there will be frustrations, problems, and anxieties ahead. But for the moment my heart is singing.  I have been given back the dream that I’d hardly realized I’d lost. I am so hopeful I almost have tears in my eyes.

tidy and ready to start fresh — the garage this morning

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3 Responses to Fresh Start

  1. Jane Wellker says:

    Selden, I am so happy for you. I’m sorry you had to endure the mindless neglect of that man. I can’t wait to see men (and you) working on the garage again. Yahoo!

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      I am very happy and hopeful, too! Dean is a good person but he overschedules and then is careless with follow-through. I won’t miss the aggravation or unreliability but I actually will miss his kindness and jokes when we were working.

  2. Jo says:

    Hooray for you and your project. Finding a good contractor/carpenter/electrician in a small town can be tough. There’s just not enough extra time to phone around, find someone willing, finalize agreements, and then have to deal with unkept (yet totally justified in their view) promises. Good luck as you move forward.

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