Monday, October 1, 2007

This House

It is an auspicious moment in our personal history. After thirty years in the same place, we are moving, to a bright and airy manufactured home up on a hill south of Burton.
This has not been an easy decision, as you can imagine, and we’re doing it for several reasons. It’s time, apparently.
When we moved into this house thirty years ago, it was not really a house. It was a wreck. The roof leaked, but the floor had sagged and separated from the bottom of the wall on the south end, so the water had a way to drain, and that was good.
Rick says that the first time he went into the crawlspace to jack the floor up level and reattach it to the wall he put a hydraulic jack on the ground under a joist and began cranking it up. When it contacted the joist, it began to sink into the mud.
So then he got out from under the house and dug drainage channels to dry out the crawlspace. After he’d done that he was able to jack up the floor.
He got here in January, 1977, and I came down to visit him in his new home. The front door was a double door that stood open and when I walked in it was to a large room full of old lumber, old doors, windows, chairs, boxes, tools, cobwebs, and garbage.
“Oh, my, God,” I said. And I hadn’t even encountered the large population of rats that were in residence yet.
That was my introduction to the house I would move in to the following December. Later, when our older son JD was small, he called this room, “the room that looks like the attic.”
The living space was the other two-thirds of the house. The kitchen was located to the right of the room that looked like an attic, and took up the rest of that half of the house. In the other half was the bedroom, roughly the same size as the kitchen, and then the living room, roughly the same size as the entry room.
The building had been the mess hall of the Danish-Methodist Conference Beulah Park Chautauqua grounds. It had also hosted the Epworth League.
The original owners and builders had followed the contours of the land when they built. There was a large field in front of the church. On either side of the field there flowed a stream. These two streams fell into a deep ravine and joined into one creek at the bottom. The Chautauqua hall and church was a rough-hewn building, clearly built by volunteers, and it sat on the point of land between the two Beulah Falls.
The church building is long gone now, but the land and the streams remain.
In November of 1977 I did a three-week tour in British Columbia, playing concerts in the interior of B.C. It was cold there. I learned what it was like to use an outhouse at minus 12. Cold, that’s what it’s like. I was leaving a bad boyfriend, and it was an emotional time, and the cold suited my many moods. On the plus side, I found my first Lynn Johnson cartoon collection, David, We’re Pregnant, in a bookstore in Smithers, I think, and I’ve been enjoying her work for the last thirty years.
When I came back to Vashon, the day after Thanksgiving, I came home to the oh-my-god broken down, leaky, dirty, dark, windy wreck of the old mess hall in Beulah Park. I’m sitting here almost thirty years later in that same building, writing this.
I have said more than once that I was young when I moved in to this house, and it was living here that made me old. When I arrived, there was that room full of clutter to walk through to get to the real house, and once inside the walls were dark brown, and the fireplace, which must have been a huge focal point of the old mess hall, smelled of creosote. Rick had plugged a cheap metal woodstove in to the chimney, one of those oval-shaped thin metal ones that you had to replace every year or two because they burned through. That kept us warm, at least when we were close to it.
There was no bathroom in the old mess hall. The toilets, and the shower, were in the other building, the old dormitory building, up the hill from the mess hall. I became adept at peeing into coffee cans, and walking up the hill for serious business.
The shower terrified me. You had to walk through a doorway from one of the two bathrooms into utter darkness, and feel your way to the stall which was located a few feet in. There was a light once you got to the shower, and the hot water heater was right next to it, and I was always afraid of getting electrocuted because I could see electrical wiring dangling around the shower stall. In response to my whining, Rick put a bathtub and hand sink into the house in 1978, and it’s a good thing, too, because I don’t think I would have taken a shower for years if he hadn’t.
In the winter when you walked through the house, you could feel the heat being sucked right out the bottom of your feet. The winds blew right under the house, unhindered, and there was no insulation under the floor.
We lived like that for almost ten years, with no toilet in the house, and the wind blowing through. I put up plastic window seals on the windows in the corner of the bedroom, which slowed down the breezes, and I painted the living room white, which brightened it up considerably. Rick built closets for our clothes, and we had cantaloupe crates for our kitchen cabinets. We had an old wood-burning range we could cook on when the power went out, which it did more often in those days. There was a sign written in felt marker next to a round brown light switch on the kitchen wall that said, “DON’T USE THIS SWITCH.” Next to that Rick had written, “Ignore this sign.”
The house had two electrical circuits. They ran from a square four-socket plug with two circuit-breakers on the kitchen wall. The two sockets on the left were one circuit; the two sockets on the right and the entire building were the other circuit. You couldn’t have the stove and the burners and the lights on all at once; a circuit would cut out and leave you in the dark. We limped along with that system for ten years or so. Early in 1986, the winter after our second son was born and we spent most of the winter nights walking the floor with him and his ear infections, the breaker clicked one night, and when I went to snap it back on, sparks jumped from the box.
That’s it, I thought.
There was block grant money available from King County, and we applied, and got it, and in the fall of 1987 we moved out and the entire place was gutted right down to the outer shell. Our contractor was Lotus, and her helper was Kate, two right-on womyn who did beautiful work. Other contractors did the solid foundation on the east side of the house, and Lotus sank piers down to bedrock on the ravine side. The crawlspace was sheathed, and insulated. Wiring contractors came in and put new wiring in the whole house. Insulation went into the walls and up in the attic over the ceiling. Two guys from Seattle came out and sheetrocked the whole space in one day. Two island guys did the wall taping and mudding. My friend Velvet’s son Lance sealed the walls, and we painted. I think I did some of the painting, but Rick and others did more. We got it done.
We moved back in at the end of January, 1988. The old mess hall was no more. We had a new floor plan, two bedrooms, a kitchen and dining room where the attic room used to be, and, centerpiece to the whole shebang, a FULL BATHROOM with toilet, sink, and shower/tub right in the center of the house. I could turn on two lights without blowing a circuit. It was warm for the first time. Hallelujah. We were home.
That was almost twenty years ago, and it has been a wonderful home for us. It’s warm, and dry, and everything works, mostly. OK, the dishwasher’s a little wonky. In 1993 I received a family inheritance, and we made the attic into a room with a second bath.
JD was born here. We have lived our adult lives here, raising the kids, welcoming the teeming masses of cats, dogs, rats, mice, guinea pigs, and rabbits which came to us. I sit here and remember thirty years of tears, laughter, song, anguish, joy – this house has been the container for our lives, and it’s not easy to leave.
But we are leaving. This week, now, tomorrow, we’re packing up and getting out. Or at least someone is packing up and getting us out – I have mononucleosis, pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinusitis, sort of a bacterial-viral grand slam, at the moment, and am not up to doing all the actual moving. The last time I moved, in 1977, I packed all my worldly goods into the trunk and back seat of my ’58 Chevy, and drove down here. Kind of a bigger proposition this time around.
Come back to my blog again. Maybe I can write up the Rat Wars that Rick conducted when he first moved in here. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

portula said...

Hi Mary, you have a nice style of narrative. I can feel what you did feel when you moved in your house way
back in 1977. Your blog is good and
I like the way you write. Cheers!