I should have known; I mean, everyone warned me. But I was in love. And this time it was going to be different.
When I was growing up, my dad honed his carpentry skills, and by the time I was a teen, he had become a successful homebuilder in Greenbrier County and then, later, in New Mexico. As such, I spent my childhood under construction.
My first memory is of living in a house in Lobelia that we called “Down the Hill.” That’s because Dad spent over a decade building his dream house “Up the Hill” on a ridge.
Dad wanted to do it the old fashioned way: hand-hewn logs dragged out of the woods by draft horses, rocks for the fireplace and chimney gathered from local creek beds. These were the heady days of the homesteader movement, when almost every piece of property in Lobelia had been bought up by back-to-the-landers who were all seeking to build their own home on a prime piece of God’s Country.
Almost every weekend, families would hold work parties where the men would do manly things like raise roofs, the womenfolk would arrange the potluck items, and we kids would run rampant rings around the entire scene.
Life Down the Hill was pretty good, but when we moved Up the Hill, it was, we thought, far better. The old farmhouse Down the Hill was beyond funky, and rested in the shadow of a small mountain, so we were thrilled to live in a new, light-filled house with plenty of electrical outlets and a brand new woodstove. Sure, the floors were plywood, and the bathrooms were not quite done (the outhouse was located beyond the side yard), but in the house Up the Hill, we felt a sense of forward projection, like things would just keep getting better. And they did, every weekend, as Dad added a board here and a tile there, diligently building his dream home piece by piece.
The minute he completed it, he sold it and moved out West. Carpenters do that kind of stuff all the freaking time. Just ask their wives.
Fast forward about 15 years. Against all odds, I found myself a fella who was willing to put up with me and my bad habits, and we decided to get hitched. He had it all: a brand new pick-up truck, a good credit score, friendly parents, and a home of his own.
Oh, and he was a carpenter. And that home I mentioned? Yeah, it was under construction.
“Careful,” said a family friend. “Carpenters’ wives seldom have cabinets.”
“Oh, I know. I grew up with a carpenter.” I replied. “Don’t worry. We’ll have the house finished in two years.”
“Sure you will,” she said, patting my head.
When I moved in, I told Tom about my two-year plan.
“We’ll see,” he said. I decided to give him some leeway: “Five years, no longer,” I said.
A year after we got married I got pregnant, as one does. That slowed things down. I wanted to go on trips. Long ones to the beach, short ones to Watoga and Roanoke. Nearly every weekend, we hit the road. Tom would putter around on the weekends we were home, attaching a board here, a tile there.
It’s been over 12 years, and guess what? My house still isn’t done!
Don’t get me wrong, what is done is beautiful! I do have cabinets, with doors, thank you very much, and hardwood floors and a new woodstove of my own. We also have two kids, three cats and two dogs. Those regular vacations and road trips happen a lot less frequently now. I spend my weekends doing laundry and napping (let’s be honest) and driving the kids around.
We’re so damn poor anymore (thanks, kids, dogs and cats) that Tom works weekends so that we can afford things like braces and dance class and dog grooming and new shoes for the girls and me. But, every now and then, when Tom gets a chance, he nails up a board or places a tile or two.
We’re getting there.
But I wonder what we’ll do when we finish the house? Will we sit down and relax and start taking vacations again? Or, will we follow tradition and put that sucker on the market and find a new project?
I fear we may never know.