Mother: I can always tell when you are working on your house. You walk like a WNBA player.
Me: Blame my roommate. He has a lot of tools.
Mother: I don’t care. I didn’t pay for sixteen years of ballet to watch you walk like a lesbian.
The beauty of living in a historic neighborhood is that it is impossible to be bored. There is always something to do: to your house.
Little did I know when I bought this charming octogenarian that lurking behind that classic bone structure, buttery complexion, cornflower-blue eaves and delightful quirkiness there was a dark side. She was so polite to begin with.
I remember when it was quaint to learn how to repoint brick alongside a mason, when it was delightful to skip like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm to Lowe’s for, say, a pipe-cutter or stroll into my backyard pub at blue-collar happy hour and say, “Is there a plumber in the house?” But after about three years in Greensboro’s Fisher Park I realized that I was no blissful homeowner. I was somebody’s bitch. This was no Zooey Deschanel or Katy Perry or Doris Day of a house. This was a straight up Joan Crawford abode — and the bitch don’t play.
From coming home to water sluicing over the tank of my upstairs john and Hoover Damning through my plaster ceiling and white-squalling my heart-pine floors into buckling knuckles all the way to gutting two bathrooms (one of which had a toilet that was about a quarter inch from becoming a basement loo), ripping off a wraparound porch and rebuilding it tongue by groove by groove — I had had enough. And that was just the repair work.
Forget aesthetic enhancements and injectable beauty treatments, this was emergency room, speeding gurney, triple-bypass open-heart surgery followed by appendectomy, colon removal and steel-rod-in-the-spine stuff, and I’ll be damned if she didn’t recover every time. Like I said, she’s a tough old broad.
Did I mention that all of that healthcare doesn’t come cheap? I still chuckle every time I hear someone mention the mortgage crisis. When you live in an old house every month is a mortgage crisis. Hemorrhaging money is de rigueur and all the cuts and bruises and fractures that come with that can leave a devastating scar on your bank account, your psyche as well as your knuckles.
Enter the Viking.
Mother: So how is it going with the kitchen renovation? Is anyone helping you?
Me: There’s a Viking in my kitchen and it ain’t a stove.
Fifteen years into my career as caretaker of this old house and I find myself with a roommate of the masculine variety. He comes with accessories. A builder, fabricator and craftsman by trade, his toolbox is full and his truck is large. Plus, in his spare time he’s willing to share, teach and guide me from the cheap seats of my youth as demolition girl for my father’s small construction company into the realm of competent carpenter
Viking: Your tools are so cute.
Me: Don’t make fun of my tiny chainsaw on a stick.
Viking: Nicole, you are a tiny chainsaw on a stick.
Me: I bet this is the first time you’ve been at the loading dock pulling four-by-fours with a Marc Jacobs purse on the tailgate of your truck.
Viking: I can honestly say yes to that.
The truth is, I don’t think this is the path that my father set out for me, but it’s been a different kind of education. I think he was more intent on quelling the hormones of the high school years by exhausting me with demo work so I was too tired to date. Between that and nurturing boarding-school boyfriends who were states away, it was a pretty brilliant move. It was positively paternally Machiavellian — and it worked. I still have the tool belt and steel-toed safety boots he bought me. I’ve added vintage safety glasses, roofers knee pads and two tool boxes to the mix over the years but the philosophy has remained. Work yourself into physical exhaustion regularly and you’ll not only sleep, eat and think better, but you’ll have something to show for your manual labor. Who needs a gym when you’ve got a Jimmy-full of tools, an old house and, yes, a Viking.