You know what they say about plumbers’ and electricians’ homes, don’t you? It’s something along the lines of never being up to code, with numerous jury-rigged and even dangerous “temporary” fixes that the plumber or electrician would never try to foist off on his customers.
In a similar manner, one of my childhood homes ended up with all the marks of being a “carpenter’s home.” We first lived in the house in Highland, California when I was quite young. It was very small – two small bedrooms, one bath, a small living room, a kitchen-dining room combination, and a miniscule front porch. Its destiny as a carpenter’s house was still in the future. Temporary prosperity enabled my family to move to a larger house in San Bernardino while renting this house out for a few years. However, a back injury suffered by my father on the job dealt a blow to that prosperity and we had to move back. It seemed smaller and more crowded than ever.
A disability check opened up the opportunity to expand the house. Among my father’s many friends in the construction business he was able to find a few to do the jobs that he could not: plumbing, electricity, and masonry. The result was the addition of a large living room (with a beautiful raised fireplace that I still remember) and enlargement and renovation of the kitchen/dining room and my formerly tiny bedroom.
But this also spelled the end of the house’s days as a “finished,” albeit small house, at least for as long as we lived in it.
Thanks to the friends, all the major systems were complete and functional, and I have to admit that my father saw to it that all the main structural work and walls were completed.
It was just in the details that things seemed to be … unfinished.
Take the basement. Our new living room covered up access to the basement, so my father eventually dug a hole on the side of the house and knocked out some of the concrete blocks on that side (not too many, so as not to run the risk of water damage). So we could jump down into the hole and crawl up over the blocks to get in. I tried it once. It was kind of creepy. The inaccessibility of the basement meant that we had to find somewhere else to put a lot of our junk – the garage, the shed, the yard (see Junk in Our Yard).
The “hole” was a particularly sore spot with my mother because it was located right next to what basically served as our new “front” door, aka our kitchen door. I know, a kitchen door is not the best choice for a front door. But the old front door was gone, removed when the old living room (at the front of the house) was converted into a third bedroom. The “real” new front door, i.e., the door to the new living room, was farther back away from the street than the kitchen door was and could not be seen from the street (see illustration below), so most people just used the kitchen door.
As much as my mother hated that hole, our German Shepherd Trina loved it. This was not a good thing for the various salesmen, repairmen, and meter readers who came to the house, because Trina was determined to be a guard dog, and she had the bark to back it up. But not quite the requisite amount of bravery. So she did her barking and guarding from the safety of the hole. She was very intimidating looking in that hole. Our mailbox had been moved to the back (aka “front”) door, so the mailman learned something that none of these other guys seemed to pick up on: Trina was too afraid to get up out of her hole to pursue any invaders who came to the house.
So perhaps that’s why my Dad never did get around to building stairs and a regular entry way into the basement; he must have wanted to make it possible for Trina to keep up the façade of a brave guard dog. I don’t know what his excuse was for never finishing my bedroom floor – the older section was wood (and a real termite lure), while the newer section was bare concrete, with the two sections divided by a metal strip that jutted up a bit, enough to threaten any bare foot that might carelessly step on it.
My resolution never to live in a house “under construction” was never carried out. My husband and I had an addition put on our house when our oldest daughter was a baby (she’s in college now), and while those new rooms are complete, we are still in the process of eliminating all the remnants of previous remuddlings, and the exposed underlayer marking the “dividing line” between the newer and older parts of the house is still … unfinished.