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  • Woulda Coulda Shoulda. If I’d only paid a little more attention to Dad when I was growing up. He was always putzing around the house, fixing this, repairing that, fiddling with tools and projects, sharing nuggets and pearls of home repair wisdom passed on to him from Uncle Roman. I couldn’t have been less interested in any of it. Sometimes he’d invite me to work with him, or ask for assistance with something he was doing. Usually I just tried to make myself scarce when he was about on a project, but when I did get enlisted to help, I just bided my time until I could get the hell away from him and whatever he was working on. I wanted no parts of it.

    It wasn’t laziness. I was up every morning delivering papers to my 65 customer route spanning a 3 mile area. At age 9, I “moonlighted”, working in a Bakery in the evenings, with my friends Pete and Jake in their Mom’s store. I just didn’t like working around the house, and didn’t like to spend time around my father. He scared me at times, and repulsed me at others. In my warped child’s mind, he didn’t measure up to the ideal father I envisioned. I wanted a John Wayne-type. He was more Gregory Peck-like. I liked and honored the “chain of command” that 4 older brothers and an older sister provided between myself and the old man.

    So, when we bought our first house, which was definitely a “fixer-upper” (more like a “daily-keep-from-falling-apart-er”), I was in for a rude awakening. That’s when it occurred to me that it might have been a good idea to have paid a bit more attention to Dad when he wanted to show me how home repair worked. He was a master, and I had blown a million opportunities to learn from the master.

    Our place was the perfect house to learn everything there is to learn about home repair. We lived right on a lake, so lots of friends from the city liked to come out to visit us, sometimes for the weekend. We learned to put them to work. It worked out well for all involved. The lessons that house taught me were many, and valuable. Here are just a few:

    Lessons in Home Repair – Chapter 1 – Septic System

    Lesson #1 – when the toilet doesn’t flush properly, and you’ve tried everything else, check the septic system.

    Lesson # 2 – if you have your septic tank flushed out, and it backs up again a week later, check your leach fields.

    Lesson #3 – if you have to dig up two 50 foot runs of leach fields, and clean out the pipes because they’re filled with sand, because the previous owner never laid them properly – invite a lot of friends out from the city to get a taste of down-home country livin’.

    Lesson # 4 – when you have a house full of friends from the city, and they just want to watch movies and eat all your food and ride in the canoe, invite Mike Monk. He’ll get more done in 3 hours, in a driving rain, than the rest of the whole shootin’ match.

    Chapter 2 – What to Do when Your House appears to Be Sinking

    Lesson # 5 – when you notice that your house appears to be sinking (i.e., one corner of your kitchen ceiling is significantly lower than the rest of it), and discover that it is because there’s no foundation below ground level, and the brick wall piers built from the ground to the floor joists of your house 10 inches above are crumbling apart, and a contractor looks at you, dead serious, and asks, “You got insurance? You got a match?” Take his advice.

    Fortunately, my friend Chuck R., who I’d also sponsered in the program, and who was a general contractor, was a real can-do kind of guy. Chuck convinced me that I could do the job myself. “Just buy three 20-ton hydaulic jacks, and jack your house up.” …. Right! I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. He came out the first weekend, and walked me through the process. First, we drove my Chevy Luv Truck out to the Stone and Sand supply yard and filled it up with sand and stone, and grabbed a few bags of cement and lime. We made another trip to fill up the truck’s bed with cinder blocks, and got the jacks from Builders’ Square.

    We came back and heproceeded to show me how to build a foundation under a house that was already standing. I don’t know too many people who can say they have done that. I have. We jacked the house up by the first spot outside the kitchen door. We dug down 4 feet, to get well below the frost line. Chuck showed me how to mix up concrete, and we laid in a 1-foot thick concrete footer. We let that set up for a day. Next, he showed me how to mix mortar, and we built a 3 cinder block high pier, 2 cinder blocks across at each level, and let that set up for a day. “Just lower the house back on that after another day or two, then next weekend, do the same thing 6 feet over, and continue process until you’ve gone all the way around the house.” And that’s what I did. It took from early March to late October to get it all done, but my house (at least the perimeter of it!), now had a real foundation.

    Each weekend, someone else would come out from the city to enjoy the country and the lake, and in between canoe trips up the river that fed our lake, and rented movies and games of risk, I put ‘em to work. There would be numerous other lessons over the next 11 years in our house by the lake. But we’d tackled the two most important ones. Kept the house standing, and kept the toilet flushing. The rest was gravy….no it wasn’t. But that’s another story!
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