I bought my house four years ago.
I was only twenty-four, but I was making good money at the time roasting coffee for one of the biggest wholesale coffee suppliers in the region. Looking back it wasn’t a whole lot, but it was enough to gain the bank’s trust and make an offer on a modest house. I got to stop throwing money down the bottomless pit called rent dues.
The 1950s cottage style gives the place more of a midtown feel though it’s actually much further west of the city, just outside the limits of a wealthy little village called Springhill. There’s a municipal park nearby. An art museum and a local theater. Gardens, both botanical and Japanese.
It’s a strange thing, but I’ve loved this house more than I’ve loved most people. It wasn’t just a structure to me when I found it. It had character. It had style. Mystery. Bones. Good, good bones.
Now it has memories.
I’ve put a lot of work into it, buddy, you better believe it. Maybe that’s part of why I love it so much; if it had come to me all perfectly packaged and ready to go I wouldn’t appreciate it as much—and because of this work, the house saved my relationship with my dad.
See, I used to have a lot of anger issues. I was your average moody teenager, sure, but my temperament developed into adulthood depression which resulted in a lot of unresolved anger toward my father. I write a lot about him these days, and I probably always will. I write a lot about his father, too, my grandfather whom I barely knew. I write a lot about fathers in general, and one day I’ll write about being a father to my own kids. One day.
But see, we didn’t talk much back then because years and years of butting heads made us awkward. We’d learned to be uneasy around each other, and that discomfort brought on either silence or strained conversation. But then we worked on the house together for seven months, with our schedules determined by the free hours orbiting both of our full-time jobs.
We cleaned out a bunch of junk leftover from the previous owner. We peeled wallpaper and hung light fixtures. We pulled old hardware, and preserved the good moulding while replacing the bad. We gutted the kitchen—I mean, took it right down to the studs—and put it back together again like Humpty Dumpty, except with all new parts.
The wooden floors had already been stripped of their carpet covering, leaving an incredible number of exposed nails and tufts of little carpet fluffs stuck to them. So my dad and I, we had to either pull those out or seat them before we refinished the floors. I rented a sander and spent a few days turning the house into a sandbox. He stayed with me the entire time, watching me, making sure I was okay (although I taught him how to use it). I had on a full-fledged sander mask with air ventilation, but he wore only those cheap fabric masks you might wear if you’re sick or trying to keep dust out of your nose.
I reminded him it wasn’t just regular dust, but sawdust. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” he said. “Keep going.” The man’s crazy. To this day I still find hidden layers of caked sawdust around my house; on the tops of doorframes; on blind slats. It’s really a wonder his lungs haven’t collapsed, but he’s always been a freak of nature.
On particularly bad nights when the smell of the sawdust burned just a bit sharper than usual, I’d insist he step outside a while. But he’s too stubborn. He wouldn’t miss a second of the work to save his life.
All in all it only took a few days to sand down all the floors, and the day after I finished I went back to the house to begin the process of vacuuming up. I didn’t wear my mask, and I was only there for an hour or so before my head started to pound and I could hardly keep my eyes open. Like Dorothy walking through the field of poppies in the Wizard of Oz, I had to fight the desire to lie down and take a nap in the middle of the dusty floor. The lingering sawdust gave me a migraine after only a couple hours, while my dad endured hour after hour of the stuff for multiple nights in a row, yet he remained unfazed.
I don’t know how he did it. Like I said, he’s stubborn. Maybe he liked the smell, or the feel of the sawdust in his lungs. Maybe the experience meant so much to him that he wanted it to be part of him. I don't know, maybe he thinks of it every time he coughs.
He taught me a lot in those seven months; some things we even had to figure out together. But we learned a lot from each other, and about each other. Conversation started flowing a little bit easier. Soon jokes followed, and not long after that we began to enjoy each others’ company a little more, and a little more, until the leaks in the dam of our stilted dialogue broke free into a regular, more natural verbal spring.
It’s amazing what shared efforts can do to bond two people, that the experience can be strong enough to remedy a damaged relationship. Conversation is no longer strained. Silence is comfortable. I’m glad I bought my house if for no other reason than this. It’s already gotten us this far, and four years later I still have projects for us to work on together, things we can do hopefully without stirring up too much dust.
However it happens, I look forward to the memories.