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Old houses

by Randall Beaird

Most of us have lived in houses older than our parents. You know the bathroom floor is ripe for a redo when you have to warn visitors, while pointing at the wobbly commode, “Think butterfly, not buffalo.” They usually got the message as I crossed my fingers, tiptoed away and tried not to listen.

My search for shelter a few years ago landed a 1939 model at my feet (in Dayton). Vacant for two years, it was thirsty for more than just paint. Several of the floor joists were ripped with rot and hung like the tired arms of Atlas; they were bent but had one last push to hold up their world.

I bought two six ton jacks and slipped into the mode of a mole. After ten minutes, I adopted two methods of snaking my way back and forth under the sagging giant. The belly crawl was good, but I stumbled into the tortilla roll. I found I could make great time by rolling back and forth like a tortilla.

Afterwards I was the living dust bag, but my forehead kissed less spider-ridden wood. New joists were soon riding piggy-back on the old while strategically placed concrete blocks, with varying degrees of wooden hats, saw the low parts rise with each rickety click of the jack. Finally it was their turn to carry the load, as the jack inched down in retreat.

Meanwhile the old tin roof was begging for attention. Maybe thick and leak free, but the tin was wearing an ugly jacket of rust. After mopping one can of roof paint on, I opted for the efficiency of a four inch brush. But with the brush carpal tunnel started to strangle my right wrist. I busted my left one out of the pen with such fervor I was giving demonstrations the next day. But by now daylights saving time had left town. Looking up at a roof needing work had me feeling down–darkness slapped my plans hard.

However, there are lights and there are airplane lights. We need a law outlawing darkness before eight! Two five hundred watt work lights and myself were soon perched atop and painting. Everything was fine until I went to fetch some more paint. Down the ladder….got fresh paint….up the ladder, I was excited–the tin was turning into a giant silver nickel!

Well, as I tiptoed back across the roof to continue, I forgot and walked over a painted portion in the shadows. Four feet across and about the time I said uh-oh, I slipped and was sliding down the roof like a startled toboggan rider. My options were limited, even more so because each hand held a gallon of paint. I thought this is a little funny but could be painful.

My first plan was to cradle the paint to my chest like a baby, protecting it from a fatal spill. But as I went airborne off the roof, holding two cans of paint, my self-preservation instinct kicked in– the cans went sailing. I wish I could say I landed like a cat or hit the ground running. But the cans did the flips while I landed like I left the roof. Faked out of my skin by the absence of injury, my heart twisted, the thud was impressive, but the pain never came.

There were other injuries. I rushed over to one can of paint. Like a car wreck, the can was on its side bleeding profusely. When you buy high dollar paint with special fibers, there’s a special attachment. I paddled it back into place thinking and thankful I was due a nice landing. (Broken legs and ribs once painted my name on hospital hill with football, horses and boats gathered on the brush, while little cotton stitches belted out a medley on the dangers of wood railings, barbed wire and sliding glass doors.)

I never rode a sled down a icy hill, but for several days, until I painted again, there was a rusty trail up high saluting my late night ride.

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