Can we fix it? Yes we can!
Home sweet home. I don’t mean mansions, two stories, cabins, resorts, or cabanas. A home is a part of you and is like a sanctuary, a place where you can walk into your bedroom after a rough day, and know that you’re in ‘your own home.’ Home for me, is cozy 9160 Purdy Lane, Folsom California, where the mosquitoes swarm by six o clock, and the blackberries are sweet. This home isn’t just a home; it was an experience, that however difficult, taught me to appreciate what home really means. Someone once told me: Satisfaction lies in the effort, not the reward. In other words, people do things for the joy of it, rather than what should come next.
We took pieces of cardboard and turned them into our own personal bobsleds to slide on the dirt outside the complex. When we finished bobsledding, it was a routine ritual to get cookies served at the front desk. This was our daily snack before we caused trouble at the local pool with all the senior citizens. Stealing people’s sun block, upturning their chairs, and making pool waves that soaked everyone. They didn’t really like us, because sadly it wasn’t our own pool.
My parents would go look for houses day in and day out, never hesitating to bring us along occasionally for what would be a “family affair” as my mother called them. Whether or not we knew what to do then, the apartment got on everyone’s nerves. My sister Jackie used to say, “This place is too crowded mom, when are we leaving,” or brothers Max and James would say, “ Where’s the food?” Because my parents were so focused on finding a house, there wasn’t any chance to make the apartment feel like home, or buy much food to fill an otherwise empty refrigerator. Overall, the living space seemed vacant, as if we weren’t even living there.
One morning in July 1999, a ‘For Sale’ sign appeared as my parents drove down a quaint neighborhood street: Purdy Lane. They operated with the notion that this would be yet another disappointment, until my father pulled into the driveway of the home. He parked the car and Mom got out. As he looked at the house from where he stood hands on his hips like Mr. Clean minus the baldhead, he wasn’t convinced. My mom looked worried, her face was pale as if she had just seen a ghost. She pulled her sweater closer to her chest in mock heart attack. Her makeup didn’t hide the wrinkles that day, but she knocked on the door. An older couple named the Jagers appeared, and opened the seasoned doorframe with the rusted knob.
“Hello welcome, please do come in,” Mr. Jager said. He took his wife’s hand, as he was about to start the tour. He wanted to make sure he could keep her from sliding on the yellowish-brown tile step at the front entrance to the next room. If she slipped while going into a lower level of ground, it would have meant a trip to the hospital.
The front three windows that aligned themselves near the front door had chiffon curtains. As my father reached the kitchen, there was a pink border that aligned the shabby crown molding, where some tore loose. The woman attempted to reach up and replace it, but let it go, when my dad startled her with, “What a beautiful view you have outside.” Mrs. Jager was relieved, and motioned her husband to follow towards my father’s direction to their pasture. My mother followed reluctantly and less enthusiastically.
The place was indeed interesting. It had been built in 1978, and the ad seemed ideal, but typical. The swimming pool was described as Tahoe blue—and with a built- in spa, with a roll up door. There were forest green bushes around the spa and lining the fence, that my siblings and I were later required to trim their shrubs. In the living room there was a rusted, flimsy door that had a design, which made me think of living in a shack. Across from that a large T.V. had been placed disproportionately on a wooden frame. In each room, dark maroon carpet lined the floor, like plums had been split all over the ground. There were three bedrooms, two baths, a dining room with a traditional old wooden fireplace, and a living room, which contained a gigantic disturbing brick wall that separated both areas like a prison cell. The front of the house was dirt beige with beaten up sideboards and window screens that looked as if they had been pulled out of a junkyard. The outdoor backyard was about .94 acres, almost an 1-acre of land. The couple’s ad by Coldwell Banker read: “A Ranchette on Almost An Acre!”
It was as if the creator for such an ad figured the new tenant would be raising farm animals, or cultivating a country lifestyle with such an odd home. However, it had its perks: it was near Folsom Lake, which was a recreation location, and popular in the summertime, close to local schools, and in a safe neighborhood. The plumbing was decent, the large backyard was ideal and conducive for our family of six, and there was a nearby grocery place, and fire station.
For my father, the place presented a lot of potential, but a challenge in that respect. He decided he would remodel the place, and everything would be “right as rain” he thought. However, my mother was beside herself with anxiety in that, “There was no way in a million years would she live in such a mess.” The house was not what she called home at all. We gathered our belongings out of the van car. When my siblings and I observed it for ourselves we felt the same. “What could Dad possibly see in this place,” I said, looking like someone had just told me I needed to get braces again. Regardless, this home made my parents marriage bond stronger and was a lesson in itself, because of how much trust they had to put into each other, other people, the project, and themselves.
The project was our family’s, but friends and our new neighbors pitched in. Our moving van arrived late, so we had to wait to sleep in the house. When we did for the first few nights, we slept on the cold concrete floor, with the fear of infectious rats, and nasty termites crawling into our sleeping bags.
The first challenge my dad chose was the outer layers of the house and the attic. This was a process that took weeks. Each of us held boards with busted, corroded nails, and hauled junk to a burn pile we created at the end of the property line. Ripping the blinds down, and buying new window frames, and putting sealant on the insides of each one to cover any gaps or cracks, was yet another task. The attic, he discovered was infested with termites, black widows, and the insulation itself was rotting from the inside. My brothers worked in the hot summer sun helping him clear it out, and reinstall a whole new structure with a pull string and ladder stairs to enter to the attic from the garage. The outdated wooden plaster that held the house together was replaced with sturdy stucco covered with banana yellow paint.
The next two phases, were to tackle the brick wall in between the two rooms near the kitchen and install flooring. The wall was unnecessary, and a hazard for my grandparents when they would come to visit, who slipped on the tile. Hammers, chisels, wire cutters, handsaw, and other tools were used for the demolition. Like the historic Berlin Wall, tearing it down gave us freedom, and relief. There was a connecting wall that contained a fireplace, which was kept, and painted over with off-white paint. The maroon carpet was taken up piece-by-piece and each room excluding the kitchen, bathrooms, and hallways were covered with white tile and the remaining rooms were covered with oak pirogue wood flooring. The installation was a nightmare. Some of the intricate pieces tore apart, and followed by cursing, and foregoing impatience. The grout had to go into the tiny crevices, but seemed to seep into the wrong spots as if we were handling molten lava at a volcano site. There was no way out of it, so my Dad took on most of the task, while we huddled into one room that hadn’t been touched to sleep.
Mom would shake her head, and worry every time anything was being worked on, or something went wrong. Wrong, like the skylight in the kitchen. Dad was working on the new roof with my Uncle Jeff, and some work friends. The sun was out, blistering the eyes of the workers below, and huge trellises were being nailed onto what would be a whole new roof. Roof shingles were placed one next to the other like a line of armed toy soldiers. After that long day, we hopped into the pool, so that way we could do cannonballs aimed for just our mom, and not a whole local community.
My dad was working from the attic, and securing the inside, when he reached the kitchen area above. What came next was like a scene from a movie, because he fell through the skylight in the kitchen and is extremely lucky to be alive. The whole thing broke apart, so he had to close off the entire skylight, and repair it with just a dip into the wall. The kitchen ended up being remodeled with an installation of new, tidal blue Formica counter, oak cabinets, new refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, and sink.
Our family made many trips to Home Depot, and when I say many, the employees knew our dad’s name, and made sure someone was able to help him each time he came in. During the transition, we ate dinner out in the garage. The affair was never pleasant, but we made do, considering we had no choice. The budget was slim, as the remodel made things expensive, pasta and rice became dinner staples. It felt like the last supper meal with small portions and being thankful for our food was kind of our mantra- we blessed what we had, and the people we had it with. Nothing could go to waste unless it wasn’t something we could eat such as plywood from a chipped garage cabinet, or rotting wood.
Every time we had debris, garbage, or weeds, or anything of a certain waste, there was a large burn pile created at the end of our backyard where we would burn all of it. Sometimes we invited our neighbors over, or family to have a bonfire night, roast s’mores, and socialize. My dad believes in paying it forward with people. When neighbors, like Mr. Phillips, helped install light bulbs, let us borrow his tractor, or any other task, my father would always repay him somehow so that way it was a give and take. He helped build the add-on bedroom/ bathroom to our house, which was for my parents.
The additional bedroom, and bathroom add-on started with a blueprint that my dad drew out himself because of my mother’s wishes to have one. The idea was to have a large elongated hallway that would stop for a bathroom on the right and end at the bedroom. As an engineer he is into projects, so the family ended up being his guinea pigs, because he had us working to make it all become possible.
Jackie and I held nails and handed them to our brothers and father to nail into wooden supports that would later be hoisted up to form the area. After every task, my siblings and I stopped to admire the completion, and were shocked, that even through the dismal trials, it was starting to look like home. Mom would serve workers refreshments such as cookies, sandwiches, and water.
Cement was loaded from a truck into slabs then carefully, and swiftly set into place. The sun was out, so the task had to be done before the cement would dry up. We added concrete walkways with mulch under the pine trees in front of the house to add a serene nature feel to the place. Next, we put the wood supports together with help from my dad’s work friends. My dad installed a small window for the hallway, one more for the bedroom, a sliding glass door, bathroom window, and a separate shower, bathtub, toilet, and sink. Mom gave him the nickname Mr. Fix It Handy Man, because he made everything look easy. Although the tasks were arduous, the finished product was as if he had created such things as gifts for Greek Gods. My mom added ‘home’ touches such as colorful towels for each bathroom, endearing picture frames that personalized our family, and other points of interest such as an outline of Sacramento city, turtle ocean scene from Maui, etc. Martha Stuart would approve of the themes she had for each part of the house. Everything was coordinated like the couch pillows were blue, and the couches were black in the living room, blue couch, red pillows in the family room, and so on.
There used to be a TV show I had seen once that I related to this task oriented behavior, called Bob the Builder. As silly as it sounds, the whole tag line: “Bob the builder can we fix it, Bob the builder yes we can!” pops into my head whenever I mention this remodel process because we did the impossible. Our family made an unlikely prospect of a home into ‘home sweet home.’ Whether it was adding character to the insides of the house, having bonfires, crazy and outrageous incidents during tasks, or paying it forward, what made my home meaningful is what it took to get there.