Trained at the Carpentry School of Hard Knocks


I started building things when I was in my mid-twenties. I tried my hand at making molds, stained glass windows and model houses. I also decorated my home with crazy things like curved walls and vertical shutters made out of 4 inch floor molding in a living room that was surrounded by floor to ceiling windows. This was before vertical blinds were invented. I started doing my own repairs after paying a fortune to a series of repairmen who either did inadequate or incomplete jobs on various projects in my house. This was my first house, which I now call ‘carpentry school’. It was an emotional buy – I liked the way it looked. It had a flat roof with a railing around, floor to ceiling windows, a half-round entrance and round concrete porch. It was also a block from the beach, and was used as a summer cottage by it’s former residents. After having to deal with the results of those “repairmen” I decided that I could at least do as bad a job as they did. And I could do it for free! This was 1978. There were no do-it-yourself hardware or lumber stores like there are now. At my local lumber yard, I could barely get anyone to wait on me, let alone give advice. I had the same experience in the hardware store. In those days, men did not share their secrets with women. To get information I had to act like an idiot or victim to even have the opportunity to ask a question, followed by praise and extreme gratitude. Once they got to know me, they at least viewed me as a viable customer. They say you learn from your mistakes. Buying that house was my first – and it was a big one. There were so many things wrong, I don’t know where to start. The flat roof that caved in in the living room and bedroom in the first winter? The walls with no insulation (it was a cottage)? The septic tank that failed? The fact that it was heated with a wood stove (in the northeast) in the living room? I had my couch leaning against the living room wall, and one day when I pulled it away, the back was covered with ice. Yikes! It’s a good thing I was young, and I can laugh now as I write this, but it was quite a challenge for me back then – with no experience, very little cash and no credit cards. In early spring I met a man who did odd jobs for a friend of mine who agreed to help me for very little money. He was also willing to work with me one day a week as a supervisor in building a raised roof over the house. He would come and do things like set up the first few rafters and leave. With the help of a few friends, I would continue by cutting and placing the rest. The next week, we’d put the plywood on top of the rafters, and then the tar paper and shingles. Eventually, it was a finished roof, and one problem solved. I also helped him with other projects he did over the years for other people just for the experience. Although we had nothing in common (he was a born again Christian who couldn’t stop talking about Jesus) we became good friends. Eventually I realized that he was not very conscientious. However he was very resourceful. He could always figure out a magical way to accomplish something, even if there was evidence to the contrary. He taught me to be brave and take chances. If you screw up, make sure it’s sturdy, then cover it up and make it look pretty! Like putting lipstick on a pig.

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