This post was originally published on ricochet.com on May 26, 2018. There’s an update for 2020, just below it.
This old house once knew his children
This old house once knew his wife
This old house was home and comfort
As they fought the storms of life
Truth be told, it’s not so very old. 32 years, to be exact. It all started in a field, about 40 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, in the summer of 1986. Mr. Right and Michael, living in the little tent camper. Me, still living in Pittsburgh, working, and driving down on the weekends to help out. Mr. Right’s design and the blueprints which he drew himself. We used a program called In-A-Vision, generally accepted to be the first ever graphics program designed for the new Microsoft Windows 1.0 operating system (a run-time version of Windows was included with the product, since Windows itself wasn’t even generally available at the time), and we used an early IBM PC with 640K of memory, two 360K floppy disk drives, and a little Okidata dot matrix printer. It was excruciatingly slow; one mistake swapping out the disks, and the whole thing trashed itself. Excavating the foundation. Laying the block (never again). Erecting the structure. And the walls. And the roof. Plumbing. Wiring. We had some help, especially when heavy equipment was required, or ‘codes’ were involved, but we did most of the work ourselves, and we made plenty of mistakes.
Thirty-two years. And it’s still not done. Oh, I thought I’d wrap things up pretty handily after I retired in 2010. But our fights with the “storms of life” didn’t end, and maybe they aren’t going to, and there’s almost never enough time left over for me, and the things I want to do, and one of the things I want to do is finish the house.
And now it seems that fate, in the shape of Consol Energy, Inc, is taking a hand.
This morning, four lovely people, showed up in our driveway with video cameras, voice recorders, measuring implements and calculators, to record every detail of the shape, size, plumbness, levelness, and squareness of our house. Hah! They’ve obviously never read one of my favorite poems, Love Song: I and Thou, by Alan Dugan. “Nothing is plumb, level, or square.” Another one that might be my anthem.
Along the way, these nice folks will be doing a property appraisal. And, in a month or two, Consol will make us an offer of a lump sum with a waiver of further responsibility on their part, or we’ll sign papers assigning responsibility for any damage caused by their actions to them, with the further responsibility of fixing it, at their own expense, also assigned to them.
Because sometime this Fall, Consol’s heavy equipment will be driving itself through underneath us, cutting a longwall chunk of coal out from directly below our house, part of a seam 600 feet down. They’ll cut a slice 1,400 feet wide, leaving a six-foot high gap in the earth below us. And one way or another, dirt and gravity being what they are, the house is going to subside into it. It’s likely the water will go, too.
This old house once rang with laughter
This old house heard many shouts
Now he trembles in the darkness
When the lightning walks about.
Oh, there’s been laughter. So much laughter. So much fun. And shouting. We’re a shouting sort of family. When we’re not singing or playing silly word games. And there’s been love. Much love. This house has been a refuge, and place of safety and peace, for untold numbers of creatures both two-legged and four, and I’m grateful for, and proud of, that. But, now, I tremble a bit. And I’m sure the house does too.
(Ain’t a gonna need this house no longer
Ain’t a gonna need this house no more)
Ain’t got time to fix the shingles
Ain’t got time to fix the floor
Ain’t got time to oil the hinges
Nor to mend no window panes
Ain’t gonna need this house no longer
He’s getting ready to meet the saints.
But I am gonna need this house. For the past 32 years, its foundations have been strong, its walls have sheltered us, and its roof has protected us. It’s been here for us, every single moment of every single day. It hasn’t moved. It never took umbrage or let us down just because we didn’t have the time to care for it properly. Its light didn’t fail, even when other lights went out. I find that I don’t want it to collapse around my ears, no matter how much money I make on the deal, or who pays to fix it. I love this place. And I want it to be here for me, and for all those I love (both two-legged and four) next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.
So, hang in there, my poor, not-so-very-old house. I have faith that we’ll make it through this. And, when it’s all over, if you need someone to fix the shingles, fix the floor, oil the hinges and mend the window panes, don’t worry. I’ll find the time. Somehow, somewhere. The saints will have to wait.
Yes. I’ll do it again.
But just this once.
Dateline: November 28, 2020–and, here we still are, this old house and I, still not quite ready to meet the saints, and starting to wind down to the end of one of the saddest and stupidest years I can ever remember. I was right about one thing: the storms of life weren’t over, and now I face them mostly alone. This was my first Thanksgiving, and it will be my first Christmas in over forty years without Mr. Right at my side. Although I’ll be thinking of him, admittedly not with undiluted pleasure in this case, a few days from now when I put the lights on the Christmas tree (we had very different ideas on the subject, and I always let him win). This morning, I received a joyous message from his daughter, singing the praises of her new tree which comes in just four manageable pieces with pre-installed lights whose colors can be “edited” with an app that also controls how they flash and when they turn on and off. Maybe next year. This year, with mixed feelings, and probably some tears, I’ll put the old ones on, one more time. (And probably next year too. And the next. And the next. Sigh.)
On a brighter note, the house didn’t fall into the coal mine. The damage, and there was some, was manageable. We didn’t lose the water (All Hail Harry Lindley, our water witch, whose spirit must have guided the shearer as it removed a huge seam of coal hundreds of feet directly beneath us. (Many around us did lose their water, as can be seen by the number of unsightly, huge water buffalo tanks dotting the landscape.) The ground outside is a bit bumpier and lumpier than it used to be, but “worse things happen at sea” as my sister is fond of saying.
And dagnabbit, I’m actually finishing the house. Painting, drywalling, electricals, all of it. Getting it done. With a little help from Consol, and from my friends.
But just this once.
The best of holiday seasons to all who read this. Illegitimi non carborundum (thanks, Dad for introducing me to one of the guiding principles of my life). Hug your family and hold it close. (If you can’t do it in person, find other ways to do it.) Love your family, your friends, your pets, and all the other two and four-legged beings in your life. Mend fences. Leave nothing to chance. And hope for a safer, happier, more together–in every sense–2021.