Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My Work: City Mice Part 1

Listen to the fiddler play when he’s playin’ ‘til the break of day
Oh me, oh my, love that country pie.
Bob Dylan, Country Pie

Installing an outside faucet for the hose proved to be a bigger job than I wanted. The basement walls of the farmhouse we bought were a foot-thick mass of concrete and rocks. Drilling a half-inch hole took most of the morning.

“Yeah, I built those walls,” laughed Jack when I complained to him, “It took some time, too. When we homesteaded this place, we lived in a tarpaper shack for the first three years while I built the house. We blasted the basement out of bedrock. Granite. Pre-Cambrian shield, the oldest rock on earth. Then I built the forms for those walls. I mixed concrete one wheelbarrow at a time; ten hours a day, seven days a week for four months to fill those forms. Would have taken longer if I hadn’t thrown in all the rocks I could find. My wife, Muriel, helped as much as she could, but she had the baby to look after. I stuck to it, though, and finally we had a basement.

“Then we got a bulldozer to push dirt up around the walls. That’s what made that pond in front of the house now. We almost lost the ‘dozer. It was oozing around in that black jellylike muck. Rubbery clay, squirting out from underneath the treads in big flappy sheets. When we hit the springs under the pond, they began filling the hole with water. We got the ‘dozer out just in time.

“When we started the log framing, I had about ten friends come out from the city to help. Word spread to my neighbor, Asa, who lived a few miles down the road that I was building a house. He came with his two sons in their old station wagon, and in the back of that car he brought 30 pies that his wife had baked for the house raisin’. I guess he expected a bigger crowd.

“We all ate as much pie as we could, about one apiece, and he still had twenty left that he took home with him. I don’t think I ate pie for a month after that.

“We moved in with only the main floor finished and, in some ways, it was the happiest time of my life. One day, though, when I was at work, our daughter crawled over and fell down the basement stairs and was knocked unconscious. Here was Muriel all the way up here, no car or nothing, she didn’t know what to do. One of the neighbors saw her running down the road, crying, with our baby in her arms. She was on her way into town, fifteen miles to get help. I guess the isolation was too much for her. She took our daughter and left me as soon as the house was built.”

Sometimes the country was more than I bargained for, too.

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