The first time I saw my house, in a real estate ad, I fell in love with the sweeping yard and wrap-around porch over the walkout basement. But when my husband and I drove up to the home to tour it, we felt turned around. What we’d assumed was the backyard was actually the front. Our house is like that. Unexpected.
We’ve never yet had a home improvement project where a handyman hasn’t said, “I’ve never seen … (insert pipes, flooring, plumbing, etc.) done like that before."
All we knew was that we bought the house from a family who relocated after a year, and they’d bought it from the man who’d built it.
One sultry August evening a few years back, we answered a knock on the front door (the house doesn’t have a doorbell -- I told you: non-conformist) to find a man and woman in their mid-fifties waiting on the other side of the screen. They held motorcycle helmets in the crooks of their arms. The man introduced himself. He’d built the home. Could they take a look around?
We began to lead them, but he knew way more about the house than we did. He pointed to the rustic wood kitchen floor that I’ve always loved for the sheer randomness of the planks. Some stretch as wide as a paperback novel. Some planks are as narrow as an ipod.
Jerry told us the wood had come from his Grandpa’s old farmstead near Willmer, a couple hours west of Minneapolis. He’d helped take the barn down and kept the wood in storage till he could build this home. Because we’re basically built into a hillside, Jerry had brought boulders from the farm to make a huge retaining wall in the front yard. Then he’d made a bigger wall in the back. All this was done after working shifts as a St. Paul policeman, a 40-minute commute from our home.
We walked through every room and he had a story of what he’d envisioned; what he’d built. The master bedroom was designed to capitalize on the treetop views of the sloped front lawn. It’s like living in a tree house. In the family room he’d hand laid the brick fireplace. Jerry knew every nail in the wall and he’d installed every kitchen cabinet. By the time we’d wandered down to the lower level I felt like an interloper. I was ready to pack a couple bags and hand him the keys. His claim to the home seemed to dwarf our meager hold, having only raised our three sons there.
“Why did you ever sell?” I asked him, as he slid his hand along the oak banister, more wood from Grandpa’s homestead.
“Well, the wife hated the house. Never wanted the kids to ride their bikes down the steep driveway. Didn’t like the neighborhood.”
I turned to the quiet woman standing beside him. “You didn’t like it here?” I asked her.
She shook her head dismissively and held up her hand. “I’m the second wife.”
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