Puzzles

If it’s another day, it’s another door and this one’s a doozy. It used to be a door, and then, sometime in the 70’s I think, it wasn’t. Not that it didn’t want to be, the matriarch of the clan that lived here, decided that the welcome hole to the front of the house, was not so welcoming anymore.

She placed a call and had some newfangled plastic siding installed on the wood side of the house. When the installers got to the front door of the house, she told them to keep going, pay no attention to that opening and the front steps that went with it. The story I heard was the kids (teenagers) came home from school one day and the front door was gone. When the mother was asked about it, she told them to go outside and play, and that was that. One of the older brothers confided in me and said the mother was concerned that somebody might get hurt on the front steps, so just cover up the door. My raised eyebrows asked if this was a kinda drastic response to repairing the front steps, he just shrugged his shoulders and told me to go outside and play.

The wood portion of the house was added on to the existing stone house in 1920. We have been told that it was done in time for a wedding to be held in the parlor. From 1878 to 1919, everybody had been crowded into the stone house. It must have felt like getting a whole new place when the addition was finished. We have very few photos of the place, and nobody had the thought to get artsy with any camera they had. A very practical people. So practical that they never fixed anything, just papered, paneled or sided over whatever problems that cropped up.

I am pretty good at reading a house. I have lived in a number of them and because the wife and I are practical people too, I end up fixing them myself. This has allowed me to dig into the details of a building, see who has done what and how. You get the general feeling that a lot of alcohol was consumed during whatever repair that was done. Either that or the homeowner hired an idiot, maybe a hard drinking idiot.

My personal philosophy is to make a repair that is repairable by the next guy. Do it right, but in a way that allows the next guy to work with it and not curse a blue streak while ripping the whole deal out and starting over. I have run across a few repairs, or additions, or work, that were things of beauty. You come across it, look, ponder, smile and ponder while smiling some more. Craftsman worked here. It is fun to look under the skirt of a house that has been taken care of.

Our house is not that kind of house. The boys that put the stones in, good workers, solid work. The people that lived here first and up to the ‘20s, were decent people, hard working and handy. This is where things start to diverge from the happy narrative. Sometime after the house was added on to, hard times came home and the place was rented for awhile and then empty or even abandoned for quite a spell. The Great Depression will do that to a house. By the time we got our turn, there were a lot of deferred maintenance issues popping up.

Which brings us back on track to the front door. It is a door again, or at least a hole in the house that lines up with the front steps that still are not fixed. Back a few years ago, I decided to reclaim the front door. Cut the hated plastic siding and put in a temporary door. At the same time, I gutted the living room. The back wall had been paneled in the past and I hate paneling. I ripped it off the back wall and found some more deferred maintenance and a black snake waiting for me. The boys that installed the plastic siding, did a, shall we say, piss poor job, or just ignored the flashing that rested on the stone foundation and, well, that’s another story. We are here to talk about the front door.

Since we are hell bent to sell this place and move back home to a much colder climate, I needed to tackle the front door. We went to our favorite big box store and picked up a pre-hung door. When I got it home, I took the door off the jamb and re-squared it. Foolish, I know, because there is nothing square or level or plumb on this house.

I next looked at, really looked at, the existing structure of the front door. The more I looked at it, the more I wanted a couple of beers and a nap. When it was built, there was nothing like we have today, weather stripping, insulating foam, even caulk. Nothing. They had tar paper and paint. That was it. And it showed. A little rot here, a bizarre cant that leads to the front sill and no header for the top of the door. Also, no king studs, just some scabs that were nailed to the door frame. If none of this makes sense, that’s ok, it was messing with me too. The guys that put this front door in, did not try very hard to make sure it lasted or was easy to repair.

The more I looked at it, the more it resembled a puzzle. Puzzles are great for people that love them. My buddy Elroy, the Grand Poo Baa of the written word for the High School of USD470, has puzzles out in the Library for the kids to do and they do it with a gusto. He puts out a new puzzle and in a day or 3, it is done. Not by any one person, just anybody that passes by and has a moment. He had tried to entice me to puzzling a time or 2, but I told him I saved my best stuff for 3D life. He gave me that tilt to the head and squinted eye, and I told him that I view life as a puzzle and quite a messy one at that. You never know when you finish one and move on to a harder one. He would shake his head a little, indicating that what I said was probably baloney, and then lead off into some, “that reminds me of” story and, well, I miss you Elroy.

So, this door hole ain’t square, not plumb, no where level. A puzzle. There are no pictures on this post, I was thinking too hard to remember the camera. You will recall the old and trite saying, it takes a village to raise a child, well, sometimes you got to break something to fix something. Yeah, I know.

10:30 am was a low spot in the day. I was stuck on a hard piece, that was the same color as everything else and not on an edge or corner. I went and made me some tea. Sometime, while sipping True Blueberry herbal, it came to me what to do. I had to keep the sill plate and rim joist, fiddly bits of a house, but did not have to respect or reference them.

I hurriedly slurped my tea and went back at the job. Basically blew out the old crap and made my own puzzle pieces. By 4:30, there was a well deserved beer in my hand and I was watching the Mrs paint the new door sill. A light at the end of the tunnel, as they say. Not saying the door is in, but it’s so close it scares me. Next up, lower the back wall back onto the foundation. Another damn puzzle, but that one’s just about finished too.