As noted previously, I have a son who lives with his lovely wife and two daughters in Charleston, South Carolina. They recently purchased a fixer upper with great potential. The home sits alongside a beautiful marsh and a creek which flows into the Charleston harbor. The home came with a dock that was repaired by the previous owner at the time of purchase, but the long walkway extending out to the dock was badly in need of some work.
When Helen (adorable wife) announced that she was going to Destin with some pals in her pottery class, I offered to help with the repairs for a couple of days then head to Florida to meet her and unwind for a few days. Details of our trip to Florida and the Panama City area are posted in recent articles on Easin’ Along.
The weather was very cold in Eastern Tennessee, but spring was about to erupt in Charleston. The redbuds and wildflowers were in bloom when I arrived and temperatures were in the low 70° range. Our lumber (twenty five – sixteen foot boards) was on site and we were up early the next morning ready to do some sawing and nailing. This would be the first time I had done much in the way of construction since I retired from home building and I was looking forward to a face full of sawdust again.
Our plan was to saw all of the sixteen foot boards into four foot lengths before removing the old boards and nailing the new ones in place. Once we set up and got rolling, we had a stack of boards that were ready to be moved to the dock area. My son had to leave for work responsibilities so I took on the task of moving the boards with the help of my granddaughter’s wagon. Activity was suspended in the late afternoon so that I could enjoy a little granddaddy time with the two girls, but I’m not certain that I could have lifted another board anyway.
On the following day we were blessed with a beautiful morning to begin the task of removing the old boards. I felt fortunate to be there. The view of marsh and the bay was stunning. Pulling up of the old boards was the hardest part of the job and we were very grateful when John, a neighbor came over and offered to help. I owe him.
As the old boards were being removed, I followed along and nailed down the new ones. I had retained most of my tools from my construction days, and having a compressor and a nail gun helped out considerably. I can’t imagine doing this task with an ordinary framing hammer. By the end of the second day, we had replaced one hundred of the old boards and were quite proud of ourselves…until we realized that we still had 275 to go to complete the job. Oh well, we made plans to tackle another phase of this task in April and I’ll be ready to take it on.
Charleston in April is something special…
My construction experience also came into play on another recent occasion. Please read on.
In 2010 I laid down my hammer and left the home building industry after spending nearly 20 years knee-deep in mud and sawdust and having built approximately 125 homes. This was not a decision of choice. The financial crisis created by subprime mortgage lending was life changing for many home builders. Nevertheless, I was one of the more fortunate as I was able to survive and move on with many fond memories of my career. I loved the work and the work was good to me. As a result, I give back whenever I am able to contribute anything gained from that experience.
Habitat for Humanity is a wonderful organization which builds safe and affordable housing in partnership with deserving families in need a decent place to live. For many years our church has participated as one of the volunteer groups that join the construction effort to help reduce labor costs. Volunteers were needed for our 11th house and I was more than willing to assist in any way possible.
The first day of most Habitat building projects is called “Blitz Day” where the objective is to construct the outside walls and install the roof structure and decking. I was assigned the 11 am – 4 pm shift but I couldn’t stay away so I arrived around 10 am to watch the activity and get a whiff of fresh lumber. To me, there is no better fragrance than spruce two by fours… unless there is the smell of hamburgers on the grill. Our volunteer grillmeister, B.T., was already hard at work preparing lunch for both shifts.
Blitz Day turned out to be beautiful and there were smiles all around…including the faces of the prospective new owners who were busy helping out. The morning shift had forty hard-working volunteers and three of the exterior walls had been built and put in place when I arrived. The fourth wall was being lifted when I walked up to take the picture above.
Before lunch was served, Phil, a Habitat official, addressed our group to give a short overview of the Habitat mission and to introduce the soon-to-be owners. This family consisted of a mother and three adult children who had immigrated to America from Liberia, having been displaced by civil war in their native land. Two of the family members expressed their sincere gratitude to Habitat for Humanity for allowing them the opportunity to purchase a home and be involved in the construction. The male member of the family was already working two jobs to keep food on the table, but worked as hard, if not harder, than any of us that day.
After a splendid lunch, a second shift of 35 volunteers returned to the job. My assignment was to install fascia boards on the ends of the roof trusses. It was obvious that I was out of practice as I was continually bending nails instead of driving them straight in but, by the last board, I was back in rhythm. I climbed down from my ladder and strutted proudly while admiring my work. I still had it. The rest of my afternoon was spent handing plywood up to the brave souls installing roof decking. I don’t walk on roofs anymore.
The dedicated Habitat professionals are excellent to work with, and their supervision insured that everything went as smoothly as clockwork. By around 3:30 that afternoon the roof trusses and decking were installed, the unused lumber was covered up, and the new home was swept clean. I was very impressed at how smoothly, efficiently, and safely the entire project had operated. The home is supposed to be completed in two months time, and I have no doubt that the schedule will be maintained.
At the end of the day I shook hands with the new owners and the Habitat staff, returned my hammer to the loop on my tool belt, and slumped into Sophie (truck). While Easin’ Along down the road I acknowledged that I was tired but content. When looking for retirement activity, there is none better than giving back.