Tearing Down the House

By: David Leonhardt

Last year, we bought this big ol' 1887 house. We are just now coming to grips with the magnitude of the 'upgrades' planned.

With a baby on the way and Little Lady all of two years old burning calories faster than pillagers burn the Amazon rainforest, how tough can 'upgrades' really be?

Ever since we bought the house, my wife has been urging me to tear 'that thing' down.

'That thing', at the foot of our lane, had been a shelter to keep kids dry while waiting for the school bus. It had seen better days. Like when paint could still be seen on the wood. Like when it stood upright – taller even than the weeds! – before gravity won the battle.

'That thing' was our very own Roman ruins ... minus the Roman part, of course. So I finally tore it down.

'What?' my wife asked. 'You tore it down?'

'Yup.'

'But how will people find us, now?'

We had used 'that thing' as a marker, even a beacon. 'Turn right on County Road 7, and just keep going until you see the eyesore. You can't miss it. That's us.'

Houses grow and age just like people. Sometimes the old gets in the way of the new.

Sometimes you have to rip things apart to build them up.

Recently, I was ripping apart a couple walls of the soon-to-be nursery. I assured my wife it would be a two- to four-hour job. To avoid inhaling an overdose of plaster dust, she and Little Lady escaped to exile at Grandma's for the afternoon.

Twelve hours later ...

The clock ticked past midnight before those two to four hours showed me mercy. Little Lady and her pregnant mom wisely chose to remain in exile overnight. Instead of resting my weary muscles, I had a jungle of – hack, hack - plaster dust nearly a foot deep to dispose of. Beach party, anyone?

If tearing it all down took so long, how many hours will it take to put up the new walls, including the wall overlooking the staircase? (Did I mention I'm afraid of heights?)

How long will it take to cut and place the trim (baseboards, casing, crown molding, and a new window sill – I broke the old one trying to pry loose a lathe strip)?

How long will it take to hang a new door? To sand the old floor? To clean up the big mess? To lift the wallboard to the second floor? To return to the store for more nails or to replace lumber I wreck or to pick up a few dozen items I forget? To replaster the corners I plaster wrong the first time (and the second and the third and ...)?

I sat my wife down for a heart-to-heart. 'Honey, we have a business to run, a toddler to nurture, family members to help, a house to clean on occasion, and a jungle that will need mowing one of these days. We need ductwork to thaw our bedroom this winter, the foundation needs crack-filling and this nursery would take Hercules many long days of hard labor to complete. I don't know if we can find time for all this before the baby is born.'

'Maybe we should put something off,' my wife suggested.

'Great idea!' I said, looking at my agenda. 'Now, let's see. How long do you want to delay the delivery?'

I ducked just in time.

The easiest thing to reschedule turned out to be my sleep. Right now I have a house to upgrade. There'll be plenty of time for sleep next year. That is, if I don't grow too old in the meantime and need to be torn down myself.

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