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One Thing that Hasn’t

Changed about Our House

            The other day, Jeanne and I were working together on something, which is not a common happenstance. Not because we don’t like to work together, or don’t work well together, but because she still has a full-time job, and — well, I won’t dig that hole any deeper.

            But wrestling that tarp-full of the remains of our perennial bed into the back of my pickup reminded me of a night 34 years ago or so, early on in our marriage, and the digging of the Money Pit that has been our home. We were getting ready to build our first deck, and had to get rid of the solid concrete set of steps at the back door.

            It was, like the episode alluded to at the opening of this piece, mid- to late-October. Except it was nighttime, with a full moon, or near to it, and the frost nearly on the pumpkin, when we were digging a hole big enough to tip those steps into, and bury them. Did I calculate that hole correctly? When Jeanne’s brother came with the tractor and cable to finish the job, maybe not quite so much. But we got ’er done.

            Which takes me back to the beginning — for me, and this place, at least — which happened 43 years ago this week. In early July 1980, I took the position of editor of the Whitehall Times. At that time, I was living in upper end of Newcomb Valley, town of Arcadia, where I had ended up during my previous newspaper job.

            I spent the first several months of my new gig driving over hill and dale — Newcomb Valley to Plum Creek to Irvin Coulee to Whitehall and back again — sometimes three times a day. That got old before long, and I very early on started looking for a place to live closer to my work.

            I had ended up in that rented, Newcomb Valley, 12 by 50 mobile home — the Tube on Turton, as I had named it — in part because of bad experiences with roommates. Renting had other downsides, too, but the limited rentals available in Whitehall in 1980 led me to look into the opportunities to own a home. Which, before too long, a Farmers Home Administration loan enabled.

            So, on Nov. 1, 1980, I moved into a house that a few months later I would end up owning. (These government programs take time, and patience.) And it wasn’t too long after that that I began trying to convert that Little Old Lady’s Home into my own. (For those readers from the Whitehall area, and of a certain age, it had previously been owned and occupied by Minnie Schultz, a cook at the school, and her family.)

            That remodeling began in 1982, about the time that the Milwaukee Brewers advanced into the Major League Baseball playoffs. Trying to watch those games while working on the first phase of the first Project from Hell — my office/study, which had started out as a front porch and later became a bedroom — resulting in some learning experiences, some in the form of injuries, like digits nearly lopped off with a utility knife.

            My remod, after the removal or wallboard and lath and plaster, also resulted in repainting in color schemes that would appall Jeanne when she joined the Project several years later. Redoing that, continuing to replace the double-hungs with energy-efficient windows, re-siding the exterior, that first deck, a fence to constrain our dogs — there was lots of work. Some of it creating problems further down the road: for instance, the dormer on the north side of the house gained us closet space, but got in the way when we put an addition there.

            Which happened 12 years after I moved into the house. I think part of the plan was to finally have a garage, and not have to park our cars end-to-end in the old driveway on the south side of the house. But it wasn’t long after construction began that I found out we were adding to our family, as well as our house.

            There were more projects resulting from that family addition — a daughter — more of them outside of the house, like a sandbox and a butterfly garden. Adding to the back deck, a detached garage and a pond came in the decade that followed.

            Nearly two decades after we added to the house, we undertook another major project, involving a kitchen redesign, a bathroom remodeling, new flooring and appliances, and a new sidewalk. The basement garage was freshened up, and the detached garage finished off, to accommodate our daughter’s high school graduation party.

            The decade-plus since that event hasn’t seen much change in our house, except for rebuilding the front deck and replacing the steps from the sidewalk to the street. Now, with Jeanne nearing retirement, and uncertainty about where we should live after that, we are hesitant to put much more effort and money into our home. But it seems likely that in a few years we will be selling and moving out, and moving on.

            That will be tough to do — and not just because of having to deal with what we (mostly me, admittedly) have accumulated over four-plus decades. I look back at what it was that I moved into on Nov. 1, 1980, and what it has become, and am amazed how much it has changed.

            But what hasn’t changed is that it is, and has been, for four-plus decades, home.

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