“Oh, Honey, we could fix this place up, and we’d have our dream home.”  These are words which have often been uttered and just as often regretted.

We have lived in the same house for about 35 years.  We first rented the place, and then in ‘81, we bought it.

We live in a somewhat rural area although we do live in a town, Somerville, Texas, population 1,704. Rent was only $50 per month at first and never went over $75. The house was owned by Mr. Appel, a really nice old gentleman who owned a car dealership in the town of Brenham about fifteen miles south of us. Each time he raised our rent, he apologized profusely.  I did my best to console him. Whenever repairs were needed, he came himself and did the repairs. When the house needed painting, he painted the house himself by himself. I began to understand why he was so wealthy: he was  a living testament to waste not, want not.

In 1980 an oil boom began in our area. I suppose I might still be renting if this had not happened. I knew the old guy was a little long in the tooth, and I knew his sons would not rent the property for $75 a month. I asked the old gentleman if he had ever considered selling the property. He said he hadn’t, but he might. He suggested that I get someone to place a value on the property, and he would do the same. The figures we came up with were only $500 apart. I told him that he actually had a larger lot than he knew; he thanked me but did not alter the cost. Within a few months, we signed the papers for the agreed upon amount of $18,000, an astonishingly low figure even in the early 80’s. Ten years later the house was paid for.

I have had bad experiences with banking institutions. One banker wanted me to put up my automobile for what I considered a signature loan of $600. I put up my car, got the loan, walked over to a cashier, and closed my bank account.  This wasn’t the last banker I had difficulty with. I probably went fifteen years without a bank account. Everything was handled using cash and money orders. I know all of this sounds a little left handed, but handling cash gives transactions an entirely different feel. It keeps one grounded.  Finally my poor wife said she really needed a credit card. We got one. Later she requested a bank account. Reluctantly I agreed.  Financing the house was, as expected, difficult, but we accomplished the financing we needed.

The house, because it is within two blocks of the railway tracks, was probably one of the earliest homes built here. Several years ago at an annual homecoming meeting an old guy in his 90’s was talking about the early days in Somerville. He said the first homes were built on the east side of the tracks, but after a couple of bars were built on the west side, so were the homes. He also told us about the first movie he ever saw in Somerville. He said a traveling show came through town that showed a motion picture in a tent. He was just a little boy and didn’t have the money for admittance, so he and a friend sneaked in under the tent behind the screen and viewed the movie from the back of the cloth. He paused a moment trying to remember the name of the movie; he finally thought of it: The Great Train Robbery.

Back to the house. It was a house at least 70 years old: pier and beam construction: lap siding: transoms along the hallway which once dissected it: a bathroom had been placed midway through the hallway: two bedrooms on one side: a living room, dining room, and kitchen on the other. The interior walls are board on board, no two x fours. The outside walls contained two x fours that are actually two x fours rather than 1 1/2 x 3 1/2. Behind the home was a garage that only a T-model would fit in. There was a concrete front porch and a concrete back porch used as a utility room. I don’t think the concrete porches were part of the original construction. The best part of the home was and is a huge oak tree in the front yard. Each spring I am anxious to see if it blooms another year. It bloomed again this year.

After the purchase was complete, I knew the only way I was going to have a decent house was to remodel it myself. My first experience with a contractor was with a leveling company. Upon giving me an estimate, I told the fellow that he had just put me in the leveling business. I bought hydraulic jacks and spent a summer under the house by myself. Although it was never absolutely level, I declared it level and moved on to the next step. I took a chain saw to the board on board wall separating the living room from the dining room. It was the one interior wall that was not a bearing wall. The new living room area took not only the summer but also the winter. We damned near froze that winter because of the air leaks. But, it was finally completed, and the Lord said it was good. What I learned from this room was that one does not need blueprint plans if one moves as slowly as I did. There was plenty of time to think of the next move.

The next summer I changed the location of the back door and remodeled the kitchen. The thing I learned doing this room is that the first thing one should do is to have good lighting in a room one is working on. Once I got good lighting in the room, I had a lot of corrections to make, but I did complete it in one summer.

The next summer I worked on our bedroom. The thing I learned that summer is that it probably doesn’t pay to hire a friend to do work. He had lost his job and needed the work. I soon learned that he really wasn’t familiar with woodworking tools. After giving him instructions on how to use a belt sander, I set him loose with it to sand a board which was to be part of a door facing. I heard the sander sanding away for about two minutes followed by a telling silence. We just used the other side of the board. He was good company for the summer, and we remained friends. I guess that counts for something.

The next summer I worked on the guest bedroom. All I learned that summer was that a cat who is interested in your work can be a good buddy all summer long. He always showed up on time, earned the nickname of the “old inspector,” and didn’t seem to be bothered by my occasional fits of cursing.

Somewhere during this time, I remodeled the existing bathroom and two short hallways. The bathroom needs it again. The only thing I can say about this experience is that I learned I really hate plumbing.

The old rooms were finished; time to add rooms. The combination of sandy soil and a railroad track within two blocks make foundations pretty iffy. On the add on, I used 8x8x16 concrete piers with 4x16x16 bases placed in 60 lb. of Sakrete every four feet. This may sound excessive, but believe me, it’s not. The rooms I added were a small bedroom, a sewing/doll room, a utility room, a 30 foot porch, a small studio for me, and a nice-sized bathroom accessible from the master bedroom. I thought it would take a couple of years. Five years later, I dropped my hammer and declared it finished.

I’m glad I took on the project of remodeling the house; yes, it was an example of a person becoming obsessed by a project, but it was worth it to me...I guess. When young couples visit us and see what we’ve done with our home, one always says to the other, “Oh, Honey, we need to do this.” I try to discourage them from even thinking about it. I encourage them to contract with someone to build them a new home unless they are willing to put up with many inconveniences, a continuous out flow of money, and no chance to separate themselves from the project.

Plumbing, I hate: it’s so unforgiving. Electrical is okay; I always forgot from summer to summer how to do wiring. I blew up a few things along the way, but no one died. I finally realized that my hands seem to remember better than my head. Woodworking: I love the smell of sawdust in the morning. The one thing I learned from woodworking is that the Lord truly hates a straight line.

What I didn’t do was carpeting. It’s too simple to have someone come in and finish a room off in about half a day. Sewage lines really require more than one person. The roof I had done: I contracted with a fellow who was familiar with metal roofing, had the world’s fastest crew of Mexicans, and bid $2000 less than the next bidder. The contractor was a very ethical man, and I had him come back and replace the roofing I did on the add-on to our home.

Someone asked me why I decided to use a metal roof. I replied that there is nothing sadder than a poor old widow woman with a leaky roof.

The last thing I did to the house was to water blast, hand sand, seal, and paint the outside of the house. This reminds me of a local ex-con handyman who came to my door one day to inform me that people were talking about how bad my house looked on the outside. He obviously wanted to correct the problem for a modest fee. I courteously told him that I did not live on the outside of my house, and other people’s opinion meant nothing to me. He didn’t come back, and other people’s opinions still mean nothing to me, and I still don’t give a damn.

I had more than one person upon seeing our home say to me that I should do remodel jobs for a living. Sadly, I had to tell them that at the rate I work, I would starve to death...all too true.

I do remember enjoying going at the beginning of each summer to all the area’s lumber yards and home suppliers to see what was new for the year. I do look at some areas of the house and wonder how the Hell I was able to accomplish that alone. I decided some years ago that how the pyramids were built is no mystery: one determined guy named Bob built them alone.

You might wonder where Linda was during those ten years. She occasionally contributed some physical labor; however, her main job was having faith in me, not an easy task.

I guess if anyone asks me what I did in my 40’s, I can begin with “First I bought a house.”


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