When we bought our house, we took a bank loan so that we could pay to have a few renovations done in the house (like updating the electricity from the vintage 1930s original to a less combustible 21st century version). We also indulged in the luxury of having an inexpensive handy man do a few of the repairs like putting up new drywall on our ceilings to cover the previous owner’s failed home improvement attempt to hide an uneven and sagging ceiling with “cottage cheese” plaster. (Picture a failed attempt to replicate the surface of the moon… complete with craters.) And, well, that just wasn’t the aesthetic we were going for.
So, while I replaced the boards in the windows with glass and my husband was resurfacing the floors, someone else was breaking his neck putting up a beautiful, perfectly-smooth, new ceiling.
I don’t know how many months we’d been in the house when we ran into a teeny tiny little problem. So small that, not only had it escaped our attention, but later I made countless life risking attempts to pinpoint it to no avail. It was a hole. In the roof. And, it took just one huge thunderstorm to bring it to our attention. In a big way.
At first, a big bubble (not unlike the underside of water balloon the size of a bathtub) formed on the ceiling as the wall paint which I’d ignorantly applied (who knew you needed porous paint on ceilings to let water escape? –not me) slowly stretched under the weight of enough rainwater to take a frugal bath. I helplessly watched it grow while extending and straining the phone cord as far as possible so that I could peer through the bedroom door to better describe the situation to my husband who was missing out on the event because he was at work. One son balanced on my hip and another with his arms wrapped gently around my leg, I looked to see what was directly under the balloon. The bed, of course. And, just as I realized that I’d better quickly make a little hole in the paint to drain the water, it burst. Not just the paint. No, the spongy water-logged brand new drywall came down in a huge “splosh” all over the brand new mattress.
I decided that the best thing to do at that moment was to cry.
I, and my troop of little men, solemnly followed the phone cord back into the study to replace the receiver into the cradle where I discovered the events of the bedroom had simultaneously unfurled there. Where there had once been a lovely smooth ceiling, there was now a gaping hole into the attic.
I was suddenly too melancholy even to cry. I took solace in the fact that our most treasured possession, a wooden antique Eiffel Tower that my mother-in-law had given us, had sustained only minor damage. Otherwise, I was numb.
My husband returned early from the university and we cleaned up the mess together. Silently.
Weeks later (when the mattress finally dried with a Jackson Pollock-esque mildew stain) we would lay in bed early in the morning nestled up with our two little baby birds, who had awakened us by crawling into our nest. The four of us would just gaze up at the gaping hole where our lovely smooth ceiling had once been.
We couldn’t afford to have the ceiling fixed.
My husband did go up in the attic armed with a caulking gun to attack more holes. He came down hours later but his work was to little avail. We learned later that the former owners had installed the tin roof themselves. Apparently whenever they missed a beam, they simply moved the screw without worrying about the holes they were leaving behind.
We couldn’t afford to fix the roof either.
So, I made countless trips up on the rooftop with a make-shift repelling belt fashioned out of my Moby baby carrier and a rope. It may be a one story bungalow but I treated each trip as if I were scaling Everest and fronting danger. (Trust me, being on a tin roof is scarier than it looks from the ground). On the times my husband oversaw the mission, he would hold the ladder at the ground and I would relay my progress to him as though he were ground control in Houston: “I’m now preparing to step off the ladder onto the roof.” “Can you hear me?” “Here I go.” “Are you ready?” and so forth. When I finally returned to earth, reporting that this time “I really think I got the hole”, my husband would lovingly tease me about my moon landing.
That may have been when we discovered that one of the best things about our house is the neighbors. You couldn’t hope for a kinder, warmer group of people.
Word of my life-risking heroic feats as an explorer of the outer reaches of space and the world’s most formidable peaks got around and the next thing I knew we had an airplane engineer on the roof, just one of our wonderful neighbors. Apparently we needed some sort of rubber boot thing-a-majiggy around some sort of pipe that ventilated the bathroom adjoining our bedroom. As for the study leak, well eight years later the exact location of that hole still remains a mystery.
More months went by and I just never got used to the huge holes in the ceilings of the bedroom and study. I mean, you would think I would get used to it. But, no.
With my grandmother, who was the daughter of a prestigious Chicago family, coming for a visit in just a few weeks, I begged my husband to put a few hundred dollars on our credit card so that we could get at least the bedroom hole fixed.
Desperation struck, again it pushed me to expand my self-conception to include carpenter-ceiling repair woman. A few You-Tube videos, a lot of cursing and less than $100 later and you could barely tell the incident had ever happened (except if you turned on a light).
Sometimes I surprise myself with the things I can do.