It was 1958, an innocent time. The Korean War had ended five years before, there were no Green Berets or ugly Americans in Vietnam, I had a beautiful wife and daughter, with a son destined to be born in my newly purchased house.
So it was natural, in those days, to look for a house we could call our own, but not fix it up because the one we found was near perfect: A Cape-style house in Plainville, Conn. It had asbestos siding, but I didn’t know anything about anything then and figured the asbestos cement shingles were good insulation.
Talk about innocent: I was so innocent and ignorant that I was afraid I wouldn’t get a mortgage for the $13,500 price tag, because I was 30, and any long mortgage would bring me into my 70s — way too old for a mortgage. But some nice bankers clued me in, and we moved in, all 3½ of us. My father-in-law, who spent a lifetime in construction, approved the house with one word: Good.
There was nothing wrong with the house, so I roused my latent handyman instincts to fix things that were a little askew.
The heating system was a huge open grille in a tiny central hall above the furnace, with another big grille in the floor in a hall between the upstairs bedrooms. It heated the first floor well, but the bedrooms were mortal cold. I figured those rooms had no air return, so I opened the door at the top of the upstairs and kept the bedroom doors open, for a giant built-in air return. Didn’t work.
Then I found no insulation in the attic, which I immediately put in. That worked. Then instinctively I installed triangular vents in each end of the attic.
These little things stayed my chores for a while, until I did three things that I didn’t have to do, but I wanted to:
First, I took down a supporting wall that needed a new beam to keep it from collapsing. My father-in-law taught me that one, with a very quiet chuckle as he knocked a gaping hole in the wall ankle deep in plaster, then called his daughter to the room: “Is this the wall you want down?”
Second, grandpa, who was a bricklayer in another life, also taught me how to mix mortar as he fixed some little brickwork at the front of the house.
Third, the final project was to build a room in the basement, which was dry in the six years we spent in the house. I put up vertical boards, and a ceiling of Homasote. On the floor, I laid plastic tiles. That was fun, but, as I have learned after 36 years of being a handyman, everything is fun except for ceilings.
All went well until I bought my second house, a 1768 handyman’s horror, which grandpa, who equated age with poverty, tried and failed to talk me out of buying. But that is another story.