Journalcalling #4: Construction – not for the right-brained

Journalcalling   •   July 27, 2020

My husband and I have been remodeling the old fishing shack that is our home for about seven years. On weekends, paid carpenters are sometimes unavailable. That is when I am pressed into service. I do enjoy the idea of helping out.

My strengths are as a gopher, sweeper, and trash hauler during demolition. I have learned how to identify certain tools that go beyond hammer, nail and wrench. I fetch C-clamps, t-squares, a variety of screws and the dreaded and essential screw gun. Operating that tool is where I have been unable to shine.

Peter has taught me how to position the end of a screw onto the drill bit and how to push my weight into it. At times, usually when he is not looking, I have managed to spin a few of the 3½ inch screws through plywood or a 2×4. Yes! That ziiiii-iip is immensely satisfying.

More often, as I try to make contact, the long screw wobbles and falls away from my target onto the floor. When I do land one, and the boards somehow shift out of their “plumb” position, I know to click the drill’s reverse button, and try to back it out before being seen. But, I usually miss and slam the drill bit against the board. My herky, jerky stopping and starting maneuvers soon prove too painful for my husband to watch, and I hear The Sigh.

“Back up,” he says. “I’ll do it.”
This is a job site and things can get brusque. I have learned not to show up wearing shorts and sneakers or suggest we listen to a little Carly Simon rather than the industrial rock of Nine Inch Nails. I sport a tool belt, knee pads and even a respirator mask when things get dusty; I am an unglamorous version of Rosie the Riveter.

My general contractor/husband takes the time to explain the framing we are doing at the entrance to our new kitchen as if I am a promising, long-term employee. I nod as he identifies jack studs, the stud pocket, (is he trying to seduce me?) and a gable wall. When he sees my eyes glaze over, he mutters, “right-brained,” and moves on.

He runs a safety training company today, but he got his start as a cabinet maker after enjoying a carpentry class in high school. At 18, he started his own company with a buddy and hired his shop teacher to work for him. Later, he ran a kitchen and bath remodeling company for many years, and lucky for me he seems to understand how every system in a house works. He also has the skills to frame one. He is astonished that we can’t all read between the ¼ inch marks on a ruler.

I can read the bubble on a level pretty well, but on our job site I sometimes fail to anticipate what tool or action is needed next. I’m on the step ladder holding the 6-foot level and admiring an aerial view of my gardens noticing where I need to weed or cut back perennials that have already bloomed.

My most impressive work was helping to install the joists and carrier beams that would hold up the first floor. But as part of the demo, we had to lasso and bring down a monstrous beam that was holding up the old floor.

The beam was gouged and charred from a fire before we lived here which made it appear even more ominous. I focused intently on the directions Peter delivered which had some geometry involved and seemed way too do-or-die. He placed a loop of rope around my waist and hoisted his Sawzall.

“When I get to three, you need to pull really hard on the rope because if this thing lands on you….”
I looked at my spaghetti string arms and hated the idea of being crushed in my basement among the cat litter boxes.

I yanked with all of my might until the huge post slammed to the cement floor in front of me.
“It worked!” Peter exclaimed, jubilant.
He grinned at me.
Exhausted and thrilled to be alive, I start to cry.

“Alright,” he said. “Take a short break.”