One of the latest Art House Co-op projects is Letters To Home – What would you say to your childhood home? The first thing that came to mind was the house my dad built – I should say my parents as certainly they both worked equally as hard to get the project completed but the reality is it was my Dad’s dream and my Mom’s support made it happen.
I think my father had dreamed of building a house for many years. When I was 5 he made his dream come true. He had blueprints, a building site and a vision. At some point he hand carved and hand colored a foam model. We had it for years until it started to disintegrate. I loved that model. It didn’t look anything like the final house. It was a two storey Tudor design with felt tipped marker drawn timbers.
Building a house sounds easy but it turns out it’s the experience of a lifetime. All the decisions that you make only to find out that there was another way, an easier way or sometimes a better way.
My father is the ultimate renaissance man, in another time he probably would have built the house completely on his own or with the help of a few family members. As it was he did most of the plumbing and the electrical work, he built the frames for the footings for the foundations. I remember the day they were poured. It was so exciting for both him & me. I helped of course in my 5 year old way. I’m sure I helped a lot.
My father had the dream of having a pond at the front of the house so he had a concrete pool built. Then he designed for a bridge to go over which led to the front door to be made of two thick concrete slabs. The day the heavy pre-formed concrete arrived my father was away at work. He had a full time job as a professor. So my mom got to be the on-site boss. When the crane dropped the concrete pieces into place she thought it looked wrong. There was a big cleft, a hole, left in the center. She was sure it couldn’t be right. So she instructed the crane operator to flip one over. Guess what, concrete pieces are reinforced so that they support the weight on one side. It cracked in half. When my father got home they had 3 pieces of walkway instead of two. They re-flipped the broken piece and somehow fit it back together. They made it work. But I will always remember the big crack and how it got there. When they filled the pond finally, it flooded the basement. A minor mistake in calculations. They fixed that too. The basement had another unfortunate pool too, when the foundation was dug they hit groundwater. That was another challenge to solve. Nothing was ever impossible, only a mild setback.
My father dreamed of a white marble fireplace for the living room which would reach right up to the cathedral ceiling. He made it happen renting an arc welder to make the frame and ordering the big slabs. The sparks from the welder burned holes in our couch which was sitting under plastic in the living room.
When we moved in the house wasn’t completely done. I remember the gold foil wallpaper they picked for the powder room in which had globes on it. The new furniture that was ordered in green naugahyde for the family room to match the green plaid carpet.
The house was more than a house because it was the house my dad built. I turned 6 in that house. My grandmother bought me my very first bicycle, it was pink and purple and had a basket. My wonderful parents let me choose a puppy, a cocker spaniel. He lived for the first weeks of his life with us in a refrigerator box in the kitchen. The linoleum floor in shades of gold and brown was slippery and when he tried to walk on it his little legs would slide out from under him. That year I was the Queen of Hearts for Halloween, my mom made my costume. I remember being at the front door to greet the trick or treaters. Our neighbors had kids. I remember going to their house for lunch. Grilled cheese sandwiches and canned tomato soup. I’d never had canned tomato soup before. My grandfather had worked at Campbell’s Soup and my mother never served it as she had a great distaste for it. I went to my first rock concert at the CNE grandstand that year.
The thought, energy and attention to detail that went into the building of a house, did not escape the wide eyes of my 6 year old self. Even the landscaping was down with great care.
The back patio was made of huge pieces of flagstone. I remember the trials and tribulations of choosing the stone and getting it set. I think the patio is still there. I hope so. The house is still there, it still has the same carriage house light fixtures my mom and dad chose for the garage. The little tree that my parents planted in the front is now a huge fir tree.