On Christmas day while we cooked our ham, a frozen copper water pipe burst beneath our washroom. My son, Ben, scrambled underneath the house to do a temporary fix. (I stayed topside to drop tools and parts to him through a hole in the floor.) Then, before we hung up our overalls, my tired old furnace decided to wheeze cold air. I stoked up the wood stove and plugged in electric heaters to get us through the festive day.
Another memorable Christmas …
I’ve lived in literally dozens of houses in my 58-years: A couple were tiny tear-drop trailers. One house was located in a gated community. As a child, my family lived in Paradise (originally called Pair-of-Dice), then we abandoned California and moved to Oregon to gypsy between ranches with my alcoholic stepfather.
After I married, my bride and I flitted between trailer courts and cheap apartments. I worked at a rescue mission where we bunked upstairs above the residents, and later we upgraded to living in a housing tract. I had three children when we arrived in Alaska, and we wintered in a 20-foot travel trailer until buying a (pre-’64-earthquake) house in Chugiak—where we have lived for 25 years.
I’ve come to understand that a house is much more than paint, siding, and walls, or inlaid flooring and silent-flush commodes. A house should feel safe, with or without high-dollar appliances and light fixtures. No matter how messy or organized it is, a person’s house should be the place to nurture loved-ones and friends.
Some of the houses that I remember bring back a feeling of dread, others a happy sense of freedom and coming-of-age. What happened in those houses, and with whom, makes me sigh with a smile, or makes me feel sick inside.
I love my old Alaska house today. Nothing matches—siding, appliances, or roofing. The flooring is rough, the walls way past needing paint. I have started a dozen-and-one projects in the old house, each abandoned when money ran low or someone needed the space where I was working. I ran out of “round to-its” between my 8th and 12th trip to the midwifery, where I cherished the first squalls of newborn grandchildren. If I get one project done every year, wedged between family emergencies and birthday parties, I’m satisfied.
My wife and I stare at each other in a daze sometimes, while voices chatter in our overstuffed living room. Sons and daughters-in-law do the “cookhouse dance” in our little kitchen (it’s narrow, like an airliner’s galley). Our nicked-up counter tops accommodate cutting boards for salmon, bacon and eggs, caribou steaks, biscuit dough—and little bottoms of kids who sit to “help” Grandma wash dishes.
I hope to remodel my old house in 2014. But I’m also seasoned enough to know that my plans often change like the weather. What I will attempt is to control what happens inside. I’m more determined than ever to keep my house a home that everyone loves to remember.