My husband loved comedy. Years ago he found out one of his favourite stand up comics was in a new show. He was giddy with anticipation. Tim Allen played the lovable but bumbling Tim Taylor and we never missed an episode of Home Improvement. The character Tim was always wrecking something as he looked for ways to improve upon things that didn’t need improving. In the end, his quest for “more power” often led him to the next door neighbour who would try to guide Tim with wisdom. Tim inevitably received the right message in the wrong way. It was a charming show.
My first foray into the land of home improvement was soon after we purchased our first home. Up until then my gardening had all been in plastic planters on the huge patio of our ground floor apartment. Now I had a yard and I set out to plant a garden. I bought some 4×4’s and proceeded to build flower beds with my limited tools and knowledge. I am not one to wait until my husband gets around to doing things. I just jump right in. Well, it wasn’t going well and my husband came home from work and stopped to watch my progress. He didn’t say much but I heard him snicker a bit. After swallowing my pride I asked for assistance and that’s when I learned you can’t nail into a knot in the wood. It is hard like a diamond. News which would have helped earlier but he pitched in and in time we had some lovely beds that we built together. More him than me but I have always felt I was more suited for management material.
Having bought an old home whose decor was original ugly, we soon set out to fix it up. With little cash we took on tasks that we could do ourselves or were inexpensive. We were not often in agreement with our priorities but with my mother’s wisdom and my innate sneakiness, I managed to get my wish list under way a bit sooner. I wanted a deck in the back yard but he thought it was too expensive and a lot of work. So, one day I called a local lumber yard and explained what I planned to build. I gave them measurements and after a few questions the man gave me a price and said he would have everything I needed delivered Friday afternoon. I called my Dad and asked for his help and as he is not one to interfere, I told him Rene’ wanted his expertise as my Dad had once worked as a carpenter. I then called my husbands brother who is a pain sometimes but he was a hard worker and I knew he would be respectful to my Dad and bow down to the old guys role of foreman. When we arrived home from work Friday afternoon my husband was surprised to see this massive pile of lumber sitting in our back alley beside the back fence. As he drove into the garage he wondered aloud about the pile. It never occurred to him it was ours. That is when I told him we were building a deck that weekend and that I had already organized the work party. He wasn’t pleased with me initially but in the end, two days later, we had a beautiful deck that lasted well over thirty years. It was the first time I tried that trick but it certainly wasn’t the last. Poor boy. He never saw it coming. This job showed us the need for more tools. My Dad had everything but Rene’ saw the usefulness of owning some of these items. And so our collection began.
My Father shared tools and know how but my mother on the other hand, gave advice. If you want something and your guy isn’t keen on the idea, don’t nag. Simply mention it now and again in an offhand manner. In time he will have your idea in his mind without understanding why. She calls this planting the seed. A nice word for manipulation. Sounds crazy but it works. After awhile, not only does it become his idea, it becomes the best idea there ever was. It may not be exactly what you want. There may be a bit of compromise or give and take but in the end you will be able to cross things off the wish list. This is how I had my horrible 1970’s ugly basement renovated. It was cold due to no insulation but more importantly it was just so awful. The fake wood wallboard and orange flowery wall paper did not bring back fond memories. Rather it just added to the overall unpleasantness when coupled with the smell of mildew kept the basement off limits for a growing family. Insulation can bring down the heating bill though right? So I got him where it hurt. In the wallet. Insulation is cheap. So is drywall. So down came the fake wood wall board and very soon the drywall and insulation was delivered and stored in the garage. Now I have to say I learned lots on that project. As I helped him carry drywall into the house, he said that this was going to be a real test for our marriage. I laughed. Understand this! It isn’t a joke. It only took a few days before we realized only one of us could be in the basement at a time. Opposites attract but they don’t always play well together. No matter what, even with the bickering and butting of heads, my initial plan worked. I couldn’t let it rest though. Stage two was about to commence. The lights and switches were awful. So… I suggested perhaps re-doing the wiring and getting a new electrical box. Since the walls were open. After all, half of his friends were electricians. He fell for it again. It was a bit more costly than originally planned but in the end it was great. And it really did warm the basement up a lot. It became the hub of the home and when baby three came along, his 11 year old sister was excited about her new huge basement bedroom. More power tools were acquired and the collection grew.
While I was home after the birth of baby number three I became quite disgusted with the carpets in my home. I knew there were hardwood floors underneath so I called a guy for a quote, arranged a time for him to do the floors. My husband came home from work that afternoon to find all of our carpet and underlay strewn across the front yard. You can live in a house you hate when you work all the time. But when you have to look at it day after day… Something just goes boom in your brain. So we moved everything into the basement and the garage and we went on holidays for a week. The floors were amazing. Of course all of the baseboards and casings had to be replaced. It seemed as if the logical thing to do was to replace the doors on the main floor as well. The old ones just didn’t go did they?
In time we bought our first rental property and that is where we learned the most about what to do right, wrong or otherwise. We both had full time jobs so we did sometimes have to hire people but over time we found it was cheaper to do things ourselves and we were usually faster. Again the tool collection grew. My presents for birthdays, mothers day and just sometimes a just because day often were tool related. My first power tool was a miter saw. It was my pride and joy. One day our garage was broken into and all that was stolen was tools. My miter saw was gone. The police officer was a little confused by my tears until my husband told him it had been a present. I think that confused the officer even more. My hubbies heart was also broken as the ratchet set his father had given him was also gone. My father in law had died many years before and silly as it sounds the ratchet set was dear to him.
So we set about replacing the stolen items and somehow ended up with even better stuff. And since we were older and not quite as poor we filled in the gaps and more power tools were introduced. However now everything was stored in the laundry room. Not optimal but there was no way my husband was going to let the new stuff get away. He figured even if the house was robbed they wouldn’t go to a lot of trouble to haul heavy power tools out of the basement. I really understood that logic because I HATED carrying those tools up and down. Sheesh. It was great that we bought all of those things though. Our daughter owned a house down the street. We helped her buy it when she was eighteen. It was to discourage her from moving home but in the end it was such a financial blessing for her. She worked so many jobs and had so many room mates just to stay afloat. Living on rice and not much else she seldom asked for help. In time she was married with a child and moved to Las Vegas with her small family. Upon her return to Canada they decided to sell their home as her husbands new job took them to a city two hours away. Renting the home out hadn’t worked well when they were in Vegas so they decided they didn’t want to go down that path again. My husband and I decided to help them renovate after a meeting with the realtor. It was such a big project but in the end well worth it. We donated our labour while they paid for the materials and it was fun. Everyone took turns working as someone had to care for the baby. We were so pleased with ourselves that one day when it was all done we were enjoying a beer on the front deck and Rene’ said, “We should buy a fixer upper and do this again.” Then we both laughed because we knew we couldn’t do it. This had been a labour of love to help our daughter and son in law. Our son in law was sceptical at first but our daughter knew it was going to be great. And it really was. Just like her father, my daughters husband was over ruled and manipulated. My daughter also learned from her grandmother.
My own home has been transformed over and over since those first days. I have had three kitchens in thirty odd years. I am already tired of the new one. Main floor bath has changed three times. Hardwood floors have been refinished twice. Two different front decks. Two different back decks. Main floor doors replaced twice including closets. All of the rooms have been painted and repainted so many times that rooms are getting smaller. Windows and outer doors replaced twice. New insulation and siding. Twice. Well, the insulation just once. Interior doors and closet doors also replaced twice. A gas fireplace and built-in bookshelves in the living room. A clawfoot tub from my childhood home was refinished twice and sits in my bathroom. We even added on a cantilever in the dining room to accommodate my grandmothers buffet because the room was too small before. Every room in my home has changed purpose so many times it just isn’t funny. And through it all the tool collection grew.
Then one day I became a widow. For three months I locked myself away in the basement, eating chips and feeling so sad. I gained twenty five pounds and lost my will to do anything. Then one day I went into the spare bedroom in the basement. I was looking for something and under the bed I found all of the laminate flooring we had purchased and never installed. By the end of the day the bedroom was empty and I had ripped out all of the old flooring and sub floor. For over a year I worked in my basement. It was the beginning of Covid and frankly I was saved from seeing people. But I was on a mission of sorts. All the flooring was replaced. The entire basement. The stairs took forever. New stringers are hard. Doors were lowered as the old sub floor was made with two by fours. New casings. Baseboards. And one day the basement bathroom was gutted. To the studs. I even jack hammered out the cement floor so the plumbing could be moved. Doors stripped and restained. I even redid some heating vents. I tackled the garage and moved all of the tools out. Reorganized and found 9 measuring tapes. The back fence blew over and needed replacing but I decided on a plastic fence so that cost me. I wasn’t ready to try that on my own. It is lovely.
That beautiful deck we built so long ago. It held up on top but it is ground level and the beams underneath were rotting. With a heavy heart I set about pulling it up. It took all summer as I measured and remeasured. I used deck blocks this time to save the support beams. A bit at a time. Slowly it was transformed. I changed the size a bit and the configuration. One day I watched a you-tube video on how to attach all of the cross members. Very informative and helpful but then… The fellow held up this little itty bitty thing and said… “You can nail all of those in with a hammer but if you can find one of these, I highly recommend it.” A palm-nailer! He proceeded to use it and I was enthralled. How had I never ever seen this before? I swear it took me all of twenty seconds to grab my purse and keys and head to Lowes. It wasn’t cheap my new favourite power tool. The man in the store was sceptical. He pointed out that I needed a compressor to use the thing. Duh! I have a compressor. This guy didn’t know who he was dealing with. I couldn’t wait to get home and use this magical thing. Oh my gosh it was such a dream tool. Rene’ would have loved it. That day I felt the rush my hubby felt every time he got a new power tool and did his Tim the tool man Taylor grunt. I felt him there beside me looking at my partially finished deck. Holding my new palm-nailer. Feeling pride at what I had made.
I didn’t quite finish the deck this summer. There is a small bit on the side of the hot tub that needs to be finished. The weather has changed so I will stain and protect it next spring. There are a few little things left to finish in the basement and in the garage. Final touches. You know, the stuff that gets put off. I saved all of the top two by sixes from the old deck and planed them down to remove the old stain and yuck. It is beautiful reclaimed cedar and next year I will replace all of my raised beds with this lovely stuff. These boards still have something to give me and it is still a reminder of the deck we built long ago. His hands touched them. The holes from the old screws were made by him. Keeping busy saved me. Maybe I put off my grieving for awhile because it really hit me hard the second year. I think I needed to have something take my mind off of it so I was able to be there for my kids. So my grief was pushed aside. But I am so grateful that I had that time to myself. Keeping my hands and mind busy. It all started all those years ago. The reno’s. The tools. Getting me ready for this time in my life.
A couple of weeks ago I was putting all of the tools away in the garage. The miter saw sits on top of a work bench because I am unable to fit into any of the cupboards. It isn’t the original but it represents a time for me. Memories. More so than any other tool. A beautiful life shared with a great guy. I lay the palm nailer on top of the saw. I’m not sure where it goes but for now it will stay there. They represent the beginning of a life together and the beginning of a life alone. As I lock the door and head into the house I realize I am grateful for both. I have learned that life goes on. Life is good.