Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Home Sweet Home – Always Under Construction
It is unclear if the first building constructed in 1940 on the lot at 928 North George Street was intended to serve as part of the Rapp residence. Probably not. It was built at the back of the lot, a 36ft by 15 ft structure, facing west, with a gabled roof pitched at 3 - 12, no more. There may have been some urgent need to get a temporary shelter done. For some reason the family moved in, occupying only half of the structure, before it was finished in any sense of the word. There were no amenities whatsoever. Water was obtained from the Addy’s well until one could be sunk on our property. As I recall the “house” occupied the northeast corner of the lot, the outhouse sat a few feet away on the southeast corner. Neither my brother Donald nor I have any memory of electric lighting at that time. It is likely that kerosene lanterns served for lighting. What was used for cooking and heating is likewise unknown.
If that original building was not intended as the first installment on the completed house, it very quickly became such. By 1941 foundation pads were poured and the “house” at the back of the lot was moved to the front, using a system of planks and pipe rollers. It was lifted up, using railroad jacks, to sit on piles of cinderblocks stacked on the concrete pads. Another section of house was built on the east side of the original, roofed with a low pitch that rose no more than one foot from its east edge to the point where it intersected with the steeper pitched roof of the original building. The combined structure, now double the size of the original building, was subdivided into six roughly equal rooms – three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and living room. Thus the basic structure that would constitute our house was in place.
But it was not finished. Windows, doors, floors and interior walls, a full basement, all awaited further funds, and thus were completed, over the next several years, as need dictated, and funds appeared. Donald recalls that material for those projects was obtained by mail-order, mostly from Sears and Roebuck. I have no memory of such purchases or deliveries but I trust his memory. The trim around the doors and windows, though, bore greater resemblance to Car Shop material than to anything purchased new. There was undoubtedly a mix of both. The impending war, with the material shortages it engendered, and the ever-present economic distress, dictated in favor of greater use of recycled materials.
One purchase marked the house for all the years that Mom and Dad lived in it. The exterior was wrapped in faux brick siding, an asphalt-based material that came in rolls, three feet wide and several yards long. It was attached to the car siding sheeting with galvanized nails. The new siding may have excited some pride initially, as the fresh faux bricks concealed the rough exterior, but it became an icon of poverty over the years, and was the first aspect of the house to change when it was sold to a grandson fifty-one years later. Dad and Mom had talked of new siding over the years but there was always something else calling more urgently for their attention, and their cash.
It would be impossible to pinpoint the moment when the house ceased to be primarily a “thing in the making,” and began to regress into an object of decay. That moment must have come sometime long before the house reached completion. The struggle to maintain was on long before the struggle to build had ended. Dad chose, voluntarily, to go to a nursing home for his last year so he could be near Mom whose failing health and dementia had taken her there a couple of years earlier. But as strong as the pull was to be by her, there was also a growing realization that the progress of decay in the old place had outstripping his ability to ward it off. He spent a part of his last day at the house, seated, in deference to his failing heart, on a rusty old chair at the fence line, waging a losing battle against a superior foe, fighting to save his garden from encroaching weeds.