This is a story of a wonderful time with my son that I hope to never forget
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While I was living in my little cabin Mike and I would keep in touch via a small cell phone I bought at Wal-mart. I had to walk a mile or two along the road to a high point and stand on a large rock to get reception. We didn't talk long, my only reason for calling was to see if we could get together for a mondo burrito at Taco del mar. He would tell me of the many jobs he had been up to, and a few he had coming up.One of those jobs was siding an old two story farmhouse outside the city limits of Enumclaw.
He said he could use a hand with it, and the thought of us working together sounded great. I told him I would be there by 7:00 on the morning we were to start. My hope was to hang out with my son for a week or two, cook him breakfast, and hold up the other end of the board. It was early summer and the weather was cool and cloudy. Mike had a giant dumpster hauled in and we began tearing off the cedar shingle siding.
The new Hardiplank siding would look much better when we were all done. We started on one side of the house and soon had a big mess of shingles scattered over the yard. When breakfast time came we just kept working. Mike kept removing the shingles and I went to work cleaning up the yard. As I made trip after trip to the dumpster I realized this was more intense then I had first expected. I had no intention of stopping, my son needed some help with this and I enjoyed working with him. Eventually the old siding would be stripped away and we could begin the job of laying up the long slabs of Hardy plank.
As I returned from one of those trips to the dumpster I saw Mike gazing down at the corner of the house near the foundation. I had seen that look on his face before and wasn't surprised to also see a measure of rot on the boards beneath the siding. On one hand I wanted him to just move on with the work, but I knew he wouldn't. On the other hand I wanted him to do a good job. The only solution to the problem would be to tear off the sheathing and replace the rotting studs with new ones. I was able to get him to stop long enough to go inside and discuss the matter over breakfast.
The next three months were spent staying at this house doing the repairs. These are some short stories of our time together there. About two weeks into the job of tearing off the 2x6 tongue and groove sheathing I was alone on the back side of the house on some scaffolding Mike had rented. I was in the treetops with the rain coming through wondering why I was up here all alone. Just one more board I said to myself then I'd climb down, go inside, and ask him why he is not out here with me to enjoy the work experience. Climbing down was a chore in itself, and it wasn't as if I disliked the work, I just didn't feel like being treated like cheap labor with me.
When I finally made my way down I found him in the kitchen scratching away on a piece of paper with a carpenter's pencil. I stood there for a moment, but he didn't seem to acknowledge my presence. With a firm voice I asked him if he had any intention of coming out to help with work anytime soon. His answer was that he was doing the calculations in regard to the amount of new 4x8 tongue groove plywood the job would take. I felt as if the job had changed from me just helping out a little, to me doing a lot of the grunt work alone. I told him that if I was going to do a workmans job it was time we talked about a workmans wage. He looked at me as if I had just kicked his dog, and then asked me with a worried crack in his voice"how much do ya want".
I hesitated to tell him the truth of how much this kind of labor would cost because I knew he would choke on the price. Finally after what seemed like a long time I shot him a conservitive figure of a thousand dollars. His jaw dropped open so far I could see his breakfast and I knew it was the word "thousand" that was going to be so hard to swallow. The only word he could come up with was a loud, firm WHAT ! I wagged my head back and forth as I thought about how much he needed me. I told him I could go back to the original role of just helping him hold up the other end of the board and cooking dinner every once in a while. He confessed that he needed me ,or at least somebody, to help him on this job and that he didn't have anyone like me.
Out of compassion I lowered the number down to eight hundred. He was still in shock but managed to calm down slightly as he turned away saying "well, if you really think you're worth that much dad". I had to smile slightly as my heart swelled. My son was learning and growing. I told him I'll be on the back of the house tearing off the 2x6 sheathing and walked out the front door. During our time there we would enjoy walking the mile or more into town for some treats at the grocery store.
I usually took the opportunity to pick up supplies for my meals. I tried to cook nourishing meals for him, but he rarely ate and when he did it was mostly chocolate chip cookies and milk, or half of one of those big sub sandwiches he would buy. As we walked along in the cool dark night Mike would tell me of all the jobs he had done and some of the people he had met. Mostly we went to the grocery outlet where he would pick up some gatorade, and I would find some meat and veggies. Other times we walked the extra half mile to the Safeway so he could get one of those big subs or a box of cookies. I enjoyed the walks in the evening because they helped me sleep better at night.
We slept on the floor in a room upstairs. I did fine with it because I had always slept on a hard surface except when I was married. Mike did fine with it because he was young. One morning I awoke with a terrible back ache. Every time I tried to stand up it would strike me with intense pain. I could hardly crawl to the stairs where I could barely manage to pull myself up with the railing. Mike had a great time laughing at me as I cussed like a sailor. I was able to loosen up enough to put in a decent day's work, and that evening, as well as every evening after that for two weeks, I spent an hour relaxing in a tub of warm water. It seemed to help a little but not nearly enough.
Mike began to worry that I was permanently disabled. It sure felt that way to me, but I knew I was in too good of shape to have a little work put my back out. After a while I had Mike find me a masseuse nearby and he drove me there one morning. She didn't do much other than rub my shoulders and charge me 70 dollars. Afterward she told me something I should have already known, That my muscles had tightened up due to lack of hydration. I struggled out to the car with Mike and we drove away. On the way home I remembered what she had said and how I had been forgetting to bring a jar of water out with me when I went to work on the house. When we walked through the door I took a big drink of water, and that night I set a jug of water next to our makeshift bed of blankets on the floor in the upstairs room.
I finished about half of the jug of water before morning and woke up feeling much better. Mike and I were able to continue with the work at the pace we had before all this had occurred. Along the side of the house was a small concrete slab that stood below an entryway. The person that owned the house was a long time client of Mikes and she asked if he could remove the slab and install a ground level cedar deck in its place. Mike of course was eager to say yes so we rented a small jack hammer to help break it up. It didn't take long to realize that the jack hammer was not enough to do the job.
We went back to the tool rental to get something a little larger. A large bold man named Cal sat behind the counter. He recommended we use a backhoe which I think appealed to Mike since he was the one struggling so hard with that jack hammer. I know I felt like hitting it with something heavy so I gave Mike a nod of approval. Cal gave Mike a few pointers on how to use it and showed him a back road he could take to get it home. The backhoe had a top speed of around 35 MPH, but Mike felt better about keeping it off the main road.
After signing a few papers I took off in the car and Mike took the back road home. Soon after I returned I saw him coming up the dirt road that led to the house. He drove directly to the slab where we met, and he started slamming the bucket down on the concrete. After about ten hardy swings he noticed nothing was happening. I could tell by the look on his face that he was confused about why this thing wasn't breaking apart. I motioned with my hand for him to keep hitting it.
After about ten more blows we saw it begin to crack. Soon the slab turned to rubble and we were loading the pieces into the front bucket and hauling them away. We didn't finish using the machine until after the rental place had closed. Mike called Cal to tell him he would return it in the morning, and we continued with the work until we were done. Morning came around and Mike and I got right to work. I didn't see any interest in Mike to return the machine so I asked him about it. He didn't put much of a priority on it and we focused more on the work on the house.
From my encounter with Cal I could tell he was a fair man, but also a firm man, and if he was told the machine would be returned in the morning then he would be expecting it in a timely manner. I wanted to encourage him to bring it back because I knew the man would be upset that it wasn't there, but Mike was in charge so I just held my tongue. It was late afternoon by the time we started our trip back to Cal's to return the backhoe. As I had suspected Cal was pretty upset. It was hard to listen to him give my son "a good talking to" but I couldn't find any way to defend him.
By rights Cal could have charged him for another day's rental and demanded cash instead of plastic, so we just stood and took our licks for an hour or so. Mike may have brought some of this on himself, but I'm sure Cal enjoyed throwing his weight around and had sat around in that rental shop lonely and waiting for someone to fall into his clutches. Cal got his money's worth that day. He may have forsaken the day's rental fee, but he took it out of my sos hide.
Before installing the new sheathing Mike wanted to check the foundation. He suspected the house had not sat level for a while so he purchased a laser level and found it was sagging about six inches in the rear. The front corner also had some substantial rot and was dropping down a bit. For the next two weeks I watched him reinforce the framework of the walls and floor, and jack it back up into place. I kept busy handing him tools and cleaning up the yard.
He was very meticulous with his accuracy. I was foolish enough to tell him not to worry about it, but he patiently explained why everything needed to be square so the tongue and groove plywood would fit properly and the siding would look right. I quickly remembered that this was one of the things that made me proud to know him. Once he was satisfied with the laser level we went to the lumber yard to order the sheets of one inch tongue and groove plywood.
The rain returned around then and when the delivery truck arrived with the materials he was going to drop them in the gravel area at the end of the driveway. I saw no reason to tote all those sheets so far so I recommended to Mike to have him drop them closer to the house. When we approached the driver with our request he took it as an offense and started to complain about the wet grass and how he didn't want to get stuck. We told him it would be fine but he was still agitated about it. It seemed clear to me that it wasn't the wet grass, but the idea of doing it our way instead of his way.
Mike was firm with him at this point, and told him how we weren't packing every sheet across the yard , and that the supplies would be unloaded near the house in the yard. He was kind of an old crotchety man and all he said was "fine" And with an attitude he dropped the truck into gear and backed it into the spot in the yard. Mike and I went over and stood by to watch him. Without even a pallet on the ground the driver started tilting the bed. Mike ran over to him and demanded that he lay out a few pallets first, and the old man started arguing about it. Mike firmly told him how it was going to be and the old man reluctantly threw a few pallets out on the ground. The old man once again raised the bed and the supplys slid quickly off the truck crushing one of the pallets and leaving the supplies slightly off the other two.
Afterward he quickly returned the bed of the truck to its horizontal position and tore across the yard with the rear tires ripping up the lawn. Mike and I Let out a chuckle but we would rather have seen him do a better job. Covering the house in plywood was a job and a half. The way Mike would measure and cut those pieces was amazing. Each one fit perfectly around the eves, windows, and doors, and every tongue fit into every groove. When we came to the front of the house we had to negotiate with this rough built little porch that was scabbed on years ago. We debated on what to do with it ,but in the end we concluded that it would have to be torn out and a new one built in its place.
The owner of the house was informed and they were happy to have Mike build something new on the front. They also wanted to pour a slab of concrete in front of the new porch so they could sit out there on lawn chairs and enjoy evening barbecues. The siding job was put on hold until the porch was replaced. Mike had no problem laying up the new walls and adapting the new roofline to the house. He needed a little help getting started on the shingles but I had done a little roofing in the past and was able to show him where to begin. He took to it right away and finished the job.
Mike worked with a few other guys who had special skills. One of them was a cement mason. He had me dig out the area for the slab while he secured the forms. When we were just about done he called his friend, and made an appointment for a cement delivery. A few days later Mike had finished the forms. I didn't think they were secure enough to hold so while Mike was on the phone with his friend I had a chance to let him know that he should try to make it out here a little early to brace up the forms. Later that day he showed up about an hour early and saw for certain that the forms needed a little work.
He brought his daughter with him who was about Mike's age. She seemed very nice and was pretty good looking, very conservitive looking. I encouraged Mike to ask her out for a date, but he didn't seem too interested. I spoke with her for a while and she had a good head on her shoulders. Soon the cement truck came in on the long gravel driveway, and we all sprang into action. The driver was really cool and he knew just exactly what to do. He backed up to the site, set up his delivery trough, and started the big drum rotating. The cement mason had tall rubber boots on and stood in the flow with a rake as the driver directed the trough back and forth.
While the cement was slowly pouring out the driver went in with his own tall rubber boots and a rake of his own to help push the mud into the corners. Mike and I stood helplessly by while this went down, and soon the cement truck took off to another job and the mason started cleaning up his tools. The days were long and sunny, but were soon coming to a deadline. Mike had to report for boot camp with the National Guard, and before that he promised to build his mother a new set of stairs leading up to her front porch.
While the concrete slab hardened we set the siding up on the back of the house. I remember working on that tall scaffolding and having to stretch to the peak by standing on a pony ladder. It was a little scary but I just tried to never look down. Mike had his time up there too but he didn't seem to show any fear. When we were finished with the rear of the house we moved around to the front. The porch created a whole host of problems because we had to keep moving the scaffolding from one side of it to the other. our hope was to finish the front and rear, and the sides would have to be done later after he returned. We were barely able to reach the very peak in the front before we had to leave.
The sun had long since set and we were working in the dark with the help of the flashlight on Mike's phone. We placed the final small piece of siding in the peak and had to call it done. The mess was abominable. I knew it would take a lot of work to pick up all the tools, tear down the scaffolding, and clean up all the remnants from the hundreds of cuts we made on the hardy plank [which I remember smelling very bad] I vowed in my mind that I would not help him clean up his mess, I tried to clean up as we went along while Mike did not, but the reality was I could not.
It took us most of the night to put things in order, and Mike just layed all his tools in the trunk of his car. I don't know if we slept that night, but I was up at the crack of dawn with my lunch box in my hand saying goodbye to my son who still had to work on his mothers house than report for boot camp. I began my journey home down the long country road that was the long road home.