Still making this old house a home


It was 20 years ago today that we signed the paperwork that made this old house our home.

We were full of youth, big ideas, and had watched just enough “This Old House” on television to be dangerous. They made it look so easy. Beautiful old homes were resurrected from as little as two nails and a stick.

All this would happen from start to finish in half hour increments in about six weeks.


We bought a crumbling wreck of a house, but we were realistic. We gave ourselves at least 12 weeks.

The day after we signed to buy this “project house” with a five year plan to start a family, we found out we were expecting BoyWonder.

Once the shock wore off I spent the next seven months either inhaling paint and Sheetrock dust, or bursting into tears and insisting “my baby won’t live in a dump.” Of course he didn’t. Neither did his sister who arrived 22 months later.

Family affair

They did, however, grow up with buckets, ladders, hammers and nails. They knew a Phillips from a regular screwdriver and a skil saw from a rotary before they started preschool.

They may have learned a few curse words too. I blame that on their father.

Over the years we built in, tore down, sanded, scraped, painted and prayed. Yes, prayed. From DIY jobs to major undertaking, we never forgot that having a house to make a home is a blessing.

Through it all we lived here. We did all the things that renovators do.

We washed dishes in the bathroom and people in the kitchen sink. We wore shoes indoors except in bed (nails!) and blew insulation into cracks, crevices, and everything we owned.

We did some bigger things too. We hung a radiator from the ceiling and removed the floor underneath. We tore down a spring house and put in a pool.

Labor of love

Ten years later we took out the pool and replaced it with a patio fire pit.

Speaking of fire, we set fire to the kitchen (okay that “we” was “me”). We put on two roofs, and knocked a porch post down.

We took down trees and almost lost our lives. Okay that “we” was mostly Mr. Wonderful. The open look is growing on me now.

We renovated two bathrooms four times — at least two of those purely by accident.

We banged walls and scratched floors and had children and puppies and a whole lot of fun.

We, like the people before us, left our mark. We took countless photos of the first days of school, first loves, and fall leaves, we took countless formal photos of the seemingly endless stream of high school dances.

Family tradition

I’m proud to say that this year when invited to a picturesque local park for pre-dance photos, Girlwonder said firmly “no I want my last high school homecoming pictures to be taken at the house.” So they were.

She stood leggy and lean at 17 in the same spot I once sat her chubby, vaguely potato shaped self in an infant seat.

Her brother runs somehow gracefully yet loudly across floors upon which he first learned to crawl. He is grown now and can operate the same tools we once protected him from.

He has many skills that I suspect are native only to those who grow up on construction sites and old homes. He’s also pretty good with kitchen fires.

I still have the letter my grandmother wrote me 20 years ago. In it she congratulated us on our monumental undertaking, and assured me that a rigid timeline was probably best avoided.

I still recall her writing in 1996, “we moved here in 1954 and I’m not sure this house is done yet.” At the time I didn’t believe her. Now she is gone, her own old house still needs work, and I know she spoke the truth.


I celebrated 20 years in this house by flooding the dining room with a brand new bathtub and a leaky drain — as you do.

As the water seeped into the ceiling below, dripping to the floor below, Mr. Wonderful let loose a string of colorful language and I knew, with some quirky sense of comfort, that we weren’t “done” making this old house a home yet.


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