The Price of Charm

My husband and I are suckers for old houses.  Show us hardwood floors and tall ceilings and we’re interested.  Tell us the casement windows leak in winter, spring, summer and fall, and we’re charmed.  Mention there’s no central air and heat, and we’re in love.

“Do you realize,” my husband said recently, “that we’ve never bought a house with central air and heat?”

He was right, I had to admit.  We’re now on house #4 and we’ve suffered through three renovations, including two with young children.  We must be nuts.  But we also hate moving out and we’re usually stretched to the gills financially, so we’d have to end up camping out somewhere for weeks.  So we stay put and inhale sawdust and wake to the sound of early-morning chainsaws.

But that’s all in our past.  We haven’t renovated anything in 11 years.  We’re now dealing with routine maintenance on our aging house.

“You notice the rotten wood here?” one painting contractor asked me.

Now that he pointed it out, it was hard to miss.  Yes, sure enough.  We had rotting wood and peeling paint and everything needed to be scraped and sanded and purged and painted.  Wonderful.

This time, I told myself, we’d get estimates and behave like proper adult homeowners.  Not like the last time, when I was thinking very vaguely about painting and somebody rang the doorbell and it turned out to be some guy who was soliciting exterior painting jobs in our neighborhood.

I took that as a good sign.  Hell, I’m so lazy and slipshod, I take almost everything as a good sign if it will save me effort.  “He told me he and his crew have three weekends of painting experience,” I told my husband proudly, setting up what is now known as one of my less-than-stellar decisions.

“Three weekends?” my husband said.  “That doesn’t seem like very much.”

But I thought it was fine, just perfect, kind of extraordinary, really.  “Stop quibbling,” I told my husband.  How much experience do you need to paint a house, anyway?

More than three weekends, as it turned out.  The guy showed up with an assorted menagerie of misfits who’d clearly never held a paintbrush or a job before, and they threw paint here and there in the direction of our wood trim and hauled ladders around and made lots of noise and took weeks to complete the job.  Or should I say “complete”?  Yes, I should.

So now I’m getting tough, talking to contractors, trying to sound like I’m well-prepared — when really, I just want to do my usual number and sign on the dotted line at the very first chance, as long as the interested party has had at least four weekends of intensive painting experience.

That’s what happens when your house is old and charming and needs maintenance — just like its owners, it occurs to me.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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