Friday, February 28, 2014

Channeling Uncle Tilmus

A Family of Carpenters

Let's just skip over the part where I make fun of Jerry's favorite uncle's first name.  Fair fodder for making fun that it may be, let's not even stop to wonder what the woman who birthed that innocent baby was thinking at the moment when she named him.  We won't dwell on this truly creative name because this was Jerry's FAVORITE uncle, a quality person, a real sweetheart.  And he was a bad-ass carpenter, too.  During the summers of his youth, Jerry used to visit his southern relatives and follow his favorite uncle around in awe.  He wanted to grow up to be just like Uncle Tilmus.

And he did.  Although not a carpenter by trade, my husband has done his share of construction projects, from paneling our basement in the '70s to rehabbing our historic home in the '00s.  I have grown to appreciate his talent over the years.  He's more than talented.  Like his uncle, he's an artist.

Renovations complete on the circa 1864 house in OH
During these projects, I have learned a thing or two about my husband.  He likes me to be there supporting him, but he prefers SILENT SUPPORT, not actual words of encouragement.  Speaking distracts his focus and makes him crabby.  This I know.

Jerry wants me to be the Vanna White to his Pat Sajak, or, better yet, to be the operating room nurse to his surgeon, passing him the appropriate instrument at the proper time.  Unfortunately, I don't always know what tools he's asking for, even when he asks for them by name.  Hey, I'm a girl.  Get over it.  

I've also learned that my carpenter likes it best when I DO NOT QUESTION. He'd rather do something twice or even three times than have me interject observations.  Silence is that incredibly important to him.  Since I've witnessed him shoot his palm with a nail gun, I keep quiet.  Silence is difficult for me but not as difficult as seeing that was.

My husband has learned some things about me, too.  He cringes when I speak the words "Couldn't we just…" because he knows that whatever words will follow that statement will be anything but "just."  A project is coming and it will be massive.  All of my "couldn't we just…" projects take double the amount of time (and triple the amount of money) that I think they will.  That's a fact, backed up by nearly four decades of marriage.
We finally completed my most recent "couldn't we just…"  -- adding a front deck. The project morphed into something a lot larger than I intended (as they always do.)  Jer ended up ripping out a window and replacing it with a door wall, tearing off and re-decking the flooring of the existing porch, adding a knee wall to the kitchen, building two sets of staircases (one with a removable gate) and then the main event: a monster deck only slightly smaller than the state of Rhode Island.  Plus exterior illumination; I don't want to forget the lighting.  

It took four months.  Blending the new deck with the old porch was tricky.  At the beginning, the building inspector said, "If you choose to have a contractor do this, you're gonna need to be sure he's licensed in this city."  I realized later that what he actually meant was, "Man, I don't think you know what you're getting into!  This thing is massive.  You're gonna need to hire someone to finish this before it's over."

Because I couldn't access the nebulous plan that Jerry had tucked away in his brain, I repeatedly offered design advice along the way and, true to form, Jerry got annoyed.  At first I thought it was because I had broken the afore-mentioned  DO NOT QUESTION rule. That was not it.  The problem was that, to his credit, my husband actually saw merit in a couple of my ideas and wanted to incorporate them into the final project.  

By the time I had my flashes of insight, he had already poured the concrete footers that the deck would rest upon and installed the beams and floor joists as well. In order to include my amendments, he had to add lots of additional support underneath which meant that he would have to squirm under the framing, dig holes while lying on his stomach and then pour concrete into those holes.  That is exactly what he did.  No wonder he was crabby.  It was brutal.

Three separate times a white knight rode in on his trusty steed, rolled up his sleeves and got dirty.  (Translation:  Jack Chirch drove here from Virginia on three separate occasions and was an enormous help.  While he was on the job, I didn't have to be - a gigantic plus, in my view.)  For over thirty years these two have been each others wingmen on building projects.  As a rule, both guys think the other's project is spawned from insanity and (silently) question their own lucidity for volunteering to help.  Jack's last project involved a floating dock, a Jeep, a tree, a cable, a come-along, a bunch of chain, and prayer -- but I am getting off track here, aren't I?  Suffice it to say that, when they are completed, every project ends up better than anyone ever expects.  This deck was no different than the projects that came before it. 
After four long, long months and more visits to Lowe's and Home Depot than you can even imagine, the fabulous deck was at last completed.  We all heaved a collective sigh of relief. 
All dressed up for its first Christmas
Jerry proudly surveyed his masterpiece and then said, "As I worked on this deck, I kept thinking about my Uncle Tilmus.  When I had problems, I thought, 'What would he do?'  I used power tools and a pneumatic framing nailer, but Uncle Tilmus made every cut with a handsaw and drove every nail with a hammer.  His work was just so much more physically demanding."

Although that is true, if Uncle Tilmus can see Jerry's deck from beyond, I'm sure he's proud of his little nephew's work.  I sure am.

The paperwork from our final inspection had a note on it.  "Nice work," it said.


Nastase Nutiness said...

Uncle Tilmus' mother had a very difficult labor. That aside, this is a sweet story of how he inspired your man. Love that.

Kathie Aldum said...

What a lovely story Chris and I am so blessed to be able to share the deck in the summer months to come! High Five Jerry!

Unknown said...

Absolutely beautiful work....Great story too!!