Manners and renovations

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Lizbet was truly shocked.

We were sitting over breakfast, finishing off a nutty slice of Squirrely bread and jam, lingering over coffee when Franc picked up the empty jam jar, twisted his finger round inside it then licked his finger with a mischievous look in his eye.

Eeugh” Lizbet complained as she screwed up her face and looked a me, raising an eyebrow as if to say, “Is he always like this?”

His mischievousness increased with her signs of horror. He held out the jam pot to her wriggling, begging collie dog who was waiting eagerly for a tasty breakfast morsel. Franc looked back at Lizbet to see what her reaction would be. Lizbet was tensed, not knowing quite what to say or do. Sara, the collie, would not take without being given permission. Her muzzle quivered in anticipation. It smelled sweet and good and she continued to quiver, but the command didn’t come.

Don’t!” cried Lizbet. “Don’t you dare!” Franc laughed and pulled away the jam pot, out from under wriggling Sara’s nose.

Gotcha!” said Franc, and Lizbet settled down, mused a moment before saying,

Isn’t it funny how our manners have gone downhill since Mama’s gone.”

She admitted to me later that she had really enjoyed Franc this visit. She had discovered his sense of humour; had really appreciated the work that he had done to repair things and put her house in order.

Franc had come prepared to work. He’s not happy if he has nothing to do and he happens to love this beautiful heritage house that was built by the post master during the gold rush in 1896. It has great fir posts and beams, solid fir floors, Victorian decorations, a warm weather, open porch and the newly rebuilt enclosed sun porch. He’d laid the sun porch floor two years ago with reclaimed oak and he felt that the house was now part his.

The snows were heavy this year in the Kootenays. The heavy pack sliding off the sun porch roof packed weighty force carrying the eaves trough with it, shearing off the sturdy nails that held it. Franc removed the remaining bent and twisted aluminum trough and cut it down into manageable size for removal. He bought a new system, less likely to accumulate an icy weight, and installed it. He allowed me to hold his ladder while he drilled. I also got to climb perilously up three steps of a ladder to hold the other end of the eave in place while he fitted the two sections together and sealed them with silicone. Once the first two screws were drilled into place, I could go back to my raking up of last year’s leaves from the front yard grass.

Franc will do lots of repairs if he has a sympathetic fetch-and-carrier around to bring what he needs while on a ladder. It took him about two days to get the eaves up because, as he was working, it started to rain lightly, enough so that the silicone would not set.

That didn’t deter his restless spirit. He tackled the baseboards in two rooms that had none. Now that the fir floors in the three bedrooms had been bared and refinished by a contractor, it was worth completing the details in these rooms.

The house had been renovated in the ‘thirties or ‘forties covering the floors with a tar based linoleum and then again in the sixties, keeping up with the times, recovering the walls with wood paneling veneer in teak in the living room. In the hallway, vinyl board covered the walls above the wainscoting line and plastic laminate in mock wood pattern updated the fir paneling and plaster that had been there before. If this house was going to regain it’s earlier charm, there would be many decisions to make.

While we waited for the rain to go away and the sun to dry the eaves, we spent some time considering whether we could redo the wainscoting with the original fir paneling or whether we should gyproc the entire hall. The vinyl had to go. Franc pulled off a laminate panel and saw that it was faced with mahogany veneer! What if we just turned the ugly laminate around and varnished the back side of the panels. Was that a possibility? Just gyproc the upper reaches? That posed a problem of joining them together because the gyproc would stick out a half inch further than the laminate. When you changed one thing, it always resulted in needing to change another thing. So we had some fun discussions about what possibilities we had and what we were going to do with the house, whether to keep or to sell.

When the weather abated and the rain reduced to mere spitting, we went out into the garden and Franc dug over the rock garden. It must have been magnificent in its original state but it was overgrown with crab grass. We tackled two pools of dirt created by the rock formation. It was not easy to pry out the mass of grass root that clung between the rocks. When the mats of grass were liberated, there was virtually no soil left for plants and it was so low in the rock basin so we had to find some soil elsewhere on the property, back behind the row of fir trees where I had composted garden waste two years before.

With the addition of a bag of steer manure and leaf mold, we managed to fill back up the basins (not two square feet each in total) and I planted some white rock cress and some purple which I envisioned cascading over the rocks in spring time and flowering till mid summer.

The majority of hard work done, Franc left me to putter in the garden and to clean out more crab grass and dandelions. That left Franc free to haul away the accumulation of debris from the renovations – old carpeting from three rooms and vinyl flooring from two, useless strips of wood that had resulted form flooring repairs, cardboard, three old computer monitors, a broken sled, and on and on.

Lizbet’s next door neighbour lent him her chain saw so that he could cut down the deadwood from the acacia tree. He trimmed off the water shoots from the Lombardy poplar and properly finished off a four year old fir that had been damaged by the snow plow one winter day.

There’s always two year’s work in front of you, with a house” he said philosophically. “ It takes two years to finish the list of maintenance and repair and then you have to start all over again.” For a man who has never wanted to have a house, I noticed that he was particularly happy at the end of day to have accomplished so much and to reap the praise of his abilities.

Enough for today. There’s more to tell, but I’m off to join my painting group, so gotta go. I’ll catch up with some more tonight.

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