Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Pig Farmer's House

The wind is whipping and I hope the pig farmer who built this place thought of that. Pearl said that all this wind is a new thing. She thinks it’s because they keep bulldozing down all the woods for new houses and fields to feed cows or grow hay and now there is nothing to block it. She said you never used to be able to see that mountain down yonder. “Woods is nice,” she said, “but if you need to feed your cattle...” I was thinking it had to do with something more sinister like global warming. Or maybe it followed me here from Oklahoma like the red dirt encrusted in the tooling on my saddles and in the wheel wells of my truck.

On days like this, even though the windows are new and even though they are closed, the wind comes right through them and blows the plantation shutters open. Kurt is putting up plastic on the windows to try to stop it. To try to make it warmer in here because I am always cold. It comes in a little kit and he uses a blow dryer to vacuum-seal it. I watch the bubbles disappear and the plastic gets tight like Saran Wrap on a mixing bowl. I take my finger like I’m shooting a marble and go ping! I test my breath. I blow out. Nope, I can’t see it. It’s not cold enough for that. Kurt tells me to peel the tape around the windows or get out of his hair. I opt to go downstairs to check the fire.

I wish the plastic could also keep the noise out. The house rattles and bangs. I run outside to see what happened whenever I hear a clunk. One time I chased a piece of siding that was blowing down the street, tumbling like a steel ribbon and threatening to decapitate whoever got in its way. I think Kurt got all the siding fixed now. But I still don’t feel secure knowing the pig farmer didn’t have to get any permits when he built this place.

We used to complain about that up north. You couldn’t turn around without having to get a permit up there. One time we got into trouble because Kurt changed an outlet in the kitchen. In our own house! A simple outlet! The way they had a conniption when they discovered it during a routine visit on another matter, you’d think we illegally disposed of a body or perhaps built a nuclear substation in our backyard. Then we had to jump through hoops and give them all our money, which was called penalties and fees, to make amends, or risk being sent to Rikers Island or Guantanamo Bay, someplace bad, when we got sentenced by the judge, who was the clerk’s brother-in-law and who was still praying she wouldn’t tell her sister about that itty bitty squeeze on the ass.

Defiantly, I decided to see how far they would go. I told them we were thinking about building a little stall for Minnie, about yay high.

“You need a permit for that,” the clerk in the office said.

“About waist high,” I stressed, holding out my hand.

She tapped her fingernails on the counter. I could tell she would have preferred to smack me for my stupidity because clerical jobs in local government offices require workers who are arrogant, self-righteous and have a disturbing lack of patience. Double that if they got the job because they know someone. “You still need a permit,” she said.

“Okay then. What if I build a dog house?” I asked, blinking and ducking.

“You need a permit for that too. If you build it, you need to purchase a permit for it.” Then she threatened me. “Unless you want to get a fine. A big one.”

I should have asked her about permits for birdhouses. And would I need a condo license if it was a purple martin house? It made me so mad, them telling me what to do, overseeing every move we made looking for ways to wring a few more dollars out of us. Pretty soon we’d need a permit to clip our fingernails. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and get to a place where there was some freedom, where you could do what you wanted in your own house.

The ironic thing is, I now realize, after living across the street from the Evils who burned garbage on a regular basis, stacked broken farm machinery and old car tires right outside my kitchen window, and whose fences consisted of ropes and boards and wires—whatever the kids could rig up to try to keep their hungry animals from ransacking everyone else’s property, and never worked—why permits are a necessary evil. Not to be confused with the Evils themselves, who are not necessary to anything but the scourge of neighborhoods. But that’s a whole other story. Permits protect you from discourteous or unruly neighbors, and from yourself, if you are so inclined as to do something stupid like splice together a positive and negative wire or install your well right next to your septic.

The problem is, I can’t get a feel if the pig farmer put any pride into his work, if he had any actual skills or if he just had to get a roof over their heads, because the woman I bought it from, almost seventy years after the actual building, who bought it from the pig farmer’s kids when they finally moved him out because he was old and the front porch was falling down, stripped it of all it’s original detail. She removed all the Depression-era fixtures, doors and woodwork. If there were any kitchen cabinets, or old porcelain sinks worn smooth like the underside of a shell, or a claw foot tub, she took them out and replaced them with new, but cheaply-made, Home Depot versions direct from the mills and assembly-lines in China. She covered walls in paneling made to look like wood; she paneled around the brick chimney like it was a bump on the wall, creating a big box in the middle of the room; and she laid stick-on tiles on the floor that were supposed to look like the black marble you’d find in a McMansion in Staten Island or in Rome, and not something you’d step on in a little farmhouse in south Virginia.

She was a single mom who enlisted the help of whatever boyfriend she had at the time, victims of circumstance, to install the new windows or cabinets or siding—whatever his area of expertise. If you can call it that. As Kurt insists, everything is done half-ass. I keep telling him to look on the bright side. I keep telling him I’ve got to give her credit, being a single mom and doing all of this. She’s the one who built the barn. He humphs and reminds me it had a hundred leaks. She’s the one who rebuilt the porch. He asks what good is a porch if you can’t lean on the railing on a warm summer day because it’s attached to… nothing? A faux railing, if you will. He has no patience or sympathy. And certainly no admiration. He has to fix it all. Doors were installed incorrectly and don’t close. If you want to turn on the floodlight outside, just plug in the orange extension cord that comes through the hole someone poked in the sheetrock near the ceiling in the upstairs bedroom. Moldings are cheap pine boards stamped with Georgia Pacific or are missing altogether. In fact, there is a piece of molding missing in every single room including the furring strips on the ceilings and the trim around the sliding door on the barn, as if they took the last one to start a new one, kind of like a rib.

Of course all this sounds pretty bad until I remind myself that I could still be living next door to the Evils. Who cares if the old owner sided right over the row of charming back porch windows and put wainscoting up without using nails? And what’s a little wind when I’ve got Pearl next door?

I plan to write about the Evils, who I lived next door to, before we moved here. They were the classic neighbors from hell and they did a lot more to us than burn trash and pile their junk outside my kitchen window. Suffice it to say that they are the reason we call that house the Amityville Horror House and moved here, to Heaven-on-Earth.


Tanya said...

Oh I so enjoy reading your stories! Permits, I know all about those because California is the permit capital! Then realized, once we left Ca and moved to Missouri, that other states weren't as persnickety about permits when we saw second stories built on to double wides, out of whatever materials they had laying around!

I can't wait to hear all about the Evils and their Evil doings!

Happy New Year!

June said...

I found myself relating a lot to you in this post. When in Virginia, we live atop a hill on what used to be a cow pasture, and before that, woods. It gets mighty windy up there! I think Pearl is right on both counts: trees do help block the wind you do need somewhere to feed your stock. Also, our little county hasn't much, if any, zoning or other regulations for that matter. You're very apt to find the exact sort of thing you describe. But like you, we love living out in the country and having space between neighbors.

Thanks for stopping by Spatter...and have a happy new year!

The Blue Ridge Gal said...

*big sigh for you

Remodeling and fixing someone else's mistakes is such a great deal of work... been there, done that, but since we were well into our fifties with our last home purchase I had to tell Hubby, 'no more'..... too old for that remodeling stuff anymore. Takes much time, energy and money. I wish you all of those things and more and a beautiful home because of it down the road. It WILL happen.

Di The Blue Ridge Gal

P.S. Is Kurt an engineer of some sort? He sounds much like my Hubby.

CountryDew said...

Happy New Year!

Permits are taking a hold in the country more than they used to. I suspect that will get worse as the localities need more money. Alas.

I enjoyed your description of your home!

Claudia Condiff said...

Hey girl..love the way you think, and write,
Permits...what a crock of crap..taxation at its best, I say.
Too bad everyone can't do things right the first time, then permits wouldn't be necessary. If everyone took responsibility for their own doings, took pride in what they did, there wouldn't be a need for permits. My husband built me a little shed for my mini's. It has 6x6 posts, 10 of them, and the shed is 8x13. I said it was overkill, his usual, do it right job. If there a hurricane, I'm going in that shed!!!
Happy New Year...lets get together sometime and have a b.... fest!

sweetflutterbys3 said...

I've been there for sure!

Happy New Year! I hope the best for you and your family!

Marion said...

When I married Hubby, we moved from CA to northern Maine, where we entirely built our part-log home. Borrowed money? Banker said: Are you building the home? (this was in Hubby's hometown)So, how much will you need?

Then, after he'd built our home and wired and plumbed it, the town sent someone to inspect it. When he realized Hubby had done all the work, he opened the electrical panel and then signed off on everything having been done correctly.

If we'd done this in California, we would still be seeking expensive permits!

Write about your neighbors, Debi. Neighbors are the reason we bought 12 acres of wooded land. We DO have neighbors but only see them up at the mailboxes.

Beth said...

I can definitely relate to this. Every single place we've lived has been a victim of makeshift and slapdash construction techniques, and we've spent all the years we live there fixing the mistakes. And the doublewide we live in now is no exception. But it's worth it to live in our beloved mountains. (And, by the way, your writing is excellent).

Happy New Year to you and your family!

Sloan said...

I'm always cold too! I should try some of that plastic on my windows.

I also can't wait to hear about the evils and their evil doings! But the good news is you live next to Pearl now!

colleen said...

Evils of New Jersey or here? We had some when we lived in Texas, but I don't like to remember or mention them.

I've lived in a few old farm houses here. The styles all seem the same with that wood paneling and all. Lots of pig farmers at one time here too.

And that wind! The dog woke me at 4 a.m. last night chewing on the cellar door. I think she thought it was a thunder storm.

Cynda said...

That is very funny! Don't worry. A molding doesn't make a house a home! Anyways, I saw what you've done. It is an adorable farm house! I would love to live in it!

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Thank you everyone for your comments and compliments!

No, Di, Kurt is not an engineer but he liked that! He's in the flooring business. But in another life, he takes guys out on fishing trips on the lake. Either that or I'll support him when we get rich because I wrote a bestseller, lol.

Colleen, the Evils are here. Not where I live now. They're the reason we moved away. They live in Ferrum. But they're originally from Jersey. I hear they're running amok over there. I'm still friendly with my old neighbors and whew...suffice it to say that I am counting my blessings I am next door to Pearl now. Seems like everyone has an evils story.

Amy Tate said...

Next thing they'll require permits for those swing sets that you put together from Lowes.

Happy New Year!

Judy said...

Thank you for visiting me on the other side of the hill. I read your post about the "Weeds" from 2007. Love it! The Evils or their relatives lived across the street from me but deserted the house a few months ago, leaving trash everywhere. I figure they were being foreclosed by the bank. I enjoyed my visit with you and shall return.

CountryDew said...

Hi Debi - I nominated you for a blog award. Check it out on my 1/5/09 entry.

rebecca barry said...

Me too, me too! I want to hear about the Evils! We had some Evils renting from us in our old house. Nothing made them happy, nothing. Had they been able to, they would have stripped all of the old details from our house and put in a granite jacuzzi or something that doesn't go at all with the architecture of the place.

gingerhillery@mac.com said...

One of our most rewarding moments in the reclaiming work on our farmhouse was when we pulled off the pink and blue wallpapered paneling from the old brick chimney in the kitchen then sandblasted off the layers of plaster and paint from the bricks. It looks wonderful. A little rough around the edges. Been around for awhile. Perfect in an over hundred year old farm house!

Happy New Year!

BTW, I think the family cow is one of the best investments we ever made. BUT, we drink gallons of milk a week, and I make mozzarella, fromage blanc, yogurt and butter. Whether I want to or not because you hate to throw out really good milk. It is a part-time job. With no time off, unless you find a neighbor who likes to milk cows. I haven't found one yet. A good goat is easier. Less volume. All that said, I can't imagine life without all that heavy cream. And my special moments of meditation with Coco!

Amy Hanek said...

I have to ask Debi, was their name really "Evil?" Or did you just call them that? 'Cause if that was their name, then what a coincidence!!

I too have cursed previous homeowners by name. We lived in a house in Florida that was built by the owner before us. I mean he built that house himself with his own two hands. And he thought that house was fantastic. His name was Herb.

There were days when the cabinets were breaking and we were finding not one layer of flashy wallpaper, but two. We would yell, "What were you thinking Herb?!!" across the house. My poor kids knew who Herb was and to just stay away. We haven't had many problems with this house or our neighbors.

... knock on drywall.

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Motley said...

Debi, I think it's high time we heard the story of the Evil's! The truth will set you free!

I can definatly relate to fixin shoddy houses. I'll tell you, there are a lot of "Jacklegs" out there. I run into them every day in my business. They do it all, and they actually think that no one could do it better. It doesn't take long to figure out they don't know what they are doing, and I have to fire em. And they don't understand why!

Jeff said...

I just love the way you write about permits!! Dade County, FL (Miami) has to rank right up there in permit Hell. I refuse to renovate an old building on my property because of the hassle of getting permits. Here, there are actually companies who will get the permits for you - it is that much of a hassle. Sure, I can see the need for structural permits, but a permit to paint the **inside** of your house?? Aaarrrgghhh!

Jamie Ferraioli said...

It's funny how you can find the pros and cons of permits! I never thought of the positive side of them.

It's such a shame that not everyone can appreciate the beauty of something "old" like the details of a farmhouse. I was telling Lou a while ago how I missed the glass doorknobs and the skeleton keyholes from the Jackson house and he looked at me like I was from another planet. "Why would you like that weird old stuff??"
I'm staring at my "popcorn ceiling" in my apartment and I just can't understand how anyone can like this modern look more. There's just something about that country house feel. So much character....it tells its own story.