Somehow, I find myself working on a house.
It’s what could be considered an Old House, at least by California standards. In writing about my progress to SuperHot SuperSmart Girlfriend just now, I realized that this house splits my parents’ ages: my father was born in 1938, the house was completed in 1940, and my mother was born in 1941.
Termites have done some pretty dirty work, but the house was tented last year and apparently the bugs have departed. Crawling around underneath everything, I’ve spotted three dessicated rats. All of the waste plumbing… the outgo, as it were, had to be replaced because it was all leaking and spraying into the crawlspace. There is no electrical grounding. I have been struggling to install GFCI outlets all day.
Fighting me has been The House. Plaster and Lath, with metal wire reinforcement to cut me, make my knuckles swell. Unexpectedly sturdy spacer blocks that must be drilled through for new wire. Endless trips to the HomeGiantMarts for parts, tools, circuit breakers, that One More Thing. For days I have been repeating to myself Patience, Patience, Patience.
My mother died at 49, my father at 65. This house outlived them both, still supporting its roof at 73. Somewhere along the line someone installed central HVAC, bypassing the original furnace. The wiring, run haphazardly in the crawlspace underneath, violates many building code sections but is probably a 1970s upgrade from the original. The House is proud, it doesn’t want to change. It wants to be solid, proud, defiant. It wants to be independent.
Oddly enough, it is an upgrade which chills me the most. I can’t imagine a garbage disposal existed in the original sink; certainly the NM cable powering it wasn’t around in 1940. A cursory inspection revealed this:
What you’re looking at is what was behind a little wooden block locking the cable in place. Both the hot and neutral wires are exposed down to the copper; all insulation has been abraded away. It’s actually worse on the other side of the cable. This is all tucked away inside the base cabinets.
Bare wires inside a wooden hole, behind wooden cabinets. The only reason I can think of that a fire didn’t break out is that no one runs a garbage disposal for more than 30 seconds.
How many other little surprises like this are cancering away the body of the house? My friend the plumber tells me, “don’t open up a can of worms unless you plan to fish.”
My hands are swollen, bleeding in places, tired. It takes a lot to care for the old things. The house will stand.