Shared Stories: Construction Woes

Everyone who has remodeled a home can empathize with Elaine Held’s experience in adding a second story. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns


By Elaine Held

Everyone has construction stories so I will add my own story to the list. My story starts when my husband and I decided to tear down our one story house and build a new two story home. 
 Bill hired a contractor to do the framing. This particular contractor Bill had used for 30 years as a sub-contractor when Bill was Held Electric.This project started in the summer when I wasn’t teaching so I would be the one home as Bill would be working. 

I knew we were in trouble the first day when they showed up and had to make their ladder out of scrap wood. If I had known that would be the highlight of this adventure I think my sparkly enthusiasm would have sparked in another direction.

The first goal was to take off the roof and frame the second story. This made sense because, after all, everybody knows it does not rain in July. Bill left for a week for a job in San Francisco and I was left with Jose. 

That evening the rain gods winked at each other and let loose. It poured for an hour. Jose had nailed a tarp to the new frame upstairs. I was sitting on the couch thinking I was going to have to go up there and see how the tarp was doing when what was left of the ceiling came down on my head. Insulation, slivers of wood and 30 years of dirt I dug out of my eyes.  

Jumping up and running outside with a broom, I ran up the ladder to the tarp. Sure enough it was filling up. I tried to take the broom and lift the water up over the frame. It wasn’t long before it got ahead of me. I ran next door for help. 

They called the fire department. Of course they came with the biggest fire truck made. That brought the neighbors out. Those firemen saved what was left of our house, but at a price. They had great fun teasing me.  

Quickly they moved everything into one safe room. They took one of their heavy tarps and put it under ours. Then they took two stiff poles and put them over the edge. They then poked a hole in my tarp to send water over the edge.

I was saying thank you to the last of them when the phone rang. The first words out of Bill’s mouth were,” How’s is everything going?”  What I hadn’t realized was there was a whole month’s worth of bills on the coffee table which were now mush.

The second story began to take shape quickly. Bill and I were in the kitchen fixing lunch with the new bird nests on top of the fridge when Bill let out a scream sending birds scattering.

“What now!” Bill was pointing to where the new second story walls wedded with the old downstairs. I got up on the counter to make sure my eyes were seeing correctly. 

The two walls were an inch off. Even though it was the weekend Bill called Jose. After explaining to Bill what he could do to fix the problem Bill and I headed for Home Depot for our own fix. Bill bought huge, thick metal connectors and we literally tied the two stories together.

The summer proved it could get worse. Every day I would go up the ladder to see what new catastrophe they had done. One day I found a wall being built into the middle of a window; another error was when they installed the stained glass window upside down.

I lost it the day I found the wall between the closet and the storage room was backwards. When I pointed this out to Jose he asked me to speak more quietly as Manuel had read the plan upside down. 

Another day I was at a neighbor’s when I heard the chainsaw. I went home to find them cutting through the two-by-fours in the wall. The problem was that they had slipped and had gone through the wall and through the back of my dresser. 

In the middle of all of this one night the police helicopter showed its bright spotlight in the middle of our back yard. They were chasing a man and thought he had jumped the fence into our backyard. I was standing at the second story window between a saw horse and the window holding our white cat. I had on a long flannel nightgown.  

The man in the helicopter said over the loud speaker as if he were God, “LADY STEP BACK FROM THE WINDOW!” I threw the cat and when I came to I was on the other side of the saw horse. I have no idea how I got there.

Now it was September and I was back to school. I caught the flu and was home in bed. Bill came home at lunchtime to see how I was and make me some soup. He never made it to the bedroom. I heard him talking to the crew. His voice started out at a normal pitch, but quickly grew. Then I heard the unbelievable. 

He shouted, “Get out of my house and don’t ever come back!” As sick as I was I did a dance of celebration. Yes! It seems they had read the plans incorrectly again and had added one step too many to the stairs going up to the new story.

I had the naive idea that the calamities would cease with Bill and I building our own house. And things did go smoothly as long as we were doing the work. Unfortunately we could not plaster and had to hire someone. He came the first day and dumped on our patio the fine material he would use to mix plaster. Every feral cat in the neighborhood sent out the call. A new cat box! Did the idiot care? No! You’ve got it! Cat poo set in the walls everywhere.  Bill spent the evening with a knife and fork digging you know what out of all the walls.

Bill and I probably enjoy our home more than most people. Not because it is bigger or fancier but we can sit back and say, “You remember when ……“