Monday, January 23, 2006

Framing the house

Last week was a busy week. I've mentioned before that we'd cleared trees and shrubs from some land in the early spring in preparation of building a French Country home that we hope to move into by the end of the summer. Progress has been good, though the framer and guy who constructs the chimneys started in the late fall when Larry had hoped it would be mostly completed by then. The house has now been framed and it looks magnificent because it's got really steep pitched, high roof lines that one would see traveling through Provence. (I should say that this is an Americanized version of what a French Country house looks like; in other words, the architect has given it the look and feel of a 'cottagey' French style house but, in dimensions, it's large and designed for contemporary living.) Next comes putting on the slate roof--we'd got about eight bids on the last fortnight and appointed the winning contractor four days ago--and choosing the color of stone as it's going to be a Bucks County stone house.

As I'm the son of a man who had an excavation and plant hire business, I've worked around construction guys as a schoolboy and am used to the ribald, jocular humor and 'cussing,' etc. They're no different in the United States. Buildings sites in Ireland and the US share certain universals, though admittedly one is most unlikely to encounter burly, rough-spoken men tucking into mescaline salad with oil and balsamic vinaigrette dressing and vegetarian pizzas on an Irish building site.

Our framer is from the old school of construction; he doesn't use electrical guns to drive in the nails, preferring instead to use the old fashioned hammer, though I'm fairly sure his younger crew feel differently about that. He and his crew are also well treated because he gave Larry some chocolate chip cookies one afternoon that were homemade. It turns out a neighbor of ours arrives every day at teatime with a plate of homemade cookies for the chaps. (She and the framers wife are friends, but still the daily gesture underscores that the spirit of largesse and true friendship are alive and well in contemporary America, just as it was in this formerly predominately Quaker township over a hundred years ago.) And the framer also let Larry know in a sly way that he knew he was gay by remarking that he knew Spice, our dog. Upon Larry's inquiry as to how he knew him, he replied, "My wife is in partnership with Natalie, the woman you and your friend use to look after him when you go away and she fed him when you went away last year."

I must also say that framers are not given full credit by people like me for the beautiful work they do. As I walked around the new house with Larry (carefully treading as we've had rain and the place is a mire in places), I was nothing short of astounded by the precise craftsmanship of their rough-in carpentry, by the amazing angles and interesting nooks and crannies they'd created that will soon forever be concealed by the roof's slate and walls of stone.

Last week also saw the laying of the electricity and high speed cable lines into the trench that runs alongside the driveway to the front door. The electricity company took an entire day to install a large cylindrical box onto a nearby pole that will increase the amount of invisible 'juice' surging into the house. And because these lines must be blanketed with gravel before the trench was closed again, Larry had me come along and help with the shoveling. At one point, the chap astride the pole shouted at me to get out of the trench and then the line went live. After they'd left, Larry asked me to come with him to the cellar and we stood before the electrical box.

"You can have the honor of being the first to let the electricity flow into our house," he said.
I was moved, but it didn't seem right I should do it.
"No," I said. "We'll do it together."
And so we put our hands on the switch and pressed it down and a single light came on.
We laughed. It was a fun moment, though one tinged with a little sadness that I did not share with him albeit I'm sure our very old, ailing doggie Spice was also on his mind as well.

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