Saturday Special – We’re Gonna Build A House

Good Saturday friends. The last couple weeks I’ve been sharing with you, stories of how Mom became a builder. I’m going to take a little, still related, detour from that today. Yesterday during a discussion elsewhere on the internet that I had to fight hard to (mostly) stay out of, I was reminded that no one is not self made. We are all products of who and what has come before us and the events up to this exact moment in time. Good or bad. Mom was no different. As a child, she said, she was somewhat of a tomboy. There were four siblings and she was the youngest. Her two older sisters were 8 and 10 years from her and by the time she was 8, the oldest was married and gone. Her brother was exactly to the day, 3 years older and as a child, that’s the one she followed around. The older 3 were born on a farm in Ohio and the only reason Mom wasn’t was W.W.II. Grandpa, who had been laid off from the railroad during the Depression was called back to work during the time just after Pearl Harbor. Who knows, maybe without Pearl Harbor, she wouldn’t have been born at all. Exact moment in time. Grandpa was 8 or 9 years older than my grandmother so by the time mom was born, he was too old to enlist or be drafted.

Coming from the Depression era, only basics were really provided. Anything extra the kids wanted, they had to earn or get for themselves. By the time she was a teen, mom was making her own clothes, building her own bicycles from salvaged parts, and had a paper route for the Detroit Times (which became the Detroit Free Press). She knew she wanted to go to college so every penny she could, was put away for that purpose. After she gave up the paper route around age 16, she was working in places like Kresge’s and Woolworth’s (Who remembers those?).

After graduating HS she went away, a whole 25 miles, to The University Of Michigan for her first year in college. During that time, Grandpa left railroad work and became chairman of his union. Mom had a scholarship for UofM but room and board were not covered and were expensive, even then. That forced a move to St Louis as mom had to go with them. I’m a little sketchy on the amounts of time, I think mom was at Washington University for a semester. Her brother and his family were living in the grandparent’s house for a short while but the family would always return home for holidays. Christmas Eve, mom is on a train from St Louis to Detroit and, as she tells it, this guy just kept talking to her. Wouldn’t shut up and leave her alone. She just wanted to sleep. 33 days later, they were married. Eleven months later, yours truly saw the first light of day. Mom never went back to school but, for a time, I think she wished she could have. Dad was in the USAF stationed at McGuire AFB in New Jersey near Fort Dix (the place where I was born). Dad was an airplane mechanic in the service right about the time the Vietnam War was beginning to spark for the USA. I don’t know how it all worked but since he had a new born son, he didn’t go. I think this was at a time when the USA involvement was still an advisory one so for non critical personnel, deployment was optional. He was asked to go but mom wouldn’t allow it, as the story goes. I for one am grateful for that. I’ll tell you about the rest of their NJ experience some other time.

With what my mother saw going on around her, she didn’t want to be a military wife so after dad did his 4 year stretch, they came back to Michigan. I think for the first month they lived with my father’s parents while my uncle was closing on his house and getting ready to move out of mom’s parent’s house. Mom said it was hell living in Vicky’s house (my dad’s mother) and the minute her childhood home became available, moving day. Shortly after that, my sister was born and the family as it would be, was complete. I’m told there was another but it was lost to miscarriage and I don’t know any more details than that.

Now Dad, didn’t like being told what to do, especially by his in-laws who told him, on their wedding day, that he’d never be family. His parents were no angels to my mother either. Dad did what he had to do to support his family working multiple jobs and trying to do things on his own. One of those things was a photography studio. He and mom tried to make a go of doing portraits and the like. Mom was part of it too, hauling us kids to client’s homes (things were MUCH different back then than now) to do artist renderings and painted portraits. She also did things like coloring photos. I’ll tell you though, the thing she loved to paint and draw the most, Horses. She loved horses and always wanted one. Life gets in the way of dreams and desires though and people have to make due with what they have.

Anyway, When my grandparents were going to retire and move back home, the folks started looking for a new place to live. It was hell enough living under the in-law’s roof but with them there, no way in hell was it going to fly. By now, dad was driving a truck and making decent money. He did both local and short over the road between Detroit and Chicago and sometimes, to Buffalo, NY via Canada. As I remember it, he would leave on Tuesday and be back sometime Friday. If it was a weekend trip, he took me with him. Getting back to the story, the folks were looking for a new place to live and anything they could ‘afford’ was a rat hole death trap. So, as the story goes, one day my father came home with the announcement, ‘We’re Going To Build A House’. Not from actual memory but from what I know, I’m placing this about a year and a half before my grandparents retired and came back to Michigan.

I can still remember being left with babysitters while my parents went and looked for a plot of land to build their home on. They found one, a plot just under an acre. My parents sold everything they owned, took whatever jobs they could get, and borrowed scrimped and saved to pay for this venture. That plot became known as, ‘The Lot’. I grew to hate, ‘the lot’. It wasn’t any fun. I was in second grade when ‘the lot’ became ‘the hole’. I can remember prior, the dining room table becoming the drafting table where dad labored over plans and built models of the dream house. I can also remember at about age 7, dad saying, ‘put the toys away, your playing days are over’. I don’t remember the exact circumstance but I’m sure I was giving him guff about going to ‘the lot’. As a very young boy, I was gaining sweat equity in that house, carrying cinder blocks. Wining and complaining the entire time. I think my father was a hell of a man for putting up with it as I was probably more of a hindrance than help.

The house was a weekend and spare time job for the folks so getting the foundation set for this 40×50 foot split level took some time. They had other help from neighbors as well who just volunteered to help (where did that time go?). By the end of the summer, ‘the lot’ was ‘the house’. Both mom and dad moved every stick of lumber and pounded just about every nail in that house. Dad on the roof catching sheets of plywood as mom fed them up (the neighbors were there only occasionally). The House is where mom began getting her taste of construction. She was more of a helper and getter than builder at the time but for every step she could be, she was there. Always learning. I don’t think at the time she ever imagined she would become a builder, she had a job with benefits and a pension. In fact, her employer lent them the big chunk of seed money to build the house. How many employers today would do something like that? At that time, she had only worked for them for about a year.

January of the following year, on his 65th birthday, grandpa was ceremoniously shown the door and they moved back to Michigan. Forced retirement at that time. The house was still pretty much a shell as dad got the mechanicals in. Wiring, heat, plumbing, etc. He was also staying there many nights to work on it. During this time also, we were packing and moving things to the new house. All of our toys were packed up into boxes, old stuff no one paid any attention to discarded, etc. You know how it is when you move. By Easter of that year, the folks had enough of the house completed to get a temporary C of O. That was two ‘finished’ bedrooms, one bathroom, the kitchen, and working utilities. They had had enough of living with the grandparents and the move went into HIGH gear. I can remember dad asking us if we wanted to finish the school year where we were or if we wanted to go to the new school. He would have taken us to school if we wanted to stay and we could walk back to grandparent’s house until the folks could pick us up. We chose the new school.

Now, when we moved into the house, both the basement and what became the family room still had dirt floors. There were no steps going from the main living level to the family room but, a Ladder. The kitchen was a few cabinets, a sink, and a stove. For a couple weeks, until the second bedroom got ‘finished’ my sister and I shared the livingroom couch. It was OUR home though and I don’t think my parents could have been happier to get away from the toxic environment they were living in after my grandparents retired. Not that my grandparents were bad people, the entire situation just didn’t mesh.

From that time on, as money was available for materials, the interior slowly got finished. It took a couple years to get everything to where there was finished surfaces on everything. It wasn’t all what they wanted and the house over the years went through several face lifts and redos. By the time we moved into the house, dad had lost his job as a truck driver, so now he was doing home improvement. Mom was working full time in retail at a catalog showroom type of place as a buyer/manager.

This wasn’t so much of a Mom in a Man’s world type story but I thought you might enjoy a bit of the history of how Mom began to become involved in construction. See you next Saturday when the saga continues.

Have a great day,


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10 Responses to Saturday Special – We’re Gonna Build A House

  1. Kaereste says:

    That was fun! And boy did that bring memories of us helping our friends build their house. They bought a glorified chicken coop, got a remodeling loan and demolished the coop and built their own house while they (mom, dad and three yr old) lived in a tiny trailer. Mostly my husband helped build while I ran errands with the wife to the lumber yard and liqour store.

    I haven’t thought about this in years. Thanks for the memories.

    Your parents were certainly hard workers, tough as nails and loving. It’s an honor that you are sharing them with us.

  2. Lisa Renee says:

    Hi Jeff, I haven’t commented in a while. I do read every keystoke so I know you & the hound are well. May was my 10th anniversay, Mothers Day, hubby b/day & my B/day. Still mourning my mom, keeping my family upbeat & functioning was draining. It was hard & wore me out. I have never been so excited for Hurricane Season/June 1 to get here & put May behind us. Ashley has been accepted to The Thomas M. Cooley Law school & in 2 months becomes a reality. I am trying to ensure nothing takes away her enjoying how proud she is of herself.
    I wanted to tell you that I do look forward to your Wednesday writings & am loving the stories about your family. Your mom was certainly amazing & am enjoying getting to know her. The oddest thing happened today while reading, one word,Woolworths & I was at the counter with my mom (4yo?) & recalled a memory I never had before. From Moms tuna melt,yuck, to the metal papercup holders to our matching outfits, your writing took me there. The details are fuzzy but at that counter with my mom at that moment I clearly now remember feeling so special to her. Thank you so much for that. I enjoy your writing style, it is unique & entertaining. I appreciate Empress giving you a forum, you know I love your rants, no matter the topic. I look forward to what is next from you. You & the Empress have been on fire, every blog so thought provoking. I may not post alot but I am reading πŸ™‚ Lisa

    • Hey Lisa,
      Haven’t we all been at that Woolworth’s counter! Isn’t amazing what our own little stories can evoke? I’m glad to hear you’ve been looking over our shoulders.
      We’re all proud of Ashley, but I guess you knew that already.
      Hugs to you both – πŸ™‚

    • melthehound says:

      Hi, Lisa. Congrats to your daughter(?) getting into Law School. You sure sound proud and with every right. Feb and Dec are the months I prefer to leave behind me each year so I understand you looking forward to June 1. I’m glad you are enjoying the stories. πŸ™‚

  3. mth,
    I love this story. Long before I came along, my dad built the house we grew up in. He was working for Ma Bell at the time, so it was slowly built during evenings and weekends, with the help of family, friends and neighbors. We still have pictures of my brother, who was about 2 at the time, wearing his own tool belt, hammering away at things whether they needed nails or not. I think it would take a Cat 5 Hurricane to take that place down. πŸ˜€

    • melthehound says:

      Glad you enjoyed it Empress πŸ˜€ I wasn’t allowed to pound very many nails. Mostly because even the ones I managed to drive straight, took 5 minutes apiece. I was tasked with putting insulation in the walls. Man that was some itchy stuff (scratching now just thinking about it). Every wall in the house is soundproofed because the folks never wanted to hinder us kids, being kids. They probably didn’t want to hinder themselves, being adults either πŸ˜‰ .

  4. That reminds me of a story about my Granny. She had taken the bus downtown and was either eating in Woolworth’s or W. T. Grants. She had taken her upper dentures out and wrapped them in a napkin and forgot them. Of course when she went back to look for them, they had already been disposed of. True story.

    • melthehound says:

      πŸ˜† Mom (and Dad) had false teeth by the time they were mid 40s. For dad it was complete. For mom, only the top was a full plate and the bottom was partial for the back teeth. She hated the bottom plate and left it in her purse. A purse I had bought her for Christmas BTW. One day while she was at the office, someone broke into her car and stole her purse, lower denture and all. She replaced the purse but never bothered with the lower plate.. True story πŸ˜€

    • Bus rides downtown, Woolworth’s and W.T. Grant’s all in one day! So many wonderful childhhod memories of both places. We really are putting a date and time stamp on ourselves. πŸ™‚

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