Jessie Raymond: Front porch arrives 53 weeks late
Lately, people keep coming up to me and saying, “Your front porch looks absolutely beautiful.”
They are correct.
They are also being very polite. Because what they really mean is, “Your front porch appeared to have been under renovation for an inordinately long time. It’s good to see it finished. Finally.”
You see, I am married to a contractor, a man who spends many hours every week working on other people’s houses. When I get after him for not tending to the many planned renovations at our place, he says, “After a long day on the job site, the last thing I want to do is come home and start working here.”
I understand that. What I don’t understand is why this vital piece of information didn’t come up in conversation when we were buying a 150-year-old house.
Part of Mark’s reluctance might have been this particular project. It’s not like either one of us wanted to do the porch over. If we were going to sink a few thousand dollars into the house, we would have chosen new windows, a screened-in porch out back, a pantry or — on my most dreamy days — a new kitchen. But the porch took priority because visitors, who didn’t know where to step safely, risked falling through the floor.
We tore out the old porch over July Fourth weekend in 2014. Yes, 2014. Mark did run into some unexpected rot and other problems, which extended the timeline. But not by a year.
And I take some of the blame. I had been bugging him about the importance of work-life balance, which in my mind meant him not working seven days a week. In his mind, it meant discovering golf.
He has, over the past two summers, developed a healthy work-golf balance. I can’t deny it’s been good for his mental state. But it didn’t help to get the porch done in a timely fashion.
Neither did his perfectionism. When it came to sprucing up the turned posts and gingerbread accents on the porch, for instance, he refused to stop at scraping and repainting them. He felt, on principle, the pieces must be brought back to the original bare wood.
On the one hand, we ended up with detailed posts that look graceful and smooth, their fine lines no longer gummed up with layers of paint. On the other hand, the effort added not only hours of work but also months of procrastination; Mark had a hard time convincing himself to go out to the cold shop after work every night to carefully strip and sand every last molecule of paint from all four posts. (I stayed in the house, offering moral support from under a blanket on the couch.)
Christmas came and went. Snow fell. The winter was hard on all of us, but I had it the worst: I had to endure the nasty weather plus walk across a half-finished porch for months on end, while drivers passed slowly by and shook their heads. It was brutal.
Mark made some progress over the winter, most notably by installing stone steps so we no longer had to take a running start to get up onto the porch. By spring, some nine months after starting, all that was left were the roof and trim.
In May I bought hanging baskets, which I filled with darling purple and white flowers. I set them up on a table on the back porch and promised them daily that I would put them in their proper place before the end of summer.
They didn’t believe it any more than I did.
Shortly after Mark returned from golfing on Memorial Day weekend, I asked if he thought there was a chance of finishing the porch in less than a year.
“From now?” he said. “Why, of course, don’t be ridiculous.”
I stared at him.
“Oh, you mean from when I started?”
He rubbed his chin.
But he buckled down and came close, wrapping up 53 weeks after he had begun.
The end result, as so many people have noticed, is lovely. It makes me appreciate the workmanship that Mark is capable of. Stepping onto the porch, now decorated with my hanging baskets, I can’t help feeling that the long wait was worthwhile.
I’ve been looking at some actuarial tables, however, and they tell a different story. At the current rate, it is statistically impossible that I will live long enough to see a new kitchen.
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