Faith Gong: The hole in the wall

While there were many things that attracted us to our current house, the house itself was not one of them.

Our house was built in three distinct installments, and it shows. The interior layout is a rambling railroad of rooms. The exterior, when we purchased the house, was covered on three sides with grey vinyl siding and red trim, and on the back side with unfinished wood. Neither vinyl nor wood siding was installed correctly, so water was getting underneath and causing rot.

We bought it anyway, because my husband tends to make decisions based on his vision of what can be, as opposed to what’s right in front of him. (Presumably, this is also why he married me.) His vision included re-siding the house after our budget had recovered from the initial purchase and the more immediate, necessary renovations.

I required some convincing on the house purchase, but was on board entirely when it came to the re-siding. Aside from the obvious issues of mismatched, poorly installed siding, the grey and red color scheme just didn’t seem in line with our family culture. Whenever I contemplated our house’s exterior, the two words that unfailingly came to mind were: Shark Attack.

Time passed, and by our third summer in the house the time was right for re-siding. We hired our friend, a contractor who did an expert job on our initial renovations, and his crew began work in late August. We expected the project, which also included pumping insulation into some un-insulated walls and adding a bit of a porch onto our front door, to take roughly eight weeks.

The first thing I noticed about the re-siding project was that it was LOUD. It’s not that I didn’t expect any noise; I was aware that re-siding a house involves ripping off the original siding and trim and then attaching the new siding and trim. A certain amount of banging is obviously called for. But I was unprepared for both the volume and the constancy of the noise.

It’s likely that we notice the noise more acutely because I am attempting to homeschool my four daughters most weekdays. Homeschooling, as the name implies, takes place largely (though not entirely) in the home. And it’s challenging to read, think, write, or instruct when drills, saws, and hammers are going at full volume a few meters away. “I can’t hear myself think!” one daughter shouted at me across the kitchen island, and she meant it quite literally. 

Our educational adaptation has been to function as academic nomads, picking up our materials and moving around to whatever part of the house is subject to the least banging at the moment.  We’ve also tried to maintain a sense of humor. Until it got old, certain children would holler, “Come in!” in response to a fresh volley of banging. And we found the perfect New Yorker cartoon, now hanging on our refrigerator, in which a bird sitting on a nest inches away from a pecking woodpecker thinks, “Ugh, construction!”

I’ve learned to always expect home repair projects to take longer than expected, but I still have a sinking feeling as we begin the eleventh week of what was to be an eight week project, with the house only one-fifth covered in the new siding. If it wasn’t already obvious, it’s clear to us now that our house is not normal. Because of the way each subsequent addition was tacked on to the last, it has far more surface area than other houses with the same square footage. It’s not an enormous house – in fact, it’s smaller than our last house – but as you approach it down the driveway it looks like a battleship. Our long-suffering contractors have to cut siding to fit into little nooks and crannies created by railroad-style construction, and the days go by.

One final surprise has been how thin our walls really are. We take such security in our walls: They keep the good things in and the bad things out. But the walls of our modern houses, although they’re solid enough, are really very thin – flimsy, even. This became evident the day that I could actually see one of our walls pulsing in response to the banging from outside. It became even more obvious on the day I walked downstairs and stopped in disbelief: The insulation that the crew was blowing into our walls had instead blown through our living room wall.

It was quite a scene. The drywall was ripped open in a crescent shape, and shredded newspaper insulation had spilled out of it and lay in clumps over our couch and floor. All of this had happened behind the largest bookcase in our house – which was, of course, full of books.

According to my daughters, who were witnesses, I said, “Oh, my!” and started laughing.

The crew foreman rushed in immediately afterwards, full of apologies. They were using a new insulation machine, and they’d also just discovered that our walls weren’t screwed in properly (of course.) By the end of the day, we were living amid stacks of books, but at least the hole in our wall had been repaired (pending repainting.)

I stand by my initial reaction to the hole in our wall: Sometimes, all you can do is laugh. Like the rest of life, home repairs are a reminder that we’re not in control. Things happen that are noisy, that do not adhere to schedule, and that are unexpectedly destructive. But I remind myself that it’s a gift to be able to re-side our house, in a color of our choice. The new yellow siding will welcome the friends and family who come here. Because no matter how flimsy the walls, what makes a house strongest is the love inside. 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, five children, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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