Saturday, 8 October 2011

Challenges of a Housewife Part 1


"There has GOT to be a way."  In exasperation, I gazed around my large kitchen that had no room for anything other than perhaps a dance in the middle of the floor.  My mind raced around brainstorming for ideas, desperately seeking some workable solution to my dilemma.  A room fourteen feet long and twelve feet wide and all I had for cupboard space was a credenza thirty inches wide by thirty inches high and twenty inches deep with a hutch above it that was only ten inches deep!
When I married, I had moved onto my husband's home place that his parents had left for him when they moved to town.  This house was his dad's pride and joy, a house he had built himself fifteen years earlier.  A modest home, as farm homes went, two story wooden structure, twenty-four feet by twenty-four feet, with a lesser concrete basement underneath, it was heated with a huge home-made furnace - an old 45-gallon-oil-drum-firebox enclosed in an outer shell of brick and mortar.  It may have been fine once, but now, even I, coming from humble beginning and a poor family, was used to having more cupboard space than this house provided. 
My own father was a jack-of-all-trades.  He built or added things as the need arose.  When more cupboard space was needed, he simply got some lumber (home-planed), put his saw and hammer to work and presto - more cupboards.  Here in this house, even with my meagre supply of dishes, pots and pans and grocery supplies, the space was dismally inadequate.
I had spoken to my husband time and time again about this deficiency, but my pleas always fell on deaf ears.  He was not a handyman around the house.  Had I asked him to build me a shed or a barn, he might have been able to oblige but cupboards for the kitchen were not his forte.  As well, he was probably reluctant to do any alterations to his father's pride and joy, no matter how necessary.  Therefore, for six years I had put up with this major inconvenience.  Now I was at the end of my patience.  Something had to change and it was obvious I had to initiate that change.
I knew I was treading on forbidden territory, but after all, this was my home now.  I had been patient and servile for six years.  Surely, I had served my sentence.  It was time to take matters into my own hands and make this kitchen work for ME. 
I took a quick inventory of the assets and liabilities of the house.  The main floor of the house had four rooms.  There was the bedroom in the north-east corner, nine feet by twelve.  This opened southward into the eleven by fourteen foot living room which in turn opened via a large seven foot wide square archway into the nine by eleven foot (almost redundant) formal dining room to the southwest.  The dining room was separated from the kitchen by a door that had to be closed on cold winter days because although both the living and dining room faced the south, they had large double windows on each outside wall.  These were so sealed that when a south or west wind howled at forty miles per hour outside, it slowed down to a mere thirty miles per hour inside.  Even with the primitive furnace puffing heat at full blast from the two floor rads, on those days the living and dining rooms were uninhabitable.  The upstairs had only three rooms because of the slope of the roof on the north and south sides but it was even colder with only the stairway door and one 15 inch by 15 inch ceiling to floor rad to let heat up there from downstairs.  “Forced air” heat was an unheard of term and convection heat was how things were done.
The six-inch clay-plastered walls covered with the wooden siding did little to preserve the heat.  Time had left invisible cracks in the dry clay underneath the siding and there was  no vapour barrier plastic to impede the Jack Frost’s invasion into the house.  So we closed the door to the dining room and between the wood stove and the furnace we huddled together in the kitchen to maintain a semblance of comfort.  Eventually, though, we installed a big box stove in the living room because, with three kids, it was just too crowed in the kitchen.
Now the kitchen, in the northwest corner of the house was a work of art.  The south wall - fourteen feet of it - had four feet under the elaborate stairway but that was utilized because my woodstove and wood box occupied this south east cubbyhole.  The other ten feet accommodated my “kitchen cupboard; the door to the dining room; and the remaining three feet of wall held the hooks for the coats - an absolute necessity in this closetless dwelling.  The west wall, twelve feet of it - had the outside door and a large double window against which we kept the kitchen table and chairs nestled into the corner of the room.  No room for cupboards there.  The north wall, just beyond the table had just enough room for a small washstand with the necessary basin on it that served as our bathroom.  The remaining ten feet were taken up with a huge bannistered stairway that angled in the corner to go up the rest of the way along the whole east wall of the kitchen, above the stove.  Underneath this, the wood box and the trap door to the basement.  That was it!  No room for cupboards in this huge room because monstrous stairway took two walls! 
What to do?  That stairway!  That was the culprit.  It had to go!  We had three bedrooms upstairs; we didn't really need the one downstairs.  Besides, with the kids growing up, we pretty well had to move upstairs now anyway.  We’d cut another rad into the ceiling to get more heat up there.  If I could redirect the descending stairway from the kitchen's north wall into the bedroom and wall off the main stairway on the east, it would make my kitchen ten by twelve but it would give me two full walls free for other things, Like cupboards, for instance
All I had to do, I decided, was cut out two doorway-sized sections of the east wall of the kitchen - one under the main stairs and the other at the descending end of that stairway and put one solid east wall to close off that stairway and voila! a north and east wall to do with as I pleased.  I could then redirect the descending steps to the bedroom, seal off the door between the living and bedroom and I'd have free wall space in the kitchen, the bedroom and living room  Entry into the east room would be from the kitchen side.  I was sure I could do it.  I had watched my dad do fantastic things with a hammer and sawI felt sure I could do it too.  Besides, I knew that if I didn't do it, I'd be living like this for probably the rest of my life and I was determined not to do that.
With my scheme finalized I waited for my opportunity.  I knew that if I told my husband what I intended to do, he was sure to veto the idea and then I would never be able to go ahead with it.  So I decided to wait - wait until I knew he was away for the day and then I would do it myself.  Hopefully, by the time he got home, the major work would be done so that turning back would not be an option.  That was my plan and I fervently prayed that it would work.
I often worked out in the fields with my husband - he on one tractor, me on the other, while his mother stayed at home with the kids and made meals for us.  But sometimes during the summer when the spraying and summerfallow were done and it was still too early for haying, we had a slack period.  I would then get a break and stay home while he went to the work the fields alone.  That would give me the chance to put my plan into action.  That was the day was that I was waiting for.
My break came one day in early July when my husband went out to the far quarter to do the summerfallow.  I was left at home with the kids.  He left shortly after seven and I wasted no time.  I had a great deal to do and I could not afford to waste a single minute.  I threw some sheets over the bed, the living room couch and chairs to protect them from the dust and set up the kids to play outside near the house where I could keep an eye on them.  Then I went to the shed, got the chain saw, a drill, a hand saw, a crowbar, an axe and a hammer and started "Project Renovation"! 

Continued next week....

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