Continuation of "Challenges of a Housewife"
I heaved the big cast iron stove out of its niche under the stairs, releasing clouds of black soot into the room when I disconnected the chimney pipes. Then I measured off where I wanted to make the opening for the door to the bedroom. This doorway had to be the exact same size of the living-to-bedroom doorway because I would have to use that slab of wall to seal that doorway later. I could not afford to make any error here.
Drilling the holes at the top to make clean-cut corners sent billows of dust to mingle with the soot that was already in the room, but when I started the chain saw to cut out the doorway I almost lost my nerve. The clay plaster of the wall protested against the chewing teeth with a dust storm that would have made the Sahara wince. And worse yet, every now and then the blade connected with either a pebble in the clay or perhaps a nail because I'd hear this blood curdling screech and fiery sparks burst from the bottom of the chain saw. Heaven only knew what was happening on the other side. I pulled the blade out and raced through the dining - living room to the bedroom to make sure I hadn't started a fire there.
No, it was fine but I knew that the chainsaw blades were being damaged by those rocks and nails. Still I had to go on. Back I went to my chainsaw to finish the cut. It took me less than ten minutes to make the two six-foot vertical cuts. The timing beat the hand saw by a mile but I was nearly choking, partly from the dust but mostly from the exhaust fumes from the gas powered chain saw. I shut off the saw and staggered outside.
While waiting for my breathing to resume, I reassessed my situation. This plan would work, but I had to make some adjustments if I wanted to keep breathing. Wrapping a bandana over my nose and mouth, I tied it securely at the back of my neck and then went inside that dust bowl that used to be my house. I opened every window and door that would open, upstairs and down, to let the breeze roam freely throughout.
Now I was back in business. The horizontal cut along the top, however, presented me with a problem. The chainsaw was too heavy for me to cut a straight line horizontally above my head. It took me more than half an hour to make the thirty two inch cut with the hand saw but finally I had the piece of wall isolated. Careful not to let it fall and break apart, I pried it loose and walked it a couple of feet over then propped it against the wall in preparation for the next phase of my renovations - sealing off the living-to-bedroom opening.
Checking my watch, I decided to make the other cut in the wall to divert those descending stairs into the bedroom. This cut had to be made floor to ceiling on both sides except that one side had to go right up against the outside north wall and the top had to be flush with the ceiling. For these cuts, I would be unable to use the chainsaw because there was no room for it.
I made the internal floor to ceiling cut with the chainsaw, standing on a chair. Fine. Now for the more difficult outside wall and ceiling flush cuts. I checked the kids, gave them some of their favourite wieners, buns, cookies and milk then ran back into the house to continue with my project. I worked hastily, using the handsaw against the ceiling, fighting that clock that seemed to have entered the Indy 500 races. The fuel on the big tractor would last till late in the afternoon but I had to have the basic work done before John came home or my project would be sabotaged for sure. The knuckles on my hands were raw and bleeding, but I had the ceiling cut complete with only the outside wall cut left to do.
I had to break to fix John's lunch. With sandwiches and an ample supply of water and Kool Aid, I gathered the kids into the car and we sped out to the far field where Daddy worked. In the field, I quickly unpacked the lunch before John got down from the tractor so he would not notice my bleeding knuckles then made light conversation to divert his attention to the kids. I waited impatiently for him to finish eating so I could get back to my project.
At home, I spread a blanket on the lawn in the shade of the big maples, brought out some pillows and told Jim to put the girls down for their nap. They all thought it was neat idea. There was no way I could let them sleep in the house. They would suffocate in that dust but I didn't tell them that. Jim was always a good little helper with the girls and as long as they had enough distractions, the kids could be fine with just minimal supervision.
I went back to that wall but as I glanced up at the spots of blood on the ceiling and then looked at the wall where I had to do another flush cut, I cringed. I grabbed some rags, wrapped my hands to protect them from the abrasions, and sawed my way down along the wall. Why didn't I do this in the first place? I could have saved the skin on those knuckles.
The cutting finished, I went to the bedroom and moved the mattress off the bed setting it against the couch in the living room. The bed frame and dresser I moved against the far wall. Now I had room for that slab of wall and eventually for the descending stairway! From the kitchen side I pushed the cut-away section of wall away from the stairwell. When it started creaking, I jumped back onto the third step and watched the curve of the stairway pull apart with the weight of the four by eight foot section of clay-plastered slats that held it together. With a thunderous crash it fell to the floor of the bedroom sending ever more clouds of clay dust into air as the huge slab cracked into several splintered sections of debris. I now had a gaping hole in the wall and the area was ready for a redirection of the stairway. I had to clean that mass of clay wall off the bedroom floor next. I took the garbage outside and cleared the corner to make room for the three descending steps.
Then, using the crowbar I was able to loosen the bottom section of the stairway from its position but getting it to the bedroom through that thirty-two inch opening was a whole other matter. Heaving it onto its side, I managed to push, pull and manoeuvre it through. After more huffing and puffing, I had the stairs functional minus those three angling steps. Great!
Now I was at the second stage. If my luck would just hold out, if my lungs continue functioning, if my stamina endures, I just might manage to carry this off. Some of my muscles were complaining and my lungs were pleading for clean air but I wasn’t taking time out to listen. I couldn’t afford to. Time was of the essence here and this was a “do now or die forever” project!
Now to close the doorway between the bedroom and living room. I ripped all the mouldings off the living-to-bedroom doorway and stripped all the boards off leaving a raw hole into which I hoped to fit the cut out section of the wall from under the stairs. I moved the big recliner against the opening to act as a sort of anchor to prevent it from falling through in case it leaned. Panting from the exertion and rushing, I wedged and wiggled the slab to its new position, sealing the doorway between those two rooms. Fitting it in was a challenge but finally I had it exactly where I wanted it. To secure it, I gouged out some clay in the wall and in the slab so I could nail slats to both pieces that would hold the huge slab in position. One more nail, strategically placed and this phase of my project would be done
I was busily doing this when I heard a car pull into the driveway and my heart lurched in dismay. "Please God, no company today," I prayed fervently as I ran to the door to check.
But God had given me enough help today with the cuts and with the walls. His patience must have run out and He was allowing company to come in spite of my desperate prayers. Covered with dust and sweat, my hair so matted it would have made a farm dog blush, I watched in consternation as my father-in-law and two smartly dressed strangers emerged from a shining white Pontiac. From his animated gestures I could tell that my father-in-law was giving his listeners a glowing report of the farm and all the other assets as he proudly escorted them to the house.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK