All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House

( 5 )

Overview

With the lyrics of a Replacements song running through his head ("Look me in the eye, then tell me that I'm satisfied"), David Giffels—with his wife and infant son in tow—combs the environs of Akron, Ohio, in search of the perfect house for his burgeoning family. The quest ends at the front door of a beautiful but decaying Gilded Age mansion, the once-grand former residence of a rubber-industry executive. It lacks functional plumbing and electricity, leaks rain like a cartoon shack, and is infested with all ...

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All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House

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Overview

With the lyrics of a Replacements song running through his head ("Look me in the eye, then tell me that I'm satisfied"), David Giffels—with his wife and infant son in tow—combs the environs of Akron, Ohio, in search of the perfect house for his burgeoning family. The quest ends at the front door of a beautiful but decaying Gilded Age mansion, the once-grand former residence of a rubber-industry executive. It lacks functional plumbing and electricity, leaks rain like a cartoon shack, and is infested with all manner of wildlife. But for a young father at a coming-of-age crossroads, the challenge is precisely the allure.

All the Way Home is Giffels's funny, poignant, and confounding journey through the great adventure of restoring a crumbling house on the way to discovering what the words "grown up" and "home" really mean.

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Editorial Reviews

Belle Elving
…instead of taking the easy path and buying a tract house with a manageable mortgage, Giffels gave his heart—and years of his life—to a tumbledown turn-of-the-century mansion in a city sunk under hard times. His memoir, All the Way Home, is not only a chronicle of this renovation but also an homage to Akron, Ohio, and an affirmation of his place in it.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

This Old Housemeets The Money Pitin journalist Giffels's search for an affordable home. The Giffels family settles on a run-down, soon to be condemned early-20th-century mansion, but when he arrives at the mansion to begin his work—aided eventually by scores of workers—he finds leaks in several areas of the roof, crumbling brick, dry-rotted wood, warped floors, vermin droppings and nests, as well as a beautiful old staircase, a fireplace in the bedroom and gorgeous brass hinges and other fixtures. Convinced that he can recover the former glory of this house with a little elbow grease and perseverance, Giffels sets out on his mission—fueled by the strains of R.E.M. and the Clash—to renovate the house one room at a time. Giffels fights a losing battle as he seeks to remove squirrels, mice and a raccoon from his abode—his attempt to scare away squirrels from the attic by using an electric guitar is especially amusing—and he discovers that every victory carries with it a failure somewhere else. Sometimes humorous, Giffels's memoir comments sadly on one man's stubbornness and selfishness (even his wife's miscarriages don't stop him from his work) in his quest to make a house a home. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Those visiting Giffels's (columnist, Akron Beacon Journal) dream house often ask him if he's seen the Tom Hanks movie The Money Pit. His is an astonishingly decrepit mansion built in 1913 and last maintained in 1965. The owner remained long after that year, right until (and a little after) Giffels bought it and took possession. Giffels is an incorrigible do-it-yourselfer. Hunting for the right home for his growing family, he let no combination of rot, rust, decay, wildlife, buckling walls, gaping roofs, and assorted dilapidation sway him once he and his wife, Gina, fell in love with the past, and the potential, of his Tudor revival behemoth. Giffels's restoration adventures include a drywall finishing team whose combined résumé includes manslaughter and managing a Cyndi Lauper tour; a failed attempt to blast out squirrels with a Fender Stratocaster; the thrill of buried treasure; a touch of Akron, OH, local history; and ruminations on parenthood, loss, and love. The book ends with the birth of the Giffels's second child, but a brief afterword indicates that, ten years later, renovation continues. A funny, painful, engaging cautionary tale, warmly recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/15/08.]
—Janet Ingraham Dwyer

Kirkus Reviews
It's the age-old story of residence against man as the author builds his dream house. Though not a structural engineer like his father, Akron Beacon Journal columnist (and former Beavis and Butt-Head writer) Giffels was seriously into the form of obsession known as do-it-yourself. The decaying old manse on North Portage Path in Akron, Ohio, was composed largely of rot, rust and mold, along with a bit of residual brick. It had all the structural integrity of a house of cards, but it boasted a billiard room. "We knew," writes the author, implicating his understanding spouse, whose second pregnancy made the move to larger quarters more urgent. "We belonged here." Of course, funny stuff ensued as ancient lath and plaster gave way to wallboard, rust yielded to pipe, openings in the roof were shingled and the shambles became a home. Giffel's untethered expectations met human limitations. It was an epic, resolute campaign against ancient wood, copper, mortar and linoleum, against soil, grout and glue, against mice, raccoons and squirrels. Walls spoke secrets, joists told tales and the rafters enclosed stories as well as resident woodland creatures. The author found a cache of antique cash and lost his favorite hammer. Reconstructing that grand old dwelling was a life-changing event and, perforce, a fount of comedy. As he doggedly stripped accretions of paint from door hinges, Giffels uncovered layers of heartfelt meaning. At last report, nearing its centenary, the place on North Portage Path is not finished. The Giffels family is in it, quite happy. The house remains, like the greater world, a place of mortality and of vitality. Life goes on. An entertaining, sometimes affecting memoir of makinga home. Agent: Daniel Greenberg/Levine Greenberg Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061362873
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/23/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 461,630
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

David Giffels is an assistant professor of English at the University of Akron, where he teaches creative nonfiction. Formerly an award-winning columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal and a contributing commentator on NPR, his writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine and many other publications. He lives in Akron, Ohio, with his wife and two children.

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Read an Excerpt

All the Way Home
Building a Family in a Falling-Down House

Chapter One

lost in the supermarket

Main aisle, Home Improvement Superstore:

We are walking with such purpose down the wide fluorescence of the promenade that we are not really walking so much as we are marching, propelled by the triplet American cadences of conviction, desire, and retail curiosity.

We navigate by end-cap billboards.

Adhesives/Tarps/Caulk . . .

We lead with our jaws. Our torsos strain forward in a posture of domestic yearning, pulling us into a power walk.

Conduit/Connectors/PVC . . .

Our arms swing with the edgy reciprocation of a Sawzall, triggered low. We squint at thumb-smeared shopping lists with utilitarian dignity.

I always wonder what that next guy is here for, the one burning holes into the shelves with his gaze. I always wonder what problem he came here to solve and if he's here because he knows what he needs or because he hopes he will find it. I wonder if he ever stops to realize that he has prepared himself all his life for this moment, the moment in which the truth hits him with such clarity that he experiences the divinations of Meriwether Lewis:

He needs a toilet flange.

Not a wax ring. Not tape or putty. The problem is in the flange and he knows it now, oh he is so certain of this. He lay awake last night working through the possibilities of his problem and now he has arrived.

Faucets/Fixtures/Toilets . . .

Godspeed.

Me, I'm still looking.

I came here for three things:

1. a can of expandingsealant, that magical stuff;
2. another three bags of mortar because this much I've learned: a single bag of mortar is a fool's errand; and
3. possibly a hinge.

The hinge is a lark. The hinge is a red herring. The hinge is an albatross. A wild goose. The hinge is to replace the one nearest the floor on the billiards room door, because most of the water damage there is down low and that hinge is rusted beyond reason and salvation. It's heavy and antique and I know I will not find one here. But I have to look.

Looking for something we don't think we'll find—this is an understanding we share here in the wilds of the superstore.

We are people afraid of what might happen if our lives became comfortable.

We are people who don't know nearly as much as we want the world to believe we know.

We are fathers. We are desperate to understand our place among people who desperately need us.

Our ambition is complicated.

We look at walls and fantasize about their insides.

We consider the influence of our hands upon our tools, and of our tools upon our hands.

We have opinions about sandpaper.

I've stopped now, between Lighting and Doors.

A hinge—is it "hardware" or "fastener"?

We do not ask. We seek and discover. We, in the aisles: we are seekers and discoverers. This is our frontier. This is what we have left.

For me, today, it's this billiards room door. Yeah. A billiards room. It's not what it sounds like. I am not Colonel Mustard. I am not the kind of guy who lives in a house with a billiards room. Well, I mean, I do live in a house with a billiards room. But I am not the kind of guy who relaxes by playing snooker. Because I am not the kind of guy who relaxes. The billiards room is just, well—it all just kind of happened.

It started innocently enough. It started in much the same way curiosity led me to poke into that basement wall, perhaps the only wall remaining in this mansion that I had not been inside. What's going on inside that wall, I wondered, so I hammered a hole and reached inside to find out. (We do these things on impulse at my house.) That's when I found the termites. After all this time and all this work, five years of nonstop restoration, just when I thought things were settling down, just when I thought I was ready to allow things to settle down . . .

I reached into the wall and put my thumb against the center beam, and the thumb sank into the wood—powder! nothing!—and I realized amid this shocking new information that I was standing directly below the piano in the foyer one floor above, and I was therefore in danger of dying a cartoon character's death, piano crashing through floor, which is something I do not want to do. More than anything else, I do not want to die a cartoon character's death.

I called my father, frantic. And my father, the structural engineer, came right over and looked inside the wall.

"Nothing holding this place up but memory."

This is what he said.

He laughed. I think he lives for days like this. He is an enabler. I am a provider. I provide him with that stuff that makes fathers what they are, which is mostly trouble that needs to be corrected.

Everything can be fixed, he said. (That's the problem.) We made a plan and I acted on that plan with furious purpose to save my house from falling down. Day after day, night after night, I ripped out the rot and braced it up and poured concrete, a hundred bags. I laid a brick floor (scavenged brick—always, everything, scavenged) and then, carefully, one by one, removed the sticks that hold up the center of the house and replaced each with a new one. Stout posts. Good as new. Better! Better than new! I knew exactly what I was doing, and I didn't have a clue.

Really, that wasn't the worst of it. The worst of it was the darkest secret of all: when I reached inside the wall and found the studs teeming with termites, the pulp consumed, leaving only the layers of grain, the leaves of a gutted text—I responded outwardly with horror but inwardly with glee!

All the Way Home
Building a Family in a Falling-Down House
. Copyright © by David Giffels. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    A great read

    This is a book anyone who has owned a house, been married or had kids will enjoy. Mr. Giffels is a talented writer who makes the reader laugh, cry and laugh again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2012

    So good I bought it twice!

    This is the second time I bought this book. The first time, I thought it was so good that I thought a friend of mine absolutely had to read it, too. So I gave him my copy. I finally missed it so much that I bought myself another copy and read it again. For anyone who has attempted home repair or renovation at any level, this is a must-read. You will feel so much better about your own projects! Giffels has a great sense of humor and his writing style is engaging. Even if you've never lifted a hammer, you will enjoy this tale.

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  • Posted November 13, 2009

    A great trip thru time

    I was raised on North Portage Path near the Seiberling Mansion in the 50's and 60's. This book brought back so many memories of the homes along that road. They were the most beautiful homes. It is so nice to see that someone wanted to save one of them. It is a shame that the Firestone mansions were torn down and replaced with condos. They should of all been saved and let the public see how it was back in those times.
    I could not put this book down. I still can't believe that Mrs. Rayner lived in that house until the day she had to move out. Great book. I was so glad that this was recommended to me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2008

    Great read

    This was an easy, keep your attention read. I read it in two days. Very interesting to step into the world of a major house renovation and the relationships involved.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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