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"I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change!"
For weeks, we’d told the real estate agent that we were just bat-shit crazy about contemporary homes. Hubby and I drooled over the cheap, sleek Scandinavian crap in the Ikea catalogue. I imagined wearing all-black or all-white outfits and hosting pristine dinner parties where everyone had a white plate with a single perfect olive on it and nothing else. Our guests would laugh in a throaty, cultured, contemporary way as they pondered the origin of this perfect olive.
Modern! Get it, Ms. Real Estate Agent with the Lexus SUV? No Colonials, no Tudors, not so much as a ’50s ranch house for us. We wanted the kind of cool-cat, minimalist style you don’t see much in small Southern towns unless it belongs to the snooty art professor at the local college and his life partner. We weren’t a gay couple, obviously, but we sure were house-shopping like one.
So my forty-something agent slipped on her Ferragamos, fussed with her helmet hair in the mirror, tugged on her imitation St. John knit suit and set her mind to finding us, the Southern freaks, the modern house of our dreams.
She did a tremendous job, except for the time she apparently drank too much Robitussin and drove us to a split-level Brady Bunch house that made us gag and whine.
"This ain’t contemporary at all," I chided her.
One day, deep into the fourth month of house hunting, she drove us to a new development of contemporary homes and we oohed and aahed over the white walls and steely solemnity. The living room in the model home was straight off the cover of the Crate & Barrel catalogue. You know the one: white couch, black fuzzy pillows, and that single, perfect hot-pink zinnia providing the only color in the room. It’s so tasteful it makes you want to throw up.
"Well?" real estate lady said, sweeping her arms grandly. "What do you think? Is this the one? It is, isn’t it? I just know it. It’s the one."
"Well, sorta," hubby said.
"Not so much," I said.
Real estate lady tried mightily not to show the disappointment she was feeling. She’d given us her best shot for four months and it wasn’t good enough.
The next week, hubby and I got lost on a one-way street in an old section of town. And there, on this street that no one knew about, was the perfect house with a sign in the yard.
We called real estate lady and asked her to find out all she could about it.
She was so excited that she drove over immediately to the perfect house. But when she pulled up, her face was ashen.
"You OK?" I asked.
"But (sob) this (sob) isn’t even close to (sob) contemporary!"
"Oh, yeah, about that...," I said.
We stood on the sidewalk in front of the perfect house and realized that it was nothing like we had described. Instead, it was a two-story Federal-style house that was ninety years old and needed a ton of work.
"Isn’t it beautiful?" I asked.
"Uh-huh," real estate lady managed. "But it’s old, really old, and it looks as if it might need, uh, some work."
"Don’t worry!" hubby crowed. "I can do a lot of the work myself." Well, not really. Hubby isn’t what you’d call handy. The one time I asked him to hang a picture in our apartment, it took twelve hours and a six-pack and even then that picture was crookedy ’til the day we moved out.
But we had House Fever and all that we could think about was moving in. There would be an offer, a counteroffer, and tons of inspections.
Looking back on it, I’m fairly certain the inspector was on crack when he proclaimed our house had "good bones." Perhaps he simply meant that he’d run into some while underneath the house, perhaps the brittle, calcified remnants of whatever handyman had been sucked into the murk for whatever repair long before we were born.
With the purchase of this old house, gone was the notion of the olive dinner party. This was more redneck Riviera, a home for oyster roasts and third cousins passing out and sleeping in the yard. It was purely, deeply Southern and we loved it. You could practically hear Olympia Dukakis imploring Sally Field to smack Shirley McLain across the face in the big backyard. It was Steel Magnolias and Ya-Yas rolled into one and, looking at the two enormous pecan trees in the yard, I couldn’t believe I’d ever thought we could go modern.
Nope, this was our house and we would love it and care for it and raise our baby in it and not even care when the basement filled with six feet of water during hurricanes. Which it did.
Friends who visited our new old house always said the same thing: "Did you ever see that movie? Gosh, what was it called? Had Shelley Long in it, maybe Michael Keaton? Or was it Tom Hanks?"
"Are you talking about The Money Pit?" we’d ask.
And, of course, they were.
"That’s the one! This house reminds me of that house in the movie. Hahahaha!"
Yes, hahahahahahaha, indeed.
We moved in and began the long process of renovation, at one point deciding that it would be a whole lot easier to just check into the hospital and have repeated elective surgeries until it was safe to come home again.
First up, the kitchen.
When you set out to gut a ninety-year-old kitchen, you have to be prepared for the occasional unforeseen challenge, or, as we like to call it, "rot."
"See," the contractor guy explained, as though talking to two small, dimwitted children, "water is the enemy of wood."
I was afraid he was going to say, "Now say it after me" just like my eighth-grade science teacher did.
Water, it turns out, hates wood like Trump hates Rosie. The two spend entire de cades fighting inside your walls, until one day a big, noisy tool exposes them just like a deputy holding a flashlight and shining it into the backseat when you’re parked at the junior high ball field. Oh, sorry. Where was I?
We had a crackerjack team working on our old house. There was Darrell and Damon and Donnie Ray and Dion, the head guy.
It’s a "D" thing; try to understand.
Each morning, the boys would roll up in assorted trucks, fumble for a cigarette or ten and walk up and down looking at the rear of the house.
They’d always shake their heads, calling to mind the country expression I grew up with that applied to times when Aunt Elna Jay or whomever had "the cancer."
In the rural South, "the cancer" surgery is always followed by a report from some kin proclaiming that "They opened Elna Jay up but when they took a look at her insides, well, they just sewed her right back up." It’s dramatic, always accompanied by a stitching-in-the-air motion and it never fails to elicit a chorus of "I swanee"s or even a hushed "Sweet Jesus" or two.
This is how the D team looked at the kitchen addition and renovation. Even the prospect of a complete demo of the ninety-year-old kitchen wasn’t enough to cheer them up. It was a gargantuan task ahead of them, not made any easier by the first day’s revelation that a very large dead rat would have to be dealt with when they pried up some boards.
Darrell promptly threw up his barbecue sandwich and Sun Drop and I realized that this was a sensitive bunch.
I came to know the crew, and the many sub-crews, very well. And, they, in turn got to know me well. I adored these men and wished that I could’ve fed them biscuits and gravy every day but, since I no longer had any semblance of a kitchen, that was pretty much impossible.
After three months of male bonding, I’d gotten used to the house crawling with men whose names began with D.
Everything was going great, that is, until one very unfortunate morning.
I thought they’d all gone in their many trucks to the lumberyard to fetch wood to replace the challenged section of the day.
Alone at last, and happily wandering in robe and slippers from room to room in my suddenly silent house, I, well, let slip an ill wind, so to speak. It is not an exaggeration to say that it was so loud and resonant as to threaten the very newly poured foundation of my kitchen. Rebar-schmebar; something’s gonna blow!
And then, it happened. On the other side of a thin piece of plywood that had been nailed up to protect the rest of the house from lung-clogging mountains of dust, I heard an embarrassed shuffling of feet and fake coughing.
Precious Lord, take me now.
And, no, it matters not a whit that kings and queens do it. How could I have been so reckless? They always leave at least one man behind in case a new episode of rot breaks out.
I realize that this confession may startle those of you who assume that a Southern flower such as myself would be incapable of committing such a vile act but I can only be perfectly truthful with y’all and say that there is a first time for everything.
I’ve known many men over the years who claim never to have heard their wives expel anything noisy from their bodies other than perhaps an excited and grateful squeal during love-making but these men have no idea what happens when they finally clear out and these women can, at last, behave as nature intended.
People, we are human!
As I stood, frozen in horror and shame, I was filled with regret for the previous night’s dinner. For just as water and wood are a really bad combination, so are a fish sandwich and Cheddar Pepper Poppers from Sonic.
I couldn’t be sure, but I thought the D Team was looking at me differently over the next few weeks. A few of them began to loudly burp as though to make me feel more comfortable in my own home.
Their motives were pure and primal, I suppose. It’s like, in the wild, when one animal does something to indicate to the other that they can be friends. It would have been inappropriate for us to sniff one another’s naughties so this was the best they could do to let me know that they understood we were all human beings full of hopes and dreams and flatulence.
Because I’m not one to suffer in silence, I unburdened myself to my girlfriends, who were completely sympathetic, as it turns out. In fact, the more I told the story, the better I felt.
One friend confided that for months, during construction of an addition to an upstairs bedroom, she had to rearrange her entire day around her poops.
"God almighty, I had to drink coffee by five a.m. just so I could take a private dump by six and they wouldn’t know about it."
One older gentleman who had read my confession in a newspaper column (I told y’all I have no secrets) ventured out of his parlor and away from his Victrola long enough to inform me that he had been married three times and none of his wives had ever "committed such a despicable act."
Hey, it didn’t exactly take the team from "CSI: Texarkana" to figure out the cause o’ death of those old broads: They blew up! After all, y’all, gas has to go somewhere. If you live with a, pardon me, old fart who is monitoring your every gas bubble, it’s not going to be long before you explode.
I’m just saying.
Excerpted from Belle Weather by Celia Rivenbark
Copyright © 2008 by Celia Rivenbark
Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.