As a child whenever I’d do something uncouth my mom would say, “Were you born in a barn?”
No, but I practically lived in one.
The barn on our acre of ground was the center of my universe. It was a huge white-washed building separated into a shop and a two car garage whose floors were covered in concrete, and then the far bigger part of the barn had a dirt floor and was open on one side. It had been a barn that housed all the tractors, horses, equipment and drying trays for a large walnut orchard. We lived in the one hundred year old “Peck place” and the rest of the orchard had been planted in houses.
The barn housed numerous rabbit hutches, an egg laying house for the hens, the inside part of a sheep and hog pen and the stalls for two show steers. I also kept my feed in the barn, an old horse trailer and my Uncle Buddy’s model A. It was a great old barn and we found a lot of neat antiques in it. The only problem with the barn was that when it was sprinkling outside, inside the barn it was raining cats and dogs. It needed a new roof or it would soon contract the disease that destroyed a lot of old barns… wood rot. Termites were the final “Terminator”.
The problem was we didn’t have any money to pay a roofer to do the job, heck, we barely had enough to pay my old man’s bill at the liquor store! You see, I was the result of a cross between an alcoholic and a workaholic. (Luckily, I inherited the workaholic gene and not the boozer gene.) My Mom was the hardest working person I’ve ever met. She was a professional seamstress who worked her fingers to the bone 10 to 14 hours a day while raising three kids. She was also fearless, there wasn’t any challenge she wasn’t ready to take on… including re-roofing our barn. Since my big brother was at West Point, my sister was working at the drugstore and my old man was busy boozing, I naturally got recruited to help re-roof the barn.
My mom believed you should never hire anyone to do something that you were perfectly capable of doing yourself and I’m the same way. My wife and I have never hired a gardener or a housekeeper, we paint our own house, work on our own vehicles and do our own plumbing. To me, work and play are the same thing. I’m nearly 70 and I still put in long days and hopefully will never retire. I don’t buy lottery tickets or gamble just in case I might win and be tempted to live a life of leisure. I believe the harder you work the luckier you get in life.
So I was “all in” on re-roofing the barn. When my Uncle Charles, who worked at the lumber yard, announced that a load of shingles had been rejected and that we could have them for hauling them away, we pounced. Fifty years ago you didn’t always remove all the old shingles but just hammered the new ones right on top of the old and it was quite common to see roofs that were four and five layers thick.
We didn’t have nail guns either and the length of the roofing nails was determined by how many layers you had to hammer through. The only way we had to get the asphalt shingles up on the roof was to stand on a short ladder in the bed of our pickup and hand them up a few at a time. We used a chalk line to “snap” a straight line and started at the bottom and worked our way to the top. We began work at sunrise and “quitting time” was when we quit, usually when it got too dark and we started hitting our thumbs with the special roofing hammers that looked more like the hatchets seen in horror movies.
When we finished the huge roof it not only looked good, it suddenly stopped raining inside the barn. My mom and I finished the barn roof in just three days and probably were so speedy because neither one of us smoked, we weren’t unionized and we didn’t have cell phones. (Still don’t.)