I took a risk when I signed the contract to build a house. I was a Librarian. I was not a carpenter. I was not a plumber. I was not an electrician, nor did I work on heating/cooling systems. I had none of the skills necessary to build a house. In fact, the largest thing I had built before then was a six foot tall set of books shelves that, as soon as it was full of books, promptly collapsed. What I did have, though, was the experience of watching my father continually work on our house, or the barn or farm equipment. Once, I asked him if he knew how to fix everything, because he was certainly fixing everything around me in my life.

“No, I don’t,” he answered to my surprise. “But I know I’m not stupid and I can figure it out.

I had grown up, from age two, doing some kind of adult work or other, often straining my abilities, so I knew I could figure out whatever needed to be done.

Now, I must say, I did not build ALL of the house. A company put up the shell and made it weather tight (roof, windows, doors). It was a shell of a house you could see through. The walls were just 2x4s, with just the subflooring. All the rest was up to me: electric, plumbing, heating/cooling, walls, ceilings, finished flooring, etc.

I did not want to build a house; it was not my dream. It was the only way I could keep my family together. My wife had said if we didn’t have a “real house,” she would take the children and leave. We had no money to pay a contractor, so I agreed to build a house. We picked a simple design out of a catalogue.

Some days, many days, I could not do much work, the enormity of all that needed to be done overwhelmed me. I would set a goal for the day. A small goal that could be easily achieved, such as install one electrical outlet box. I would go to the house (from the mobile home where we lived just across the driveway) scream in frustration for an hour or so, install the box, then leave. That was as much as I could handle.

Eventually, through several years, I did finish the house, basically one room at a time. We gradually moved into it one room at a time. We began sleeping in the upstairs bedroom in the summer because it was cooler than the mobile home. I managed to assemble the furnace, and light it, the night before the blizzard arrived.

Strangely, no matter how much of the house became finished, and even after it was finished, my wife was not content. I couldn’t figure that out. Eventually, I agreed to sell the house though I’d planned for us to live for the rest of our lives there, and move back to (for me) the alien environment of a town. There are no acres of open space in town and people are constantly around. It made my skin crawl and I could never relax, but if that was what the family needed, I did it.

After selling the house and moving back to town (in my numbness at the loss – ten years of my life, $20,000 of value, the gardens, yard and trees I’d nurtured) my wife admitted that when she had suggested we live in a mobile home on the land we had bought, she was lying. She thought the attempt and failure would get the idea out of my system. She never imagined I would succeed.

Needless to say, the marriage did not last much longer.

I took a risk, and lost.

Today, thirty years later, my life is so much simpler. I am single, our children are grown and on their own, and can clearly see that their mother and I could never have had a happy marriage. I wish I could have known that way, way back then.

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