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Home Improvement, Part 1

Jerry Nelson
South Dakota

It's been a busy time at our house in the area of home repair, with changes almost as big as those described in the first chapters of Genesis.

Most of these changes are thanks to Illinois Boy, also known as our youngest son. He is youthful and full of go, so when he recently found himself with time off between construction jobs, he decided to do some volunteer work for an older couple. Specifically, he came home to tackle various one-of-these-days tasks on my honey-do list.

The first thing he took on was to convert our centenarian granary into a garden shed.

Our lawn mower had been sleeping in our rickety old garage. Said garage was of undetermined age, but had the number "1918" stenciled above its door. My guess is that number ether referred to the year it was built or its original price tag of $19.18.

In any case, the ramshackle garage was literally falling down around the mower. Finding a rake or a shovel in there was like wading into the wreckage left by a hurricane.

I was thinking about replacing the decrepit garage with a new prefab garden shed. But Illinois Boy pointed out that our aged granary would house the mower quite nicely with room leftover for rakes, hoes, hose, and so on.

I was skeptical, but told him to see what he could do. He soon had the granary all cleaned out, had removed its wooden partitions, and was well on his way to transforming the erstwhile grain depot into a lawn mower Taj Mahal.

An issue that needed to be addressed early on involved elevation, as the granary's floor is a step higher than the surrounding terrain. I was in favor of building a wooden ramp, but Illinois Boy had a better idea: rocks.

A stone ramp, he insisted, would not just be cheaper to build, it would also last longer than anything made of wood. It was hard to argue with the longevity part given the fact that the stones on our farm have been around for about a million years. In other words, our rocks are nearly as old as the Rolling Stones.

So one Saturday we set to building a stone ramp, even though we had no experience in the art of stonemasonry. Our theory was: you simply stack the stones and slap some mortar between them. How hard can it be?

Hard as rocks, it turns out. We both quickly acquired a new level of respect for stonemasons.

Building with stone, we discovered, is quite taxing on the musculoskeletal system. There's no drive-through where you can pick up a rock structure quickly and for a nominal fee. Aching muscles and joints are the price of do-it-yourself stonework.

Stonemasonry is much more difficult mentally than one might think. You find yourself pondering if this rock will fit into that void and begin to hold flat-sided stones in very high esteem.

Many of the rocks we used were picked and piled by me. Some were put into the pile by this farm's previous owners: my grandfather, and before him, my great-grandfather. We all cursed those stones as we picked them and certainly didn't expect to handle them ever again. Yet here we were.

As we toiled over the ramp it occurred that maybe this was foolish, working so hard to preserve such an old outbuilding. When Illinois Boy reshingled the granary, he found a roof patch that consisted of a 1929 license plate. I took this as proof of a couple of things. One, the structure is older than dirt and two, that the person who installed the patch was, like me, a bit frugal.

The geriatric granary had a capacity of maybe 1,000 bushels, roughly one modern truckload. Despite its diminutive size, the hoary storehouse played a critical role for my ancestors, preserving the grain that kept their livestock alive through our frigid winters, safeguarding the seed that contained their hopes for the future.

One can only imagine how many buckets of grain have been carried out through that old granary's door.

And now that once-important granary is deemed just a decent-size garden shed. But I guess it's better than simply letting the elements and gravity have their way.

After an afternoon of construction that felt as though it lasted a week, our stone ramp was complete. I like how it turned out despite its somewhat lumpy and rough appearance. The word organic springs to mind, which sounds much better than amateurish.

Some carpenter guys we know happened to stop by, so we showed them our stone ramp. They glanced at our handiwork and said, "Yup. Oughta work."

Which, I believe, is carpenter speak for "Wow! Great job!"

Part 2: Down and Dirty

The story has it that an architect was once asked to draw up plans for a major overhaul of the Vatican. After reviewing the blueprints, the pope sent the architect a note, written in Latin, that read "nos es non angelus," which translates to "we are not angels."

Turns out the architect had forgotten to include even a single bathroom in his plans.

Indoor bathrooms and their underground cohort, the sewer system, are important components of modern life. A person doesn't realize just how critical these things are until they act up by backing up.

Our house is nearly 50 years old, which means its septic system may have been designed by Fred Flintstone. Our septic tank gave us few problems during the first years, but lately has grown more and more cantankerous.

Nothing mak

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