The dangerous life of a handyman's wife
"Being the wife of a handyman," columnist Jessie Veeder writes, means that projects around the house are "your life, forever and ever amen."
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — I am the wife of a handyman. Because of him, we live by the mantra, “If you want something done and still want to be able to afford to buy Cheerios, we do it ourselves.”
I came to terms with this concept early in our marriage, when we were young and naive and took on the complete strip-down of a shag carpet, hot-tub-in-the-living-room remodel that brought a 1974 Brady Bunch house up to the times of hardwood flooring and no hot tubs in the living room. 7,000 hours of staining and varnishing and stripping and sheet rocking, a few dozen arguments, and one head stuck in a ladder later, I began to fully understand what it truly meant.
Being the wife of a handyman means this is your life, forever and ever amen.
Fast-forward 12 years, and here we are, proving I was right. We’re still working on our house. Because just when it starts looking like it’s going to be finished, I come up with an idea for an addition or a remodel. I guess that’s what happens when your tool belt-wearing man can make anything happen, you start to feel empowered with your vision.
Anyway, lately he’s been empowering me by requesting that I help him put rocks on the new fireplace in our new living room, to which I say, it could be worse. I could be trembling on an 8-foot ladder on top of 10-foot-high homemade scaffolding with my arms above my head because we decided that 20-foot ceilings were a good idea without considering that one of us is deathly afraid of heights.
Plummeting to a bone-crushing, bloody, mangled death is what I pictured every time I walked across that homemade scaffolding, boards creaking in my attempt to bring a nail gun to my dearly beloved — he who thought positioning his ladder on the tippy-toe edge of the ledge, standing at the very top rung, and then leaning out into the abyss of death that is now our living room was an acceptable risk to take in the name of home-building.
The urge to scream, “Screw the board, save yourselves!” and run to lie on solid ground is a hereditary condition spawned from my prairie-dwelling ancestors who passed up the terrifying mountains to come live in houses with one floor, low ceilings, and basements.
My dad has the condition, too, so that’s why this memory of recruiting him to help install a wooden beam on our tall ceiling is etched in my brain.
I suggested calling the National Guard, but he just told me to go get my dad. The task I approached him with was one straight out of his nightmares: stand on this tall ladder on this shaky scaffolding and hold this 15-foot beam up to the top of the 20-foot ceiling while my husband climbs and dangles and runs and jumps and back flips with nail gun in hand to get the thing to hold.
My job? Same thing, only with trembling, holding my breath, and throwing up a bit of my morning eggs.
So there we stood, my dad and I, conjuring up worst-case scenarios as mini Bob Vila went from one near-death position to the next. Dad told me not to watch as my husband stretched his ladder across the stairway and stood with nothing but a thin board between him and a 15-foot fall.
So I didn’t watch. And neither did Dad. I remember us working hard to hold it together. The two of us only hollered “Be careful up there!” and “Don’t fall!” about 55 times during the course of 15 minutes.
Just as we thought we were out of the woods, everybody’s head intact, my husband climbed down from the ladder and put his hands on his hips. “Looks good,” he said.
“YES! IT DOES. GOOD WORK,” shrieked Dad and I.
“I just need to nail one more spot,” my husband said, scratching his head. “I wonder how the hell I’m going to get to it?”
We followed his eyes to where they rested on a piece of the beam that towered past the edge of the scaffolding, too high for a regular ladder, unreachable unless you had wings.
Dad used our best material to try to convince my husband that a nail in that particular location was not necessary. We suggested putting more nails in other places to make up for it, but my husband wouldn’t have it. Before we knew it, he had his ladder on the ledge of the scaffolding, his feet on the top rung, his back bent at a 90-degree angle out over the staircase, with a nail gun in his hand reaching for the ceiling. And that’s where we both lost it.
I whimpered and squeezed back tears as I white-knuckled the ladder. And while I was saying 50 prayers to Jesus, Dad threw down his tools and grabbed on to his son-in-law’s belt buckle as my husband leaned farther back over the abyss. “Son, if you fall, it would be sure death,” my dad declared. “And if either of you tell anyone that I grabbed your belt, I’ll kill you both …”
So there’s that story. Now if you need me, I’ll be hiding from both my husband and my dad.
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Greetings from the ranch in western North Dakota and thank you so much for reading. If you're interested in more stories and reflections on rural living, its characters, heartbreaks, triumphs, absurdity and what it means to live, love and parent in the middle of nowhere, check out more of my Coming Home columns below. As always, I love to hear from you! Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.