Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Living The Big Sky Life: Home Improvements Impart EnLIGHTenment

The incident surrounding the construction of “The Door” proved to be an irreversible turning point in my partnership with Chef. I can say in hindsight that it proved to be substantially more divisive than the now infamous hair affair. Yet unlike my unwavering long time stance on the subject of hair care, “The Door” wasn’t even a conceptual consideration until a year later - when our move from the Unabomber bungalow to the home on the range fatefully set the stage for the second act in my big sky life.

Courtesy of: www.Commons.Wikimedia.org
But there was plenty of other big sky drama to be had long before that curtain came up. Just dealing with the daily demands of keeping a house four times the size of our previous residence was dramatic enough, even in the mildest of seasons. Add to that the looming angst that came with constantly trying to minimize the perilous side effects of an unpredictable (and usually rising) water table, our lives basically felt like a simmering pot that was always on the verge of boiling over.

Living in a big house on ten acres meant there was always something that needed to be done; there was always something that needed to be fixed. We all have our strengths, and unfortunately for Chef, being handy or mechanically inclined wasn’t one of his. He was, in actuality, quite the opposite, and one of the several nicknames I affixed to him over the years was “the un-handyman”. His desperate desire to possess the kind of handyman skills one would think a prerequisite to live on a property like ours was evident, but he just didn’t have it. I can say with all sincerity, however, that it wasn’t for lack of trying. And Chef’s heavily dog-eared copy of “Home Improvement for Dummies” was, without question, a faithful companion for every do-it-yourself repair job he ever attempted. But alas, his honey-do list was infinite.

Perhaps a bizarre saving grace in all of this was the fact that my ex-husband had been a building contractor, and I had paid attention. It was not uncommon to find me standing over Chef in the attic with a flashlight, not merely because he needed light to see what he was doing, but because he needed me to provide him with step-by-step illumination on how to properly wire the new lighting fixtures we were determined to install.

This reminds me of one of my mother’s big sky visits. We’d been living in the ranch house less than a year, and had done quite a bit to open up the kitchen-living area because a 360˚ view was simply too good to waste with unnecessary impediments. By the way, demolition duty ultimately proved to be the perfect outlet for a very un-handy man to shine.

One fine fall afternoon during her visit, my mother and I were playing a game of cards at the dining table which happened to be unsurprisingly situated in the dining area underneath one of the new ceiling fans Chef and I had installed months earlier. At some point during our card game, Chef breezed into the kitchen for a little break from riding the lawnmower. He walked over to the refrigerator to retrieve an icy Heineken, then he bellied up to the kitchen counter directly behind my mother, and between sips, began to chat with us about some of the recent home improvements.

As the three of us conversed, one thing led to another, and eventually we got to talking about the off-center installation of the ceiling fan whirling with a muted hum right above our heads. From my seat at the dining table, I could see the faces of both my mother and Chef as we all gazed upward and silently stared with pondering mouths agape at the imperfection being contemplated.

Chef and I had been scratching our heads about the flaw from the moment we noticed it in the process of replacing the light fan fixture. Why any builder would intentionally install a prominent light fixture’s electrical box six inches off center when the room demanded it be dead center was a complete conundrum to us. And of course, once we’d become unavoidably aware of the defect, it became glaring, and then it was too late. We couldn’t not notice it now, for it was predictably the first thing we’d see the minute we walked into the room.

My mother, on the other hand, was unmoved by the problem. She casually offered up her solution without even batting an eye while looking up at the crux of the matter and saying, “Well, just move the box.”

The solution was so obvious that I was ashamed I didn’t think of it myself, and admitted as much on the spot. With some relief I might add, because moving the box was not only an “oh duh!”, but very doable with my skill-set.

Chef apparently didn’t hear the same thing that I heard because his face began to redden with anger, almost as if he’d been personally attacked, which I found puzzling at the time. My mother was oblivious to Chef’s reaction partly because he was standing behind her and she couldn’t see him; but primarily because she had no reason to be sensitive to his disproportionate reaction for she’d said nothing detrimental or critical. Quite the opposite, in fact. She’d merely offered what she thought was a common sense solution – and a good one at that. But did he ever let me have it that night in the bedroom when he directed his upset toward me as he dramatically re-enacted his interpretation of my mother accusing him of being inept by mimicking her remark in his snidest voice, “Well, just move the box, YOU IDIOT!” What??? Was I invisible, or did he forget that I was there and witnessed what really happened?

I suppose, when you distill it all down, we hear what we want to hear, and insecurities do have a way of filtering our perceptions and slanting in-coming commentary to fit those perceptions.

I think my mother’s “attack” that day somehow morphed into the mother-in-law equivalent of the old hair affair; and while it rankled Chef’s sensibilities almost as much as my hair commitment, it motivated him to get the box moved the minute she left town … indubitably with my help. What we learned up in the attic that day on our mission to “just move the box” was that some careless electrician didn’t measure out enough Romex during installation and lazily popped the box through the ceiling when the wire ran out, even though it came up short and six inches left of center.

When that melodramatic episode eventually burned itself out, it boiled the issue down to this final reduction: Hand me a screwdriver, and I could replace all of the electrical outlets, light switches and standard light fixtures within the house. Hand Chef a Henkel knife, and he could be deadly … Death By Chocolate that is. Trust me, it was a killer cake, but it was the fresh raspberry sauce that made it soigné.

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King


  1. Why are men so sensitive about what Mother-in-Law's have to say? It seems to be universal. And the light fixture being off center....I think everyone can relate to that. My husband built our house, so I can relate to all of it. How we managed to stay married, I'll never know. It was one disagreement after another over where to put this and where to put that. We had the worst one over the height of the windows, of all things. We can laugh at it now! Nearly everything in the house is a little bit off, but hey, it's only things we would notice, so we live with it. And like you said, the view is the important part! Love your stories.

  2. As always, DK, excellent writing and fun story. I must admit, however, I'm also in the un-handyman category - just another bullet point as to why I'm not marriageable material.

  3. It was commen in my marriage for me to receive a bill from a repairman which included a surcharge entitiled, "Owner tried to fix." And now they say he died fixing his own satellite dish. Un-handymen, listen up-hire a pro. It's cheaper.

  4. Wow! What a great story! I am going to have to go back and find out the back story with the Mother-in-law but I have to wonder if those stories go both ways? Does this small town include the Mother-in-law on your side cuz I imagine it would show where the crazy began! It must have been surreal to see you mom calm as can be while the hubby is about to blow a fuse! and for what??!! It's not like HE put the box there.


Comments? Great! Please say it kindly. Gratitude, DK.