Demolition in a house is like an x-ray. It gives one a rare chance to glimpse inside and see the ‘bones’ of a house. Over the past week, I have come to appreciate the ‘bones’ of my house. They are old bones, but they are strong.
When 815 17th Avenue was built, Alabama was not quite twenty years old. Our state was just beginning the journey that would take it from raw frontier to cotton kingdom. Settlers who were described as having “Alabama Fever” poured in to lay claim to the rich farmland that would yield the wealth of the antebellum south. They brought with them the African-American slaves whose labor would carve that wealth out of virgin wilderness.
Those slaves built 815 17th Avenue, starting with the ‘bones’ I see laid out before me. The beams, joists, and other heavy timbers were shaped from trees felled here on the plantation that once spread out from this house. Most of them are still sound almost two centuries later.
My carpenters seemed to feel a kinship with those who had passed before them at this house, and determined to match the quality of craftsmanship shown by their predecessors. They were so proud to invite me to watch them work. They are an odd pair, one tall and lean and the other short and stout, but they work together with the easy harmony of men accustomed to each other by long practice. I settled in a lawn chair as they assembled tools and materials. First, they put four 2″x8″ planks together to match the dimensions of an original rim joist that had to be removed. They worked as quietly and precisely as surgeons, bracing the corner of the house, removing the damaged piece, and setting the replacement joist into place. I watched them with admiration. My talents definitely do not lie in woodworking! In the end, they walked over to me and we all stepped back to contemplate their work. They were tired and sweaty, but wore expressions of satisfaction. The ‘bones’ of my house are all strong once again. They should endure another century – or two.