A rawhide bear drum goes bouncing down the stairs. I'd taken Aaron upstairs to show him our $8,000 bathroom. On the way down he trips and tries to catch himself. The drum is hanging on the wall at left. There's no railing on the steps. One of the first things we did when moving into our old schoolhouse was remove an ugly aluminum railing. It was battleship gray and totally out of character with the rest of the decor. It was like having furniture from Ikea in an old farmhouse. Modern versus antique. Aaron catches himself before he hits the carpet at bottom. "Are you all right? " I ask. "Yeah," is his reply.
Later, I point out a piece of paneling I was unable to remove from a beam near the ceiling. The paneling was installed before the ceiling was completed. Therefore, the nails holding the top part of the cheap faux wood paneling cannot be removed. Insert !@# here in abundance from my days as a demolition expert. In desperation I attach a vise grips to the bottom of the 12"X 36" piece of pasteboard veneer and wail away at the vice-grips with my hammer. All I'm able to remove is the small chunk of paneling that the vice grips is attached to. Aaron is having more success with the paneling. It's loose and about to come out of the groove between the wall and ceiling. He gives it a good yank. The piece flies out across the room. I look at his knuckles. They are bleeding profusely. "I guess I should have removed the nails first before I pulled it," he says.
One of the modern features installed in the schoolhouse was low voltage wiring. I'm not much of an electrician, so I can't describe low voltage wiring-its pros or cons. What I do know is that we have recessed lights in the living room ceiling with no switch. The hanging light in the kitchen has no wall switch. To turn it on, there's a toggle switch at the bottom of the fixture. At the foot of the steps to the second floor is another no-switch light. All are recessed into the ceiling and have a square frosted glass cover. In fall, the Japanese beetle migration causes them to find cracks and crevices in the sidewalls of the house. Over the winter they wiggle their way into light fixtures where they die from the heat. Frequently, I stand on a chair and vacuum the light fixtures. Aaron has removed the cellulose ceiling tiles exposing wiring. It appears that we can rewire the ceiling fixture with a wall switch. I stand in the basement at the circuit breaker paneling yelling upstairs, OK?" Aaron is directed to say Yes or No. When I get a "yes", that means the correct circuit is off. We drill, pull wiring through the walls to the ceiling fixture and connect all black wires, all white wires and ground wires. In the basement, I push the breaker. It sizzles and pops. Every step of the wiring process must be reversed because the "hot" wire to the ceiling fixture comes from another direction. A lengthy discussion of cursing follows. Not once do I hear a profane word coming from Aaron's mouth throughout the course of the day. I find it ironic that an Amish man knows more about electrical wiring than I know.
I'm amazed at Aaron's technical proficiency with machinery. He looks at my chop saw in the garage workshop and points out that the safety cover is not working properly. It doesn't cover the blade completely. He unscrews the back cover of the saw and removes sawdust blocking the up hinge so that the cover is fully covering the blade in the up position. My lack of carpentry experience stands out like an Eskimo in Key West. I feel like of of the Three Stooges- Shemp. The one with greasy hair across the face.
All the Sheetrock is stored in the garage. In the course of the first day, we carry eight, 4X8 sheets of wall board from garage to the house. The outside temperature started out below zero early in the morning. When I picked Aaron at his place, one of the cats is sitting outside his workshop, blinking in the warm sun. I'm wearing a long sleeve T-shirt and a denim shirt over it. Aaron is dressed in blue work pants, suspenders and a thin cotton short sleeve shirt. Inside the garage, it doesn't get above 45 degrees with the electric heater running on high. He doesn't seem to notice the cold. Once, at Titus' place one of the daughters is walking across "breaker rock" barefoot. She walks with grace and unconcern, while I carefully tread my way over the sharp rocks.
I have an admiration of the for these Amish people. Yes there may be some not-so-good Amish out there, but not the ones I know. Titus tells me that someone stole money from their little country store in the run-down farmhouse next to their new home. The culprits were later apprehended. The thieves had a map of the Amish community and went from farm to farm stealing money and goods. Rotten apples, I'd call them. Dawn is thrilled that the walls are covered so quickly. She notes that the kitchen seems bigger-lighter than the paneled version.
Aaron patiently explains the "mudding" process, plastering over holes from the drywall screws and taped joints. His last words to me as the second day ends are, " You won't hurt my feelings, if you finish the plastering and sanding by yourself." After three days of dry sanding. dust and aching joints from climbing a ladder and repetitive side to side motion, I get the humor in his words.
Lessons from Alabama
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