Monday, January 3, 2011

My 1975 Stick-built Double-wide

This one was very much fun to write. I enjoyed it at any rate!

My 1975 Stick-built Double-wide

“My house is a very, very, very fine house . . .”

When I moved back home to Harlem, to the wide valley cut through the Prairies eons ago by the Missouri River, but long abandoned to the more gentle meanderings of the Milk, I left behind my beautiful Pacific-Northwest-style artists cabin, perched on a hill surrounded by towering Douglas Fir and second-growth cedar, landscaped with giant ferns, salal and kinnickinnick.

I was down-sizing my business and my life and wanted to find a house which would be not too large, not too small, not too expensive, with room for a small studio-shop. For nearly a year I looked at many houses in many towns up and down the Hi-line. Not one felt just right.

In 1975 my father sold his farm along the Milk River , the farm where I grew up. He moved into town where he built a business at one end of the street and a house at the other. I never lived in this house, never gave it much thought, never particularly liked it. To my critical eyes it had all the charm and grace of a double-wide trailer house. The front door opens into the living room-dining room-kitchen. Back down the narrow hallway are three postage-stamp size bedrooms and a bathroom smaller than a modern closet. But even to my jaundiced view I could see that it was well-built, sturdy, tight, and that I could convert the attached garage into a fine shop for my small business with maybe room to set up an easel. So I bought, from my father’s estate, the house I didn’t especially like and didn’t particularly want, and moved in.

On the first night in my new home, sitting on the floor surrounded by stacks of boxes, rolled-up rugs, and jumbled furniture, I surveyed my new kingdom. “This is the ugliest house in the world,” I said to myself. That wasn’t true. I’ve lived in uglier. What I really meant was that I saw it would take a lot of work to transform this hulk into my sanctuary. And I needed to do this on a very limited budget.

You know what that means—cosmetics. Lipstick and eye shadow, shoulders back and suck in your gut. Paint and spackle. Cosmetics. Move this built-in cupboard to the shop. Line that wall with bookshelves. Tear out the carpet. Rip down the dusty drapes. Wheel and deal for fake-wood floors. Install them myself. Elbow grease. On to the next room. Another coat of lipstick and eye shadow.

A friend once said to me, “If you landed in hell, you’d start hanging pictures and re-arranging furniture.” I took his statement as a compliment. Room by room, gallon by gallon, I painted, laid flooring, stitched curtains, ripped out this and put in that. Room by room my house began to reflect my personality. I mixed my colors to imitate autumn light, leaves and grasses, colors from the roadsides and fields of Montana . It took me two years of hard work.

This morning while draining and rolling up hoses to store them in the shed for the winter, the autumn sunlight reflecting off the trees with golden hues reminded me of that exciting time. Today when I sit in my home, my sanctuary, my refuge, I smile at the beauty which surrounds me. My home is now a Montana prairie-style artists home, a place of comfort for myself and my friends.

I’ll light the fire,

I’ll place the flowers

in the vase I bought today. . .

everything is good.

My house is a very, very, very fine house,

with two cats in the yard,

life used to be so hard . . .*

*Thank you, Crosby , Stills and Nash.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

November 11, 2010

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