Building - Memoir by Pat West

August 1986

At work by 6:30- took the deck supports down and when Cunninghame showed up we put nice sturdy ones up. Sonny showed up with my wood just as I was ready for it. He spent 15 minutes coaxing his big truck way up the hill to make it a little easier for me to get at the boards. I think he was not joking when he said what I was doing was not women’s work. He said when he was a boy, he did all the outside work while his four sisters did the inside work. I bit my tongue not to say, “come on Sonny, you were fucked over.” If I said, “fuck” to Sonny I might lose his respect, his friendship. I don’t know. I know it would startle him. Sonny is a Christian, a big time Baptist. He and his wife were well-loved gospel singers before she got sick.

Robin came down so I put him to work nailing the deck boards on. Got the table saw working better (over a hundred more window stops to cut). Robin and I hammered deck boards for two hours. (Sonny told me the boards were so fresh that squirrels were running in the trees yesterday. I believe him- each nail hammered in sent a stream of sap flying). Now I can walk out my door onto a deck.

Today I have been married 22 years. Neither husband or I said anything about it.

I’m tired!

When I raised my hammer for the first nail this morning, there was not a bit of strength in my arm. Dragged about all morning. Almost threw up thinking how much high ladder board and batten had to be put up in the lower room. Couldn’t make myself start. Thought I was getting sick. So I started cleaning up my house. Started feeling better fast. It looks good with all the trash gone. Daddy always said keep a clean work-space.

Got 8 ft. of the lower room ready for board and batten. Ugh. Tyree and Valen left for the beach today. Cunninghame took the car on his first date. When I went back down the hill after cooking dinner, John and Arthur were there. I just wanted them to leave so I could sit on my deck alone. When they finally left, it was too cool to sit out.

Ever since that night when I realized husband just might be afraid of me, I’ve been recalling how he behaves with other women. One night stands out: it was years ago- in the early 70’s- when lots of people were doing lots of LSD, but not me. I was always pregnant or nursing, the only straight person it seemed for miles around. There was a young woman professor, very bright, very pretty, who wanted to try LSD. Herb was very excited the night she came over for her “trip.” It didn’t go lightly for her and she began to cry. Herb positively lept with joy when he saw her tears. He kept jumping up and down, banging on the wall and yelling, “I did it- I broke her!”

Slept late with lots of weird dreams. Late getting to work framing the next 8 ft. of lower room west wall.

Made the window hole too small so couldn’t get the window in place. Went up the hill and got Cunninghame out of bed, drove him down the hill like a dog working an old sheep. I got hot, bug bit, and mad. Found myself sounding like husband. Cunninghame left to play tennis and I’m sure he was glad to part from me. Worked till way after dark. When I turned the lights off, the indigo sky jumped into all the windows. I love the new moments of visual joy my place hands to me. They can come as such a surprise and still my rage.

Just got back from taking Robin to a play and picking up my single size futon.

This morning seems like days ago. Heard the screams of a hen before dawn- shot the chicken killing opossum. Hit him square with all five shots. Robin is very proud of me because he thinks I’ve finally learned to shoot. It felt so good having Robin’s approval. I didn’t tell him the whole story – didn’t tell him I stepped on 3 small chicks running to the hen house. Didn’t tell him that I don’t remember shooting that possum; just remember that feel of soft warm birds breaking under my bare feet and the sight of their flopping circles of dying.

Robin has been killing and dressing out a rooster everyday. It’s a great relief to me that he has taken this awful job on himself. I hated waking up knowing that a bird was waiting for me in the death pen and I had to go out there and stop its life. I hated the night before too (kept hoping Valen would be successful in sneaking out to free them). I hated the poor job I did killing. It’s hard to cut off a head well when you can’t watch what you’re doing- I miss a lot. One poor bird lost its beak before it lost its head. Some birds go quietly to the block and others weep and weep. Sometimes I pause before the meat counter in the food store and stare down at the featherless and footless chicken legs all packaged in neat little rows. At least my children will always know the real story.

I’m hungry all the time- think my blood is about to come.

I’m so full of joy tonight that I think it must be leaking from every hole in my body. I’m writing this before I go to sleep in my own house for the first time.

This place is a long way from being closed in- hope the bugs don’t get bad- hope my eyes don’t fall out trying to see everything- hope my eyes don’t burn up with the heat of my joy.

Windows by Pat West

Here I am again. Last night was great- felt the dawn was for me alone. I don’t want to ever sleep up the hill again.

Worked all day getting the rafters doubled- a hard, over my head ladder job. Went up to the old house and cleaned it like a mad person. Herb sat cleaning his guns while I swept and mopped. I know my girls will stay at my heels, but what can I do for my sons?

A reporter called and said he was doing a story on artists and where they live for the Roanoke newspaper. He will come next Tuesday.

I came down the hill carrying lots of my things- moving out (in). Worked on my little table. Told Robin about the big 4-engine plane that flew so low over my studio last night. This is the child I felt I must stay married for. I have known for years that I would stay no longer than he did. But everything is moving too fast now. Robin cares and is afraid. Tyree and Valen are afraid of husband and are wholly my children. Cunninghame is already looking afar; ready to be gone into the world. But Robin- God- sometimes I think it will be his life or mine. Sometimes I just swim in mother guilt.

Here I am again. Wonderful rain on the roof last night. Cunninghame helped put up the north wall and helped with the wall by the deck.

I was greatly distracted by the white-faced hornets that have started eating my house. They work right alongside me, chewing very thin strips off my boards to use in layering their paper nest. They don’t take very much so I guess it’s better to share than start another border war.

Cooked dinner for husband and the boys, then ran back down the hill.

I don’t think I can ever go back to the old bedroom. What can make me leave here? Stars filled all the windows last night. Very high airplane lights crossed the sky- people being moved from I don’t know where to god only knows where.

Cunninghame was very late coming down to help. I put up the wall over the small window in the north wall and cut all the stops I could with the table saw. It goes back tomorrow. I will be glad to have that big thing gone from the middle of my upper room. Tired of walking around or into it. Want to see my space without it. Hope to get a lot of lower west wall blocked in tomorrow.

Was cutting window sashes to fit before dawn. Got table saw ready to go back. Found a swollen tick in my hair last night. I was upset at the idea of it being there so long. I don’t mind pulling them off as they crawl up my legs, but one I have missed that has lived on me for days- ugh.

It took most of the day to put the cherry 4 x4 up in the lower west wall. Lag bolts kept breaking- makes me crazy.

Gordon Porterfield came down the hill with husband to see what I was up to. This was the first time husband had been down. Very unpleasant to have him in my space. I think he was uneasy too. He kept saying, “But this is a house.”

I could tell Gordon was impressed. Said he would take my old glass plate back to his workshop and make it into the round window I want. I like Gordon. That argumentative, philosophizing, old coal-miner is about the only drinking buddy of husband that I do like.

Today is the girls’ birthday. Tomorrow they come back. Will I have to go back up the hill to sleep? Will they sleep here? I have missed them. Got tired, upset and cross putting up the last 4 X 4.

Pretty little moon up now.

Had the last wall studded up when Cunninghame came down at 11. We worked on board and battening but had to stop because we became very cross with each other. None of my measurements were right. How can I be such a bad builder? So I did my most fun thing: I cleaned my house.

Tyree and Valen came home. They are asleep here now- there was no discussion or hesitation; they just followed me down the hill after dinner. Tomorrow I will start making a sleeping loft for them.

Waited for the forecast rain all night. It came when I was ready to work outside. Cunninghame was down at 8:30 and slept on the floor while the girls slept on my bed while I tore down the stairs to make room for the loft. Framed it up with some leftover cherry 4x4s. Girls hammered while I sawed and we put it up fast. Robin came down with a message from husband that we had no food in the house. Went to Pearisburg and got some. Put the stairs back smaller and better. Sanded a guardrail for the loft. Don’t want any thrashing sleeper rolling off.

Went up the hill to cook dinner, clean the house, and watch Cunninghame run over Rachel dog. He was going to drive the happy lot of kids to the movies. The milling dogs and I were seeing them off. Cunninghame stalled the car on top of Rachel’s leg and sat staring at me while the dog and other kids set up a great wailing. “Put the car in reverse- back up!” I yelled at his white face. He did. Rachel limped away howling and the kids clambered out of the car, loudly heaping abuse on Cunninghame. No movie- just a trip to Dr. Carter’s for the dog’s dislocated leg to be put right. Can’t wait to sleep.

Finished the last high board and batten wall on the east side. I’m glad now about the little window in it.

Cleaned up the yard (horse’s lot really- a muddy mess). Hope Bo and Goldie don’t pick up one of the many nails that I have sent flying. (What about winter hay for them?)

The newspaper reporter was nice and I was pretty relaxed except for the panic that I might say “house’ instead of “studio” or that he might write “house” instead of “studio”. A lot of people read this newspaper (Walter, the building inspector). So, I thought myself very sane and the reporter probably thought me crazy for repeatedly making certain he understood this was a studio.

Tyree and Valen have fully moved in. Brought their hamsters down today- goldfish came yesterday.

Slept late- made a list of things needed to keep building. No money so did what I said I would never do. Sold some of my homegrown pot. Everything is different now. I look at my few plants as money. I don’t like this but I seem to have nothing else people will pay money for. (It pissed me off when Marshall’s check for the dope he bought had “for art” written on the memo line) And I can’t use any family (husband’s) money to build. I won’t become dependent on selling dope. Probably means I will have to stop growing pot and it follows I will have to stop smoking it. Shit. I have so many good paintings that no one seems to want. Damn their eyes.

So I took my ill-gotten gains and the girls to the sawmill, then in to town. Sonny didn’t have a 2 inch X 12 inch X 6 ft board for Gordon to set my round window in. Had to get one in the store- $20 for one board! Went school shopping with Tyree and Valen. Sidney’s was having their 80% off sale so girls are now set for school. Got foam mattress for the loft; got pills and shots for 11 different animals. Dropped girls at their friend Brook’s. I drove home straight to my house (past the old driveway without thinking). Feel like a much stronger person than this time last year. Girls are in town for the night so will smoke dope while I still have some, light a candle, plug in my vibrator and make love to myself.

Woke up at 7:30 when a bird hit the window next to my head. Saved it from the dogs but it has no tail now. Went back to sleep till 9:30, very late for me. Danced the slow waltz with windows- Cunninghame didn’t come down till afternoon. Wasps came in by the dozens, making my work scary. I must have built on a holy place for wasps. They’re not mean, only sting if you sit or put your hand on one. Bu they are buzzing everywhere and highly distracting, especially if you’re on a ladder. Robin and Cunninghame ran about with boards and mallets killing them. I hung the door to cries of- Get it! Behind you! O God! This one’s mine! Missed! Is it on me! Look in my hair! Hold still so I can hit him! I got more kills than you! Etc. I forgot to square the door- I will have to take it down again. Worked too long and made more mistakes than usual.

PJ party here tonight. A house full of little women.

I really seem to have slowed down. Windows take forever to fit in the wall. I seem more then ever,unable to take accurate measurements. They don’t fit and I have to cut them again and again before they will slide into place.

Put the French door up and in, but not cleaned. Got so hot in late afternoon, I put the fan to hit the girls bed and napped. Fixed Rooster Soup for dinner. Roosters are truly oversexed. They have a “get laid” timer that rings every 15 minutes or whenever they see another rooster do it. Some hens are more desirable than others: they are the ones who have been grabbed so many times no feathers are left on their backs. Got to eat more roosters.

Jumped all over Cunninghame for running out on me yesterday- told him to be down here at 8 sharp. Beazely Cat moved in today. He’s never liked the other cats and is overjoyed having me to himself. I imagine Beazely doesn’t like husband either. Not since he jumped up on the table, landed in his plate, and got flung against the wall, dislocating the back leg that husband had used as a handle. I think that was the last night any of us ever ate at the table. Except husband. He still eats there, surrounded by TV, guns, papers, books. There’s no room anymore for us if we did want to come back.

A storm at night with lightning bolts cutting across my little panes of wavy glass. My eyes are so happy.

Rain is pelting the metal roof so hard that all other sound is gone.

Cunninghame was down at 9 and we put up the rest of the high wall. He slept while I cleaned the last big window to go up. Got him up to help put it in- then he went back up the hill to bed.

Sick of messing with windows. My whole world seems cut into squares, awake and asleep.

Robin wants to go to town tomorrow, so I’ll try to get the two 4x4s in place before we go. Take measurements to the glass store and order the old storefront glass cut to fit. It would be wonderful to get rid of the damn plastic.

Finished putting windows in the lower room tonight (except for one small piece of fixed glass), then went outside tonight to look at the house with all the lights on. It looks like Oz. I got Tyree out of her sickbed to come out and see it.

This morning I worked on windows till Robin wanted to go to town. Ordered glass cut for the places I have no windows to fit. I just know my measurements will be off and they will be hard to put in.

Body feels strong. Going to stop buying cigarettes Sunday.

This is the last page of my notebook. Have been keeping this up longer than I thought. I’m going to have to be very clever on finishing this place to cover all my awful carpentry. Almost look forward to it.

Wall of Windows by Pat West

I opened my new notebook and found the girls had gotten to it first, left me a poem.

Pat- you look like a cat
You have the color black
When you pass,
You have a hammer
In your hand saying,
Where is my house?
But a mouse ate your house.

It was hard to get moving this morning with the thought of more window blocking. Decided instead to do a short little fun job which, of course, took all day. The 6-inch space between the two rooms has to be filled. Been thinking of the little squares of glass that ran around the window the horses broke. I brought it up from the shed and started to cut on it. All the putty was rotten. It took hours to clean and re-putty it (16 4-inch panes), but now they’re in, painted and fine. I really needed more windows in my house. Colored glass might be good in some of them.

Girls are at Brook’s again tonight. I sort of miss them bouncing around, wish I weren’t so tired- should be painting or something- God I love it here.

Still raining- ground is so wet that my pee runs all the way under the house. So peaceful this morning I couldn’t bring myself to work on window stops till I heard the sound of wild geese. I raced back outside and yes, it started already. The geese are heading south and its only August. They’re fleeing the oncoming winter. I’m not even closed in yet. I got right to work on the stops.

Photographer for the newspaper came. A nice young man from Selma. A large man too. One of my steps cracked under his weight. Guess I should replace all of them with heavier boards to protect the hordes of people sure to come. I don’t have any walnut wood that is thick enough, but I do have some fat cherry boards. After the newspaperman left, I tried to close up the bottom hole on the deck wall (dogs will be sorry to lose their door). After putting two cherry boards up, I was left with a two- inch gap. Filled it up with stones- fun but probably not good building practice.

Took kids to town and watched Robin get his blue belt. Cunninghame leaves soon for a week at the beach, leaving me alone with the board and batting. And what about my endless, undone power ditch?

Hairy Cat moved in today. Beazely Cat is not happy. I don’t care if they all move down except I don’t want Gordon Cat.

Lying in my bed watching the sky become dark. Think maybe I glow with joy. Nice to see the sun today, although it brought back the heat with it. Worked on stairs while the girls slept. I get a peaceful inner humming when my children sleep. They are safely on hold, temporarily out of risky circulation. A big hunk of my mother worry gets a breather while they sleep.

Replaced the broken step with a lovely two- inch cherry board and, of course, now all the other steps must be replaced to look right. Made the step out of a tree Daddy cut down three years ago.

Drove to Christiansburg to pick up cut glass for odd windows. They handed me a bill for over $200- Shit!- cost overrun. And I had only $140 in building money with me. I stood there in shock while other customers piled up behind me. Larry looked at the bill again and saw it was wrong- now $168. Better, but more than I thought. (I didn’t know they charged for the piece of glass they cut my windows from, not just the glass I took home). They said I could send them the $28. Found a ten dollar bill in the car- decided it must be building money so I spent it on another wood rasp, having long given up on finding my old one.

I saw another flock of geese just now. So low they passed in front of the cliffs across the river, and so late that all color and most light is gone from the day. If the white cliff’s face hadn’t been still giving off a ghostly afterglow, I would never have seen them.

Cunninghame was down early and we put the edge boards up, hiding my ugly futile attempts to cut the right angles. The metal roof got too hot for Cunninghame, but I didn’t have enough 1×4’s to finish anyway.

Susan was out- she and Arthur are the best volunteer helpers I have. (Cunninghame is forced labor.) I don’t think I would ever have so much energy for someone else’s stuff.

Big red wasps are everywhere. At least 25 in the house at all times. Sometimes I declare war and start killing them. It’s kind of satisfying if I do a good clean job of it (better than I ever did on chickens.) but it seems it’s a vacuum to be filled and a new wasp is born from his squashed fellow, so their number is never any less.

Two owls are calling in the walnut tree.

Gave up on finding a two-inch cherry for the top stair tread, so cut a one- inch board into three parts- nailed them together- put them on the riser. Sort of weird looking but very strong.

Cleaned house till Arthur and John came. We put up the 12 ft 4×4 cherry to reinforce the south wall (I did worry about having a wall I could move with one finger). It was a total bitch. The lag bolts kept shearing off with no way to remove them. It’s up- the wall is stronger, that’s the best I can say about it. The 8-foot 4×4 for the lower room west wall went up much better, only a third of the bolts sheared off. I can’t stand this. Will this be my hell? To keep fucking up? To blindingly build forever, never learning anything?

Two bats are flying around inside the house tonight. They came swooping in the right over Valen’s nose while she hung out the window counting stars. “Look- two great big black butterflies!” my starry-eyed daughter shouted. I will miss most of the live things that share our house when and if I ever get closed in. Even that fine big black snake.

Robin worked on the endless power ditch while I built the wall behind the stairs. Would have been much easier to do before I put he stairs up. Put a cat door in it- showed the four cats (Blackie Cat, of the bell-like voice and the softest fur, and his big-toed sister Jenny Crawford have moved down too) how to use it. I don’t want to get up at night to let them in and out. (Thank god half-a- brain Gordon Cat hasn’t found his way here.)

Cunninghame left for his beach trip and tomorrow I take the other three on a short trip.

Up and out for Richmond this morning with Robin, Tyree and Valen. On the drive, I thought about how I hated the idea of screen doors. If I reset some of the windows next to the deck into opening windows, and cut windows into the wall by the other door would that move enough air?

Literally a roller coaster day. Kids kept asking me which ride I like best. Won’t believe me when I say none. I ride because standing in line with them is fun and the ride is only three minutes of being sick.

More my kind of day. Left Richmond in the morning for North Carolina Outer Banks. An uneventful trip (only one threat from me to turn back if they didn’t stop picking on each other). Got a nice little room. The kids love it here- they don’t know this is where their father and I spent our honeymoon.

Today was a very wonderful day.

Home after a 9-hour drive. Lovely national park beach we went to this morning. Lots of shells and mosquitoes. Going to sleep now.

Crazy Eddie wrote out what I needed to wire the place. Hope he will be out of the hospital awhile this time. If his parents put him back in the psych ward, I don’t know who I can get to help me with the wiring. Kind of weird that after all his shock treatments, Eddie decides to become an electrician.

I don’t remember how I met Eddie, but I do remember the cat he gave me years ago- FiFi. Unlike Eddie, she wasn’t very smart and was given to eating socks. She wasn’t particularly clean about her habits either. It was the wee hours of the coldest night of that winter when husband threw her out the door for peeing on the floor. Next morning I found FiFi still cringing by the front door with her ears frozen. Over the next few days, the ears turned black and began to dry out. Told husband when her ears fell off I would put them somewhere in his bed. I took great pleasure in watching him check his bed every night for FiFi’s ears.

Bill called to say he sold one of my big garden paintings to a bank. Money comes in one door and right into the building. Arthur stayed all day to help me put up the high pieces of cut glass. I needed help- one was a total bitch to get in and one would just not go in. Will have to have it cut again. Poor Arthur- he and his wife are getting divorced again.

The air is full of honking geese. One flock went right over us, so low I heard their flight feathers swishing against each other and felt the pulsating downdraft from their wings. I want to go with them. Now that I stop and look, everything around here is looking spent. All of the butterflies are a bit roughed up. Everything has been chewed while I’ve been building, summer has been used up.

In the 40’s tonight. Girls and I brought our electric blankets down. An electric blanket on a futon is probably not right and pure. Lots of cats would be the right blanket for a futon. When I turn on my blanket I will have cats too.

The damn plastic is almost gone! I’m jumping up and down with joy. Now need only my round window and the one piece of fixed glass re-cut. I took it to Pembroke today but the man was afraid to try cutting such a big thing. Have to take Robin shopping tomorrow, so will take the glass too.

Arthur bought $200 worth of face blocks and a nice round face sculpture, so I’m buying my electrical stuff tomorrow. Got a letter from Bill with a check for only $50 for the dope I sold him. He’s spent half an hour picking out the biggest buds. I got so mad I called him. He said it was only a half-ounce. I know that’s not right. What a shit he is! What a shit I’m becoming now that I’m a big-time dope dealer!

Got my icebox today. It was my mother-in-law’s—been out on loan since she died. Strange to hear it humming away- it’s going to change my food shopping. When I get to the checkout, all food will have to be divided into up-the-hill and down-the-hill bags. Hate food stores! Hate thinking about what to cook! Hate cooking! Hate trying to explain nutrition to kids who swear all their friends eat nothing but sugar cereal, donuts, and Popsicles.

Got the electrical supplies- $108- but the man put the fear of god in me by saying my cable might be too big for my box. That would be an expensive fuckup.

Crazy Eddie said he would come tomorrow to find out. The only other time I worked side by side with Eddie was years ago. We were planting a windbreak together and the misery that was gushing out of him and seeping into me sent me crawling off to my bed for two days. It never happened again, but I still cringe thinking of all the despair Eddie was sending out that day.

Got the last piece of glass re-cut and in place.

Started picking buds off my eight pot plants. More careful with them now that they are no longer for fun but money.

Got Robin some nice school clothes. Didn’t get much work on the house done- I do like days I get a lot of building done. My Wednesday and Sunday nights will be taken up now with a Shock/Trauma Refresher Course. A lot of things in my life are ending. Some I want to end; some I don’t; some I just don’t know. I rarely answer a Rescue call anymore, but I’m back in class to keep certified. Want to get 10 years in, but I know it won’t happen. The classes will liven me up for a while, then I’ll slow up on calls again. One day I’ll feel so guilty about tying up the pager that I’ll quit.

Eddie never showed, so I looked over my someday-underground cable and decided to take the path of least time, money and work: I will just not think about it.

Started caulking the battens that I could see light through. That went so well I decided to make the outside of the little windows between the rooms lovely. I sanded all the little boards around them smooth, filled all the cracks with caulk, smoothed everything so when painted it will look lovely. Oh, the long-looked forward to joy of carefully crafted finish work! I looked at the caulk level to see how long I should wait before painting it and it said “Non-paintable.” Fucked myself again. I painted it then and there. Sort of killed my energy for the rest of the day- marching again to my own deaf and blind drumming.

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