Building - Memoir by Pat West

November 1986


Tonight while I was cooking dinner, husband addressed a complaint to me. He said I didn’t treat his art form with enough respect. He has a point. Although I have a very wide definition of art, I still think playing the air guitar on stage with local rock bands is a bit pathetic. I asked Herb why he doesn’t do the work, take a risk and pick up a real guitar. Asked what he thought would happen if I painted without paint. His face hardened and he turned away to address the air, saying that what he did was dance. Maybe so.


Can’t seem to get much done lately. I keep thinking of great things to make but not starting any of them. Need money. Need to get started on some of my long-range projects. But just seem to flit about. Got most of the logs cut up on Daddy’s saw- tried putting spackling compound in some of the floor cracks. Caulked the front door. Should keep working but think I’ll just go to bed with a book.


This afternoon I almost got myself killed. I was helping work a car crash up on Rt. 460. We had gotten things pretty much under control. The not too badly hurt people were loaded up in the ambulance and firemen were cleaning up the broken glass and hosing gas and oil off the road. Tow trucks were on the way- troopers were taking statements. I stepped back to get an overview (sometimes I do paintings of accidents- they are seldom any good). I had forgotten the cops had opened up one lane to traffic. A tractor-trailer truck’s horn sounded in my head- I stepped forward and the semi blew by on my heels. Didn’t think much about it at the time- back home I remembered it and went cold- almost vomited. It came to me how close I’d come to having all my blood on the highway. I went up in the woods and cut down trees till my hand blistered. Made the kids haul them down.

Cunninghame shot a deer that had been hit by a car. It had lain all day in the upper pasture. It was a baby doe, but Steve, the squad captain, helped me cut it up so as not to waste the meat. I think Steve is the best in the squad. If I ever have trouble I’d want him in charge of the crew. Glad he lives on my road.

My back is killing me- what am I saying- my back hurts- I am killing me.


Forgot to write last night.

Been getting worried about building money- got a check for $600 in the mail today for a painting I’d long ago given up on being paid for. Saved just in time again. Running both houses out of different pockets is a bitch. Herb doesn’t even have his name on the checkbook. I see that all bills are paid, etc. Sometimes when I’m out of building money, I think of taking just a little money from the up the hill account but I can’t do it. It would be too easy to keep doing it. His payroll check is not enough to keep one house going well anyway- this house has to remain untainted by Herb’s payroll money.

I’m going to take the kids shopping tomorrow after school. I feel rich. Burned and painted faces on the table top- looks good but the legs now look naked- guess I have to do them too.

Sawed up all the trees the kids dragged out of the woods.


On the way to the junkyard I thought up the sink I wanted. White porcelain (don’t like stainless steel)- oldtimey curved lines, big enough to wash a big pot. I got to the junkyard and there it was waiting out in front for me- $10. There was lots of other neat stuff but it was raining too hard for good looking. The yard guys did show me some wonderful old copper and brass fire-hose ends that they had saved for me. Sold them to me for scrap price- $4 each.


Finished setting up the sink this morning. The fire-hose ends are just perfect for holding up the front. I didn’t have enough parts to drain it through the floor so it drains into a pail for now. In fact, I kind of like emptying the pail. This might wear off, but I like seeing the water fly.

Have to study- I’ll be glad when the state test is behind me.


I still find myself just sitting a lot, like I’ve lost heart. John told me I’m just cracking after the summer of crazed building.

I cut a gourd for a bird feeder, hauled wet kindling out of a soppy forest, caulked between some floor boards, fell asleep in class.


Sky from my bed this morning was breathtaking. Very high front clouds moving so fast that if they had been at tree height they would have mowed down the forest.

Stopped by the sawmill- Sonny says he will bring my wood for inside walls and underside soon. That ought to get me going it anything can.


Nice rainy day to myself- draft proofed windows and doors- took kids to see play in town and the day was done.


Tonight the radio said a cold front was coming, racing down at us from the Arctic. Winter. I feel sort of like my house and I are being cast off from safe harbor and being sent to ride out the storm at sea. Well, this ark ain’t near ready. I haven’t even loaded on fodder for the horses.


Cold wind came hollering in this morning. The tin roof banged and banged- tonight it’s to be 10 degrees. It’s not too bad in my glass house. At least, I can’t see my breath. The sun came out this afternoon, warming the place in three minutes. Strange to bathe in the same sun I ran from before.

I put more caulk on windows and doors. The cold makes it real easy to find air leaks. Hope I don’t have to find my way to the very outside toilet this cold night (woman found frozen to death on illegal shithole).


Woke in the middle of the night to see a shooting star coming at me. Automatically started forming a wish, but my mouth dried up with the weight of my wants. I have too much to hang on one piddly little shooting star- need to wait for a really big meteor shower or maybe a comet. There was a rainbow around the moon when I walked down the hill after dinner. My body feels on fire with the full moon.

Took a very big femur bone I found years ago- drilled holes in it (god, what a smell drilling bone makes)- put 2 eye-bolts in the holes and hung it under Tyree’s loft. Maybe if I hang from it my back will get better.

The window I cracked while sanding ran its crack all the way to the top today- shit. Must replace it from the outside and it’s high up. Shit. Wood for the underside didn’t come today. Shit.


Worked kids in the woods bringing in firewood. I could only keep them working for 1 ½ hours. Trees are black locusts- killed in a forest fire 35 years ago and still standing. They make the best long lasting firewood but are hard as rocks to cut with a handsaw.

Bev gave me T. Kidder’s book (House) to read. His builders would weep at the way I build, but what stopped me cold was when I read they used 1 ½ tubes of caulk in their whole house- I use it by the case. I think caulk is all that holds my house together.

Dreamed last night my two old horses were trapped inside my house, rearing, screaming, trying to mate. Couldn’t get them out- they wouldn’t fit through the door. God what a full moon does to me.


Bo must have finally had it out with Duck Savage, the little male duck that was always putting his bill between Bo’s mouth and his sweet feed. Robin found his frozen body- stomped flat as a pancake. He was telling me about the poor dear thing when I saw his face change: He was realizing what a great sister-tormenting tool he had. The rest of the day was Robin, feathered Frisbee in hand, and girl screams.

Passed the hands-on part of the Shock/Trauma state test tonight. They set up all these different rooms that you walk into- size up the injury/illness and do the right thing. It was all easy, bloodless and calm. No distraught family or milling onlookers. Not at all like the mess I got myself into on the way home. When my pager went off with a rescue call and the dispatcher gave the address, I was much nearer the address than the ambulance. Went straight to the scene without waiting for backup. A man was having seizures one after the other- was vomiting rice, beans and sliced hot dogs. I was all by myself and thought he was going to die on me. All I could do was try to keep an airway open- was real glad to see the crew- was real glad to wash up.

Most people in this county have lived here all their lives and don’t take too kindly to newcomers. My years with the Rescue Squad forced me into their lives and home-showed me their secrets- bought me a hometown.


The moon was so bright in the early morning hours that I awoke thinking it was day and the girls had missed their bus.

Sawed all afternoon- have a pretty good stack of firewood- if I had three more like it I would not fear the winter. It’s warm again so have the ram pump working well; when the hoses freeze, I will have no water.


Stretched and primed four small canvasses tonight- girls and I ran to the river in the moonlight. The house was 200 squares of warm light welcoming us back.


Going nuts for lack of my wood order- need stuff to work with. Called the sawmill to beg- but I just got their old hard luck song- their planer was down- trouble finding seasoned wood- work crew all gone deer hunting- bad weather (when it rains they work in a bowl of mud). I’ve read that mud can stop an army. Seeing the sawmill after lots of rain I can well believe this. I’ve been watching the sawmill sink slowly into the mud for years. It’s sort of wonderful looking and except for the big loaders it could be 100 years ago. But I know it’s no fun for them.

Took out the cracked glass and put a new one in. It took a long time up on the ladder to get the old caulk out by somehow I’d measured right and the new glass fit perfectly. The sun cooked me all day but the radio says snow and rain by dawn.

The shine of moonlight off the tin roof was most uplifting walking home last night. I needed an eye joy after a tension-filled dinner at husband’s house. His bellowing still has the power to chill my chest. Tonight the laundry had upset him more than usual. A few years ago he decided that he really should have some part in the running of the household. He would do the laundry. Wash-days started with his harsh demands for dirty clothes and ended with a poorly washed, rumpled pile covering my bed. There must have been some good times between us by my memory is too full of the awful.


Heavy, driving rain all day. Rivers of mud rushing down the hill. Hope my house stays put.


Feel half asleep- have to make myself do even the smallest thing. Didn’t sleep last night. The winds were so strong the house swayed- the roof banged and for the first time in my life I heard the wind truly howl. The house moves from the top and the twin’s beds are tied to the roof beams. Valen said she thought she would die of fear- Tyree slept through it all. Robin told me that up in the big house he ran to hide in the bathroom twice for fear his window would come crashing in on him.

I weatherproofed the cat door. Must start something big tomorrow.


Worked all day and evening sanding the stairs to Tyree’s loft- did my usual less than wonderful job but they are saved by the lovely cherry wood (except for one piece of oak that somehow got in the line).

After cooking dinner, was walking down the hill and enjoying having sanctuary in sight when great sparks and lights came out of my roof. My heart did three flips and tried to stop. I thought my house was exploding. As I started to die, another wave of sparks shot up higher. As my eyes were about to close for the last time, I understood it was just campers shooting off rockets down by the river.

Twelve guinea fowls were killed by the train. Robin found their headless (in one case, footless) bodies today. I’ve always picked up their fine spotted feathers when I found one lying about. Here were all the feathers I could ever want- pulled some off their poor bodies. Somehow the feathers weren’t so wonderful anymore.

The train is a killer. When I moved away from busy Rt.460, where my daily walks to the mailbox were filled with cold dread at maybe seeing another one of my beasts flattened on the road, to live on a dead-end road, I thought everyone would be safe. But Rose dog was cut in half by the train- Junior cat was found on the tracks along with many deer, raccoons, unknown dogs, and one man. The tracks also work as a death trap for turtles. They get between the rails, can’t get out, and lumber on and on till hunger or heat kills them.


Cleaned my little house. Then hiked to top of the cliffs with Cunninghame and John. Last time I went up was early spring- today I went up faster and easier than I ever had before. All the building has made me much stronger. Looking down on my little house, it stood out like the new raw thing it is. I must have been crazy to have ever thought it would be hidden from view. I felt foolish about all my high and mighty talk of never scarring the land. No backhoes or bulldozers for me, I’d told people as I lugged away the dirt from my footer holes. I’d thought my building would no more disturb the land than a tulip coming up in the spring. Now, with tracks, trails, paths and smears radiating from the house, it looked like the last remaining water hole in all the Serengeti.

Early Winter House by Pat West


A good long day. Lots of small, icky-tacky troublesome little jobs all done. Wow. Took kids to karate- bought a Tom Turkey. With all the turkeys running around the house, we eat a stranger. The kids say it’s not fair to eat their friends. I think of the baby turkey hatched last spring without eyeballs. He couldn’t find his mother- he ran desperately toward any sound, peeping. There is no fair. I hate the holidays.


Made a handrails for the stairs between the rooms. Took an old piece of twisted cedar- worked three hours rasping and sanding it. Bolted it on the wall. Maybe now people won’t look so fearful going down the stairs.


Am waiting for my bath to heat up. It takes a long time and lots of trips from stove to tub. Think I want a way to heat bathwater fast more than anything. I really don’t mind my morning runs to the shithole (even if my friendly bush is now leafless). My pee hole works fine- ram pump brings enough water up in four hours to fill my tub (in good weather). Carrying down drinking water is no problem. But I want a hot bath faster.

Filled cracks in lower room floor- then sanded, oiled, loved my new stair rail. It looks like the mane of a carnival horse.


A day spent up at the old house (Oh Joy). Put the non-pet turkey in the oven. Got the kids together and we did a big house cleanup while their father drank wine and oiled his pistols. Gave them all lots of food. The girls were so full they went down to bed at 6 so I was able to get away leaving Herb and the boys to the endless world of TV sports. Looked around Herb’s house for things I wanted but didn’t see much I could take without alarming people.

Still can’t get wild birds to my feeder- have seeds in many placed but all I get are chickens and horses.


Figured out how to have a hot bath faster today. All I have to do is make a way to heat huge amounts of water outside, then lug it in. Wish I had my wood order- wish I had the wood up under the floors. Wish I had the horses’ winter hay bought and stored. Wish I had all my winter firewood. Wish I had my tubes tied off. If all my wishes were horses, I could ride them clear to Hawaii.

11/29 & 30

Cut down more trees- got the kids into the woods, hauling down logs. The boys carried in some truly huge ones. Cut all afternoon on Daddy’s saw. It ran well but I had to sit on some big logs to hold them in place. While the saw worked away, I thought of more things to do. So now I’m even father behind and deeper in wants. I need to move faster. Did decide to hell with carrying water inside- if the water was hot enough, I could just take my bath outside in any weather. I’ll get the other old bathtub out at Mary’s- put it up on rocks- build a fire under it- Appalachian Hot Tub.

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