The Shed, Choices and Lessons

Choices—we are faced with them all the time. What to do? What to keep/discard? Where to go? When to act? The list goes on. In the end the people we become, and the lives we lead, are mostly the sum of the ones we have made and, perhaps, the ones that others made for us, whether with or without our consent. Sometimes we choose wisely and realize fairly immediate benefit. Sometimes, though, especially when seen with the clarity of hindsight, the choices were perhaps not the best that could have been made. Still, though, even the bad ones leave us with opportunities for growth, even if they only take the form of experiences that have strengthened us or lessons we have learned the hard way.

The choice: tear it down or repair it.

The shed started out as something of a lark. Eleven years ago my friend Calvin had a line on a quantity of used OSB that was about to be disposed of and wondered if I’d like some of it. After giving it some thought I asked whether I could get 23 sheets as that was the amount needed to build a shed in the backyard. “Sure,” said Calvin so I got bottle of Lamb’s rum, borrowed a pickup truck and drove off to the site. The guys there didn’t mind me hauling away some of the 4’ x 8’sheeting they’d removed from the roof of a large commercial building. The contract said it was to be given a new roof and, so, the existing materials were removed and were to be discarded anyway. What odds if a few of them never made it to the Robin Hood Bay landfill? I gave the guys the 40-ouncer for their trouble, drove home, and stacked the sheets on a few old pieces of board to keep them off the ground. It was a good start.

One evening, about a week later Alex, my father-in-law came to visit. “Got some stuff for you out in the truck,” he said. Mystified, I followed him out, only to discover a quantity of sticks in the bed. I recognized them. Alex and his oldest son Brendan had come across a large section of a wharf floating out in the bay while they were fishing. They’d attached a line to it and towed it back to shore. I’d actually helped them bring it up the beach once they’d landed. These sticks were from that section. With some difficulty I lugged the dozen or so out to the backyard and stacked them by the sheets of OSB. The next morning I realized why they were so heavy. It was not, what I thought—I figured they’d become water logged from the stint in Placentia Bay. No such thing—they were dry as bones. They were also solid birch; dressed down to a true 4” by 6” and plenty long to serve as both joists and sills for the shed. Strong enough, too, to drive a 10 tonne truck over.

My buddy Alf added some 1’ x 8’ strips of plywood to the list; perfect for soffit under the eaves.

The expensive stuff was all stacked in the backyard, so it was time to stop being such a cheapskate. I took the van over to the building supplies store, got some T&G for the floor as well as enough studs and nails to get the thing under way and went to work. Calvin and Bruce, as always, stopped by whenever they could. Soon the shed was done, all except for a door and something to cover the roof. It was also late November.

I’m a retired educator. At the time I wasn’t retired but, with four kids and just a teacher’s salary, let’s just say money was not something we had in abundance. Heating season was starting up and Christmas was just around the corner so there simply was not enough money for a door and proper roofing shingles. I made do. An old wooden interior door was modified a bit and pressed into service as an exterior shed door.  Inexpensive roofing material called “roof roll” (something thinker than felt but much, much less durable than shingles) went on the roof. It all got done before the winter set in.

And it did the job, at least for 10-11 years. The kids’ bikes, some of the tools, the out-of-season tires, deck furniture and loads of other stuff all made their home there.

Hurricane Igor roared through in September 2010, pounding us with 160+ km/hr winds and dumping around 200 mm of rain. It took a toll on the roof, tearing the roof covering in several places (and taking down a few lengths of fence as well). I did a half-arsed job of repairing the damage. Instead of replacing the torn parts I just nailed them back down and sealed them with roofing gum. It still leaked somewhat, though, in heavy rains.

In 2012, Hurricane Leslie did further damage. With 130+ km/hr winds it managed to tear off more of the roof covering. And, yes, another half-arsed repair. The roof continued leaking for all of the next year.

I procrastinated. Mending roofs is by no means my favourite thing, I have loads of other things that need doing and besides, I hate heights. Over time it got worse. OSB doesn’t take kindly to being constantly wet and soon there came a time when I had to admit that the whole roof was ruined.

So that left two choices: replace the whole roof or demolish the shed.

One day a few weeks back found me out by the shed and, for once, with a bit of time on my hands. I looked inside. The floor was wet but undamaged. The old bikes were mostly ruined from the constant dampness but, after all, the kids had outgrown all but one—which was undamaged. The old door had given way. It was, after all, an interior door, not designed to hold fast against wind and rain. I’d given up on storing things I valued inside it any more. It smelled of dampness.

I stood in the doorway and looked out across at the garden. RDF (Raid, drizzle and fog) was the order of the day; gloomy. Behind me I could hear “tap tap tap” as water leaked from the roof and bounced on the floor. I sighed and ruminated.

It started with a recollection of a similar time, eight years ago, standing right in the same doorway talking with Josephine (often referred to as ‘OH’ – ‘Other Half’) on the cell and learning that my sister in law was not, in fact, ill. She was, unexpectedly…expecting. Thinking of the fine young fellow Ben is now made me smile. Last time I was out there he called me “Uncle Peanut” and giggled—something that started my own crowd laughing. Me too.

We generally see what we choose to see. When you’re in a foul mood you mostly see and focus on the negative things. Fortunately it works that way in reverse too. When something lifts your spirits a bit you start to see other things in a more positive light. Sometimes a single good positive nudge is all it takes to turn you right around. This was one of those times.

I looked around and remembered again where the sheeting and soffit had come from—random act of kindness by friends and some of their buddies.

And the floor, or rather the 4×6 birch that supported it: Brendan, my brother in law, who, along with Alex, had towed the wharf section to shore had shared it with me, among others. Brendan was always like that. He’d helped renovate my place in Southern Harbour shortly after I began teaching. He helped me develop the basement of my current house 21 years ago when I moved in. How many others had he helped? Far too many to count; he was like that. How many laughs had we shared? Far too many to count; he was like that too.

Brendan died far too young; almost nine years ago. Buried on what would have been his 39th birthday and what was Josephine’s 40th. How strangely ironic to be so frequently choking back a tear for a person who brought so much joy to others…

To my right, a door and a window. Yes, the original door was useless; rotted, but just a few months ago Alex had rescued an exterior wooden door and had built up a new door box for it from scratch. A window too—same thing—rescued and built anew. Both leaning against the wall beside me and waiting to be placed…somewhere.

It was settled. Far too many hands had played a part in getting that shed there. No, it was not a big, fancy structure, perfectly suited to the storage needs of someone who knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. It was, rather, of humble origins, the product of hard work, a little luck and, most importantly, the kindness of people who matter. Not quite as big as I’d like it to be; not as fancy but good enough; my shed.

It wasn’t too hard to remove the old door. The new one was 1” wider so a little cutting was involved and the frame had to be rebuilt. A half-day of work saw it installed.

The roof was another matter. Removing the old covering wasn’t too bad but the OSB sheeting that covered the trusses did not want to come off. In the end 90% of the nails—and that’s a lot of nails—had to be drawn before the boards could be beaten off. One side of the roof was done at a time as half the roof needed to be left so that the trusses would not move or bend. Sheeting each side of the gable roof took a day. Likewise shingling took two days, one side at a time. Capping the roof took a few hours. The van needed four separate trips to the dump in order to bring the old stuff and the scraps. The window can wait for some day this coming week. It’s all pretty much done now.

Just this morning, once again I stood in the doorway of the shed looking out again across the garden. Despite the fact that it’s now late fall—we had a bit of snow the night before I capped the roof so the job had to wait for it to melt—it all seemed a bit brighter. The sound of the rain dancing on the roof was not matched by dripping from the leaks. The damp smell that had been in the shed since the spring was gone, replaced by the fragrance of brand-new spruce from the plywood sheeting on the roof above me. I breathed deeply of the fresh fall air and smiled.

The almost-completed job, just before I put the roof cap on.If you look hard, in the background you can see the last leaf of the year clinging obstenately to the silver maple tree. Some see fall as a time of dying-off; a time when the summer growth comes to an end and when nature sleeps for a while. It's not the only way of looking at it. Fall is also a time of harvest, a time when we get to enjoy, at long last, the fruits of our labour. Besides, the cycle will begin again sooner than we might expect.

The almost-completed job, just before I put the roof cap on.If you look hard, in the background you can see the last leaf of the year clinging obstinately to the silver maple tree. Some see fall as a time of dying-off; a time when the summer growth comes to an end; when nature sleeps for a while. It’s not the only way of looking at it. Fall is also a time of harvest, a time when we get to enjoy, at long last, the fruits of our labour. Besides, the cycle will begin again sooner than we might expect.

To do the new roof I used 5/8” select plywood instead of OSB, 35-year shingles instead of that crappy old roof roll and applied lots of roofing cement to each shingle before securely nailing it on with 5/4” galvanized roofing nails. The edges are all trimmed with 50-year acrylic caulking. One thing I learned along the way is to never, NEVER use inferior materials when it comes to the roof. …but that wasn’t the real lesson learned, was it?

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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23 Responses to The Shed, Choices and Lessons

  1. Nice. I too have similar sorts of memories, some surrounding hay making here on the farm. Many different hands participated over the years and if I stop to think of them the smiling faces which go along come back to me. If one considers the hay they helped harvest as having supported the ewes and rams we raised that particular year … and that the ewes and rams which now comprise our flock are related to those alive back then … then by X degrees of separation I can connect today’s flock with those very best of friends! Thanks for reminding me of this. D

    • What an interesting connection–I didn’t see it coming, but I sure do like it!
      On another note I just got back from helping some friends set up for a teacher inservice and ran into my old friend Des Sellars. He lives in Goose Bay, Labrador and works in the school district office there as a science program specialist. Like you he also operates a farm (though his is based on agriculture only) based on sustainable practices. Funny, all the while I was talking to him this morning I was thinking of how similar you two were in the way you view the world. Three’s a real conversation that we all need to be having on a much larger scale, isn’t there, around just how we can sustainably (and there’s another word but I can’t find it; it means “in harmony with the other living creatures on this planet”) support the food and textile needs for this huge human population. Somewhere along the way, this century, when we kept expanding our farms to huge scales yet kept to ‘lowest competitive pricing’ for the economic model we steered a bit off the path. Yes, it’s a miracle of science how efficiently we are able to feed the current population but at what long term cost?

  2. elkement says:

    I really like this story – if something is not really broken I usually go for mending it…. or creating something new from something old. I would even say creativity is triggered in a special way by the constraint of “having to use something that already exists” or having to repurpose it.

    We had our house’s roof rebuilt a few years ago and ordered a container in order to dispose the eternit panels of the old roof. But we hardly needed it as people asked if they could have those pieces – for covering stacked firewood or mending their sheds.
    I admit the nearly 100 year old roof truss has become firewood despite I have been told there are cabinetmakers who specialize in creating unique furniture from old wood – although or because it is partly rotten or infested by worms.
    But some people even wondered why we don’t build a new house from scratch and tear down the existing one which not uncommon where I live…. when people inherit “grandma’s house” for example.

    • Yes, too many are taking the so-called easy way out and just leveling existing structures to start from scratch. Of course the real cost is very high, both in terms of the utilization of resources that didn’t need to be used and the adoption of very long term mortgages that will likely cripple the family finances for the rest of their lives.

      • elkement says:

        … and adding a less serious comment: “The Shed” sounds like the title of a Stephen King book – If I recall correctly I added a similar remark to a somewhat eerie image of a shed published by Dave once.

  3. Mary says:

    Really enjoyed this story also – Kudos to you for salvaging the shed despite the best efforts of “Igor” and “Leslie” to tear it down. Seems like a spot with so many memories of family and helping hands attached . Sounds like a very satisfying few weeks (despite the initial plight and aggro) with good results of a revitalized (more than a) shed with the beautiful fragrance of brand new spruce. Hope you enjoy the fruits of your labour for a long time to come!

    • Thanks! ‘m looking forward to the next good day so I can get the window installed. I was going to do it today but it’s raining/snowing on and off. Hopefully before week’s end. It will also be nice to get the tires out of the basement–things are getting crowded in my little house 🙂

  4. Looks great and came with good lessons!

  5. Good post and was pleased to hear of the end result. Suited my ethics down to the ground. Or up to the roof. Gotta dash, in internet cafe .. laters

    • Nice to hear from you! Yes, you know what? I am really glad about the choice I made and am looking forward to maybe putting some (used) siding on it some time soon. Neighbors are planning to replace the siding on their house and have told me I can have what I need when the time comes. It’s vinyl and, as we say around here, “vinyl is final,” so it’s really in excellent shape.
      By the looks of it you are still in Spain. I figured you would be back in Gibraltar by now. I’m assuming the pup project is going well. …and looking forward to hearing about it in the near future. Hint Hint.

  6. jennypellett says:

    Good job done, I’d say, without losing the echoes of laughter from all those friends who helped you build the original. Solid friendships can never be replaced, although I guess relationships alter a little over the years…just like your shed.
    Isn’t it fun, the parallels we can draw… 😉

  7. johnlmalone says:

    I’m not much of a handyman but I can testify to the rightness of your observation that one act of kindness can turn things right around.

  8. My husband and I owned a roofing company before he retired. We’re very opinionated about roofs. So I’d say, yes, the lesson about never using inferior roofing materials was the real lesson. 😉

    • LOL! You said it! If I’d done that in the first place none of the subsequent work would have been needed. Yesterday I put in the window. It took a bit longer than I’d intended because the only place for it was behind some built-in shelving, which had to be dismantled adn moved. It cut right across a stud too so I had to build in a new one before cutting through. At any rate it’s done. I was hoping to go mad with the caulking gun today but, since the temps are still hovering around 0 C that will have to wait for another day. I did, though, gather up another load of trash for the dump 🙂 I’ll bring that up there while on the way to get the three boys from Uni at day’s end.

  9. seeker says:

    You are such an excellent story teller, Maurice. BTW, I want to say thank you for posting 11-11-11. I love to listen to war stories and it is easier to take when sang. Blessings.

  10. seeker says:

    Maurice, I came to listen to the songs posted on 11-11-11 and they are gone? What happened?

    • I only put the Remembrance Day stuff for one day.
      But for you, Perpetua, there’s always an exception 🙂
      Here’s the link to Terry Penney’s Beautiful “Normandy in Newfoundland” where he reminds us that, for those who “went over” the awful memories my affect them for a lifetime:

      And here’s the link to John McDermott’s touching performance of John McCutcheon’s “Christmas in the Trenches”, which reminds is that, even though wars are fought between countries it’s people like you and me who fight and die.

      And one more for good measure. Liam Clancy’s performance of Eric Bogle’s “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” always brings me to tears…

  11. seeker says:

    Good Morning Maurice, Bless your Heart! Thank you so much. I made a copy of your comment so that I have in to play the music over and over again. You may now delete this message, should it be occupying too much space. Have a grand day. Perpetua.
    p.s. I’ll play it tonight.

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