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.
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?