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Drive-through Closing and Reality Home Improvement

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I became the owner of a 220-year-old farmhouse in May 2020. The closing was a lonely, lengthy affair with me sitting in the driveway of a lawyer’s office on Barre Street waiting for his masked assistant to bring out stacks of papers on a clipboard. The process was called a “drive-through closing.” Then, more waiting, and a phone call from the lawyer to my cellphone where he talked me through it, page by page, and instructed me where to initial and sign. Finally, the masked lawyer himself approached my car and retrieved the papers along with my check. It was probably raining.

I went home and took a good look at the house. Broken porch windows boarded up. The outer door had fallen off in 2018. Peeling exterior paint exposed weathered boards.

Anticipating this moment a couple of years ago, I took some woodshop classes at the school where I worked during ‘wellness’ afternoons. I needed to learn how to use power tools such as saws, drills, and sanders. I already knew how to use most common hand tools.

Bushes and shrubs had overgrown the front, prohibiting access for painting. I addressed this first using a hand saw, since I do not own a power saw. I gave myself a quota each night after work to remove at least four branches. I took down or greatly pruned three lilac bushes, a quince bush, and some kind of fir shrub growing up over and leaning against the roof.

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Now, ready for painting. By this time it was still a pandemic lockdown. I drove to the Habitat for Humanity in Williston to buy paint, but when I got there, they were only open for curbside pick up to people who purchased ahead of time online. However, since I was there, the man asked what I was looking for. Soon I was headed home with five gallons of Local Color brand “Barn Red” and a gallon each of “Mansfield White,” “Maple Cream,” “Granite Grey,” and “Blue Moon” at $11 per gallon. I was a little worried about the red, because there is nothing worse than the “wrong color red” splashed over a whole house or barn. You know, the kind that is too orangey or too bright. But it wound up being a perfect hue and thickness.

As with all home improvement projects, I had two big challenges: time and money. I was working as a third-year teacher (in a remote classroom environment) and as a part-time writer. I couldn’t exactly hire a painting crew or buy hundreds of dollars worth of materials. I also didn’t have the youth, strength, and wherewithal to spend all day scraping and painting. I had to work up to it. 

I solved it by borrowing the ladder from my good friends Scott and Amy, and using whatever tools I found around the house. I fixed the broken porch windows myself using Plexiglas. There were plenty of scraping tools. I needed to get new paint brushes and buckets, though.

Again, I gave myself a strict quota: I would scrape the old paint each afternoon if I felt like it until I got sick of it. My painting quota was to paint until my little bucket was empty, and that was it for the night. This went on from May until the end of September. I didn’t get the whole house painted, but I painted the back part by the woodshed where it looked so shabby I got depressed every time I looked at it. I also finished the front of the house, which was my priority. My neighbor, Mark, happened to have a door that perfectly fit the place where the outer door had fallen off. He installed it for me, and fixed the door handle installation I botched. I painted it “Blue Moon” — a drastic change for the house. I painted the weathered old steps that color as well. I painted the door frame and railing “Maple Cream.”

I didn’t get to the other sides or the garage, but I read a home improvement article (one of many) that suggested this strategy for DIY house painting: Paint one side every year. Now that is the kind of schedule I can abide by.

Never mind about the septic tank backing up, the plumbing situation, or the furnace blow-out that all occurred around the time I purchased the house. For now, although they happened recently, those homeowner crises are bygones.

Born in Montpelier. Managing editor of The Bridge from 2014-2017. Writer and editor for The Caledonian Record; correspondent and contributing writer for The Times Argus, Burlington Free Press, Green Mountain Trading Post, North Star Monthly, The Northland Journal, and other publications. English teacher and Interventionist in the Montpelier Roxbury School district.