(By Commie Mom, For David Gregory, who asked.)
I wrote this story five years ago. It is about pouring the concrete foundation for my little environmental steel and glass house here on thirteen beautiful acres in Oklahoma.
I designed the house. It’s a simple rectangle (the best environmental shape, it turns out) with one huge room except for the bathroom which does have real walls, contrary to what I wrote so long ago.
Peewee built it for me, with my help as gopher and holder of tools. He can do anything and knows everybody and got deals from folks that made my life easy and sweet.
So here’s the story, folks.
It has rained and rained. I love every single drop. Can’t get enough. It refreshes every cell of my body. The last forty years without rain in California was like Moses’ trek through the desert.
it slows things down in the ”building the house” department. If it weren’t for the rain, things would pretty much be done.
Maybe that’s why things (traffic, conversations, lines at the supermarket) are slower here…the weather just makes you slow down.
So finally, between the tropical storm and Hurricane Henriette’s remaining load of rain, there was a break and enough time between the swiftly scudding black clouds to put up the forms for the concrete foundation and pour the dang thing.
Peewee calls Ted, the concrete guy. They arrive in the heat of the day. And I mean heat. (I have heard many people say that the heat in Oklahoma is the most intense of their lives.) He and his boys (Steve, Other Steve, and Robert) start putting in the forms for the concrete. Other Steve looks like my son, Jesse, who died seventeen years ago…I take his picture…he smiles into the camera.
Ted’s the owner-boss. He’s been doing concrete since he was 8 years old. One of the Steves beats his number. He says he was 4 when HE started. Says the only time his dad ever showed up was when he wanted Steve to help pour concrete. Robert smokes his cigarette and grins.
Me: “Ted, what’s the difference between cement and concrete?”
They are good at their jobs. They drag the lumber for the concrete forms from the pile Peewee had left a few days ago. They bolster it against their thighs and pound with large hammers. The force of the hammers slam into their legs.
Within minutes they have hammered three sides of the 20 x 60 rectangle I will eventually have as my home. They measure several times. Horizontally, vertically, diagonally. They level the boards several times. Then, in the sweltering heat, they climb into Ted’s truck and speed off to their next job. It’s taken no time at all. Just like Peewee said.
I don’t know when they’ll be back. Rain, you know. It’s never too hot to work, or too humid. But rain is a different story. It messes with the concrete. It makes the trucks slide. People can adapt but their machinery and stuff can’t.
So the form sits on the ground like a jilted lover. Waiting for cement. Rain comes. Rain goes. Over the next week it’s never quite clear enough to get the boys back.
But Rowdy and Artie come. Rowdy is Peewee’s son. He’s a plumber. Licensed. They come EARLY in the morning and lay the plumbing in the house just where I drew it hastily on lined paper several days ago. I don’t get to see them do their magic. It’s so early that they don’t want to wake me. They leave the pipes standing at attention along the north side of the house. There are fat pipes and capped pipes and thin hoses. I’ll have a kitchen and bathroom sink, two showers (one in, one outside) a washing machine and a toilet.
This place is getting downright civilized.
I will have the kitchen sink there against the north wall. I’ll be able to look out of the window above it while doing my dishes. There will be a shade garden outside that window, with moss. I’ll collect from the forest around my house. And ferns, too. I saw some when I hiked there the other day. I won’t have any Leverite rocks there, though.
Leverite rock: it’s about three hundred pounds, black, kind of flat….and you leave ‘er right there. Peewee said that. Heh. Get it? Leave ‘er right there.
The bathroom will also be against the north wall. This provides insulation against north winds. It will provide mass to gather heat in the winter and will be cool in the summer.
I want the bathroom to be totally open, but my friends say they won’t come to my house if I do that. So, maybe bamboo shades, long ones, attached to cross bars and rolled down to serve as walls.
I am seeing all this in my mind as I look at the smooth sand and the blue and orange and white hoses and pipes sticking out of it.
Another week goes by. Rain again. Yes, I still love it. Even more.
Then Peewee calls.
“It’ll be tomorrow morning. 8:00.”
I am excited.
Peewee has managed to map things out in his head and by combining this job with that, and doing a double loopdy-loop, has saved me a bunch-o-money.
(A brief aside…everyone said it would cost more and take longer than expected….it hasn’t cost more. It’s cost less….Peewee is a genius. The rain has slowed us down. But that’s a GOOD thing.)
It’s 8:00. The boys return. Steve grabs THREE fishing poles and walks down to the pond. He has come prepared for the wait of the cement truck.
After a couple of hours a cement truck comes. It drives down my beautiful driveway to the site. Steve puts away his poles. The boys put on their big, yellow rubber boots. They look like little kids standing there.
The cement comes out slowly at first. Just a little. Like a fat, constipated old man. Peewee tells me it will come pretty fast now. And it does. The boys stand inside the form pushing concrete with long-handled trowels. They use their feet, too, to push the stuff around. They sweat. They never take their eyes from it. They never lose speed. It’s hypnotizing, watching them. The swirl of the chunky gray goo moves in front of their tools, filling every space and low spot.
Fishing Steve (he loves to fish) pulls a screed. It’s the hardest job. It’s also his favorite. He pushes wide swaths of concrete before him. The whole form fills. The second truck comes as soon as the first leaves. More intense pulling and pushing of concrete. They’ve not stopped for some time.
Both cement trucks are empty now.
I give the concrete guy a check. They leave.
I watch the smooth troweling of the “butter” (the slick, watery top coat of concrete). The boys’ backs are bent, their attention complete. No one talks. Now Fishing Steve uses a motorized twirling trowel. The other guys hand trowel the edges.
It’s time for lunch and Ted gives Robert money to buy us all hamburgers from Sherry Lynn’s restaurant out on Highway 177. She grinds her chuck fresh every morning.
We sit under the oak trees next to the pond. The hamburgers are big and juicy, with everything on them. We drink Dr. Peppers. They are more popular here than Coke.
We walk back to the foundation.
It sits like polished glass in its form. It is gorgeous. I can see reflections of clouds in it.
An optical illusion has taken place, which the concrete guys and Peewee have witnessed over and over. The concrete has somehow enlarged the footprint of the house. It looks twice as big . I swear.
The foundation has been poured.
They wash up at my new orange outside pump.
They light cigarettes, get into the truck, wave, and are gone.
Can I be any happier?