Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pain: Part 1

I did it to myself when I decided to turn the garage into a cottage/studio.  It had gone through many incarnations since my parents bought this piece of property in the mid 1950s.  It was a double garage back then, very modern for the time due to its size.  Most garages in those days were single garages in this neighborhood, unless they also contained a "workshop."  But since the entry of our garage was off the ally behind the property and you actually had to walk farther from the garage to the back door of the house than from the street in front of the house to the front door, my parents always parked on the street.  Laziness won out and the garage began its incarnation as very big storage shed.

In the late 1960s after my parents divorce and my mother's taking a lover who was a friend of my current husband's and only a three years older than I, the garage began to be used as a workshop and hideout for asshole men who had been temporarily been asked to go drink somewhere else by their long suffering female partners.  The garage had electricity so the boys could have a huge old fridge and a TV to watch sporting events while they drank beer or "Crybaby" wine. When the gang of drunks began to move away with new women (suckers) to other parts of the state or country, and my mother's very young lover died of a brain tumor, the garage again languished as a big storage pod.

When Tom and I had one of our many falling-outs I decided to remodel the garage and turn it into a cottage/art studio ( I was painting in those days).  I wish I had pictures of the transition.  It was a huge undertaking.  For one thing the garage and the entire back third of the property was situated on a gradual rise full of rocks and deep tree-roots.  There were plantings of antique lilacs and thorny  shrubs.  There are two huge pines back here.  And to complicate things a bit, huge slabs of slate had been deposited by my ex-father when he tore out the original antique mantel and fireplace and made the whole fireplace-room dark as a cave and butt ugly.  The slate hearth  he built was nothing more than a tripping hazard.  When my mother's young lover took up residence, he tore out my ex-father's hidious low acoustical tile ceiling and opened up the bay windows again.  He also tore out the slate fireplace and replaced it with a mantle he and my mother found at a garage sale.  It wasn't as pretty as the original, but it is a huge improvement on the slate slabs which my mother's young lover stashed in random sections of the back of the property (as if they were naturally occurring in this soil).

So when I began the excavation for the bathroom/solarium addition to the garage I had to do several very big jobs with very little help and even less money.  A girlfriend and I dug the utility trench from the main house to the garage.  In a climate like this utility lines (gas and water) are buried six feet under.  And these particular six feet run under a pathway that has been used since the late 1800s.  They also run beside the biggest Green Ash tree in the Salt Lake Valley.  So not only did we have to dig that trench, we had to dig around roots as big as a weight lifter's thigh.  We used shovels until we got to the tree roots and then we used coffee cans.  So we dug a trench three feet wide and six feet underground and roughly eighty five feet long.  We worked from dawn to dusk for two weeks.  If Tom had been doing this remodel he'd have rented a backhoe and dug the trench in a day.

Then my friend and I made the gazebo from a kit she bought ages ago and never used.  The kit itself was simple, but preparing the ground for it was not.  More digging was required along with moving slabs of slate.  Then, once the area had been leveled and the beams in place, we mixed concrete in a wheelbarrow and made five triangular sections of floor.  Putting the kit together was simple compared to the mixing and pouring of concrete one wheelbarrow at a time.  It took three wheelbarrows full for each triangular section.  You do the math.  Just writing this is making my back ache a little more.

It took most of one summer to do this much, and as winter was approaching we used particle board and my friend's table saw to make the fourteen triangular sides of the structure and then wrestle them into place(leaving one side open as a door) and hammer them securely enough to weather the winter and protect all the tools and antiques that had been stored in the garage so the actual remodel could begin. 

To be continued...


Fran said...

I had to take some Aleve/anti inflammatories just to read this story!

Talk about sweat equity!

MRMacrum said...

Damn! You are one intriguing woman Utah.

La Belette Rouge said...

Happy to have inspired this series.;-)

I would love to see your paintings. Any chance of that?

Utah Savage said...

Fran, I'm living on 800 Mg Ibuprofen and valium. I'll have a day when I think it's getting better, I do a couple of tiny things and I pay for it the next day.

MRMacrum, Your comment is intriguing as well. Did you just think of me as a candy ass fashionista? Oh, I'm much more than that. I'm always so glad to see you here.

LBR, The painting at the top of my home page is one of my paintings. The last exhibit I was part of I only had three paintings left and I was unwilling to sell any of them. I did show my work in earlier times and sold almost everything I did. I had commissions for work. I worked small since I was working in watercolor, only I used the water colors that came in tubes like oil paints. I layered color. I couldn't afford models so I did a lot of self portraits.

There will be probably 3 or 4 parts to the writing about this episode in my life. It took a lot of labor to make this ancient garage a home. But I succeeded. Now I can't imagine living anywhere else. I love my tiny house. But I sure hate the lower back pain.

MRMacrum said...

Utah - No, I did not even know of your fashion background until long after I started reading your blog. It was "Maggy" that hooked me. It was your resilence in the face of a difficult life then and now that drove in the hook.

As I have been involved more than once in exactly the kind of project you dealt with when digging the ditch (by hand and by machine), I know how tough it can be. And though I realized you were more than another pretty face, I will admit I did not picture you with a coffee can in hand digging around roots of a tree until I read this post. But I will surely add ditch digger to the image of you I have in my mind.

Do you still have the slate from the hearth kickin around? If so, it is like money in the bank. Slate brings top dollar right now. Especially older slate.

Utah Savage said...

MRMacrum, Oh god I've got tons of that slate. That's another chapter in this long tale of how I ruined my back. I moved those big slabs around my yard by wrestling them onto a dolly and then bending over like a mule to pull them into another place in the yard. I'm a bit of an idiot.

jmsjoin said...

Peg you never seize to amaze me!