Back in the day people weren’t terribly concerned with building codes. You took pride in your work. Maybe you were building the family farmhouse, or log cabin on the frontier. This was your home. You did your best and hoped it didn’t either fall down or burn down. Not everyone was a good builder and a lot of houses fell down. Or burned down. Or were abandoned. Driving through the country I see a lot of what I like to call fixer uppers. Collapsed piles of brick, wood or stone, far beyond any salvation.
Building houses has always been expensive so you used available materials. A tree you used for a wall in the cabin was just a tad beyond ripe. That rock in the foundation wasn’t quite flat and the house seemed strangely out of kilter. These kinds of things made for funky imperfections. Character. Along comes electricity. We replace gaslights, and their danger of burning down your house and the whole block, with electric lights. A miracle. And a jumble of wires running everywhere through the house. Now the danger is bare wires and overloaded circuits.
And who builds their own house nowadays? You rely on builders being professional, experienced, and ethical. You have no idea what lurks beyond that sheetrock.
I watched in amazement as my aged parents navigated the staircase in their old stone farmhouse. Sixteen stairs. Creaky old wood. Covered in carpet. On either side of the staircase was a handrail. Rickety on both sides. The stairs were steep. And narrow. Not up to code I would say. But good for their day.
My mother would go up ok, hauling herself all the way using the handrails. It was coming down that was so scary. She’d come down sideways. Holding on for dear life. One foot down, then the other. Two feet on a step. Then to the next step. Until she reached the bottom. At age 87 she seemed quite comfortable with it. But she’d been up and down these stairs thousands of times over the past thirty-eight years.
The stairs hadn’t changed a bit in those years. But she had. And I had visions of her tumbling down from top to bottom. Ending up much like the fixer upper I mentioned earlier.
I love the house. And the stairs. But I was glad she and my father were moving to a two-bedroom apartment. All on one floor. In a building with an elevator. But damn if they didn’t take the stairs to their place on the second floor! Tough old bird.
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