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The twisted tale of our famous door

January 28, 2020
Our niece Hannah Banana years ago at our house. I snapped the photo. Hannah died years later in Kona, Hawaii, probably of an opioid overdose.

January 28, 2020

We discovered our current house while walking the neighborhood more than 38 years ago.  Our quest that Fall day:  walk to the castles on Clark Avenue and admire old Billings.  I had recently gotten a job making antibiotic and other intravenous infusions, to be “piggybacked” into various patients’ hydrating IV infusions.  Hence, I was “Dan the piggyback man.”  I earned $5.60/hr, enough to pay rent for my family of five, and feed us.  And our cats, Burton, Leo, Annabelle.  And a nephew or niece or two.  We enjoyed walking then and we do now. 

We admired the castles that day in 1982, including the Moss mansion.

We returned to Burlington Avenue, headed home.

In front of a green house shined a pickup’s tail lights.  I walked to the door and notified a young man who thanked me, said the brake pedal caused  the lights to go on.  He trotted out to the truck while P. and I walked two blocks home on the 400 block of Burlington Avenue.

More than a year later I got a job working the night shift at the hospital and a raise to $10.20/hr.  P. and I looked to buy a house, but they were scarce in 1983.  They only suitable house available was the one where we asked about the truck tail lights.  

We thought we could afford a $500/mo payment, so we asked the real estate lady to offer the owner, John Frasco, a suitable amount.  Of course, he turned us down, but ultimately accepted.  We moved in during a blizzard, January 1, 1984.

To our sorrow, Burton the cat ran out the door never again to be seen and admired.  The temperature was at least 20 below and we had no fridge.  

We needed a fridge to keep our milk from turning sour, same as other times.  Also, to keep the milk from freezing if we tried set it outdoors.  

Well, we drove out past Lockwood and selected a 1950s-style fridge for $150 (They don’t make them like this anymore, boasted the seller.).  A guy in a truck delivered it to our driveway that night.  He said to warm it to room temp before plugging it in.  It was a fine old round-ey fridge, but it lacked a door handle, but we used a wire coat hanger to pull the mechanism.  Hay and manure were frozen to the bottom.  

We felt buyer’s remorse, so P. went to the bank to stop our check but saw the guy we bought the fridge from leaving as she approached the bank.  I tried phoning the guy an hour later but a woman hung up on me.  I called her back but she didn’t pick up.  Or maybe she picked up and hung up.  I guessed she didn’t want the fridge back.  Smarting from feeling swindled, I couldn’t think of any recourse, except to call the better business bureau.  I’m not sure there is a better business bureau in Billings.

I told our real estate agent who gave us an avocado green fridge with a door that opened and shut without a coat hanger.  She didn’t charge us, so I forgave the asshole who sold us the crap fridge, now sitting in the garage.  Someone told me the old fridge would make a fine smoker, but I ultimately took it to the landfill.  In turn, I brought back a fragment of a discarded station wagon, that is, the kind of wagon found at train stations to haul luggage from the depot to the baggage car.  It has two big steel wheels and an axle.

The house—a 1925 bungalow— we bought may have had some mixed karma.  The family who lived there before us had tragedy; they lost their mom to a heart attack, apparently.  They had a couple of kids, at least, past high school age.

Originally it had two official bedrooms, a vast unfinished attic, a full basement that had been mostly finished, but flooded years before.  The washing machine and dryer were parked in the unfinished part of the basement.  I sat on the washer.  I looked up at the floor joists.

I loved the floor joists, the pipes, the wires.  The concrete floor, the furnace.  The furnace had been a coal burner, then an oil, then a natural gas.  A squirrel cage fan forced air through the steel ducts.  I loved what I saw.

The steep stairs to the attic led from a door in the back bedroom, made two left-hand turns.  A bare bulb illuminated the huge wood-floored space.  Marks showed countless roller skates.  

Took a day to break a hole in the dining room wall, move the door from the bedroom, and cobble up a straight stairway up.  A nephew helped me insulate and frame and sheetrock the attic.  By then it was Spring and our two sons moved upstairs.  It has been floored and carpeted, windowed and re-windowed.  A great place to freeze in the winter and swelter other times.  Look how tough it made our kids.  Our older boy is a man, now, sleeps in an old house in Duluth—upstairs without heat, with his wife and two sons of his own.  Doesn’t everyone wear a stocking cap to bed?

These days, I am retired.  And tired.  We keep the attic closed with a quilt stretched over the opening.  Our daughter’s bedroom houses the occasional guest.  The attic will hold any number of persons willing to wear a hat to bed in the winter or brave the heat in the summer.

The door that used to lead to the attic has been removed and the stairs replaced by a real carpenter.  A couple months ago I took the door to NOVA theater to install in its frame as part of the set for “A Christmas Carol.”  The door was successfully opened and slammed shut (after suitable reinforcing) numerous times.  Then the door appeared in the play “No Exit.”  And “Free Birdie.”  Now it has increased its repertoire to include Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

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