Photo: Jason Varney
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One Step at a Time

As we looked around the trash-filled rooms of the house I now wanted to save, we saw how it had been divvied up into three apartments, probably in the 1970s. TLC had been in short supply. The mantel over the ­dining room fireplace was gone, and so were the original light fixtures and crown molding. The plaster ceilings were crumbling, most walls were unsalvageable, and the slate roof—or what ­remained of it—was falling apart. The ­only sign of life was a pack of pigeons that had taken up residence in the eaves.

Naturally, Dad offered to lend a hand. And with him on board, it was no problem getting my mom involved, too. With such reinforcements, I was sure we could fix all the problems in just six months, even as Dad tried to explain that once you start ripping out walls you can never be sure what you’ll find. It’s not that I didn’t hear him. I just thought he was, as usual, underestimating himself.

By early spring 2005, the house was all mine. And, along with my own full-time accounting job, I suddenly had a second job as a contractor, plus a second mortgage.
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