Great Moments: An Evening with the Ambassadorcomments (2) August 12th, 2010 in Blogs
BY EVERETTE M. HILL
Forty-three years ago, I left college with a diploma in my hand and a plan in my mind. I would marry my college sweetheart, who was in on the plan, and she would work to put me through law school. When I graduated and began my practice, she would start architecture school. (If you are asking why the plan didn't include my putting her through school, it’s because it was a given that her brains would earn a scholarship.)
The plan, scholarship and all, became a reality. And during our years of pursuing advanced degrees, we bought, gutted, rebuilt, and sold three old fixer-uppers. I had learned the basics of home building and repair from my father and while working construction during college. My wife was just a fast learner.
When she graduated from architecture school, we were ready to find a real home, settle in, and raise a family. I was working for a Chicago law firm, and she took a job with a Chicago architectural firm. So we looked north to the suburbs that lay along Lake Michigan. Most of the homes in that area were beyond our means, but after a great deal of searching, my wife found a little cottage in a neighborhood of otherwise glorious homes. This was the time before teardowns and McMansions—a time when, even in upscale neighborhoods, there was an appreciation of restoration and diversity. We bought our cottage, moved in, and went about our work.
In the course of our three prior ventures, we had settled into a neat division of labor. I was the principal carpenter, plumber, and electrician. My wife was the designer, mason, painter, demo crew, and last word. Give her a sledgehammer and a Sawzall, and lath and plaster didn’t have a prayer.
Over a period of two or three years, when we weren't working at our day jobs, the cottage got rebuilt. On nice days, all year round, we worked on giving it a new exterior. It received a new roof and roofline, new windows, and a beautiful new cedar-shake skin.
The stately homes that surrounded our cottage were occupied by scions, captains of industry, and even an ambassador or two. My wife and I, adorned in coveralls and dust, were quite the local curiosity. But the neighborhood folks were wonderfully tolerant and even supportive of our quaintness. They would gather on the sidewalk with offers of encouragement, advice, and lemonade. They became our friends.
One day a fancy envelope arrived in the mail. One of the neighbors was holding a dinner for a retiring ambassador to some European monarchy. Our presence was requested.
So a few weeks later, we showered the sawdust out of our hair and attired ourselves for an elegant social occasion. I donned my courtroom suit, and my wife put on her fetching little black dress. We strolled down the street to the party.
It wasn’t long before my wife (did I mention that she was very attractive in a manner that could not be hidden by sawdust and coveralls?) was regaling the very interested captains and ambassadors with stories of wall destruction and electron rerouting.
Her final tale was of the time I had asked for a moratorium on demolition. She told of how I was preparing for an intense trial and didn’t want the worry of resetting walls and mudding drywall. She explained that she was unable to resist the call of the sledgehammer and of how I came home one evening to find her, Sawzall in hand, amid the vertical members of lathless and plasterless kitchen walls.
She finished the story. There were gasps and a moment of silence, followed by stifled laughter and then loud guffaws.
That evening is now a distant memory. With the arrival of children, we outgrew the pretty little cottage. We have had the good fortune of living in and restoring a number of homes since the dinner with the ambassador. But that evening was the last time my wife ever uttered to a gang of elderly rich guys, “… and my husband came home and found me in the kitchen surrounded by naked studs.”
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