Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Elbow Grease

I still remember it – I was a young child; my grandmother and I were busy cleaning… perhaps a pot. Well, I’m not sure what it was, but we had to scrub it really hard. I remember my grandmother pausing to remark, “Sister, you gotta put some elbow grease into it.” Naturally, I began looking around for the can of elbow grease. I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know where it was. My grandmother cracked up laughing when she discovered I didn’t know WHAT it was. She had a hearty contagious laugh with a dash of cackle. When she finally caught her breath, she explained to me that “putting some elbow grease into it” just means that I need to scrub harder. These past few weeks, I’ve been putting a WHOLE LOT of elbow grease into my work and thinking of Grandmaw throughout. So, this blog entry is dedicated to my late grandmother Leoma Sordelet, who passed away on September 9, 2005 - two weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

Ahh… so much has transpired since my last entry. I am WORKING, y’all. Besides my volunteer work at The Green Project (which has now come to an end), I have picked up another volunteer gig with The St. Bernard Project. So, two Thursdays ago, I helped gut the home of an elderly woman who lost her husband and son recently. Before her son passed, he’d been living in her hurricane-damaged house (while she lived in a FEMA trailer in the front yard) and attempting to fix it up. Unfortunately, his lack of knowledge CAUSED more damage than it fixed, so we had to undo all the work he’d done. I learned then that it is NOT okay to install drywall with roofing nails… which is what Mrs. Keys’ son did. Why we had to take out ALL the drywall on account of that, I do not know. But that is what we did. We first had to remove all the junk in the house. That took a couple hours. Then we ripped out the drywall and removed the nails. It was actually very fulfilling work. And knowing that this woman would soon have a home in which to reside was the icing on the cake.

This past Thursday, I helped install drywall (SKILLS!) in another house in St. Bernard Parish. I worked with a group of Indiana high school students who had taken a class trip to help out in New Orleans. A great group of kids, despite their apparent penchant for raunchy music… but I guess that’s what the young people are into these days. I felt so old in that way. But we worked well together and they taught me a thing or two. Lesson: If you’re going to install flooring, leave about a half inch space between the drywall and the floor. Lesson: Wear safety goggles and a face mask when installing insulation… that stuff gets all in your eyes and nose! Lesson: Work gloves are extremely useful.

Here are some photos from that day:

The interior of the house in St. Bernard Parish

Our work crew... guess which one is me.

The balance of my time during the past two weeks has been filled with cleaning out my mom’s house. Almost every day, we’ve scrubbed, dusted, swept, mopped, and purged. Purging is no easy task for a lifelong packrat, but I’m proud of my mama for getting rid of much of her unused stuff. Alas, we are STILL not finished (much to my chagrin… I like to stay on schedule), BUT we are very close. My mom also purchased a nice sofa set at a Going Out Of Business sale. I think she got a good deal. I bought a bed (headboard and footboard). Once we’re done and everything is in its place, it’ll be the PERFECT crash spot for our volunteers. That’ll be my next project – creating some sort of campaign to draw volunteers down here to help us.

And speaking of volunteers, I already have a couple lined up!! One of my New York friends, Paulette, is coming down next week. Too bad she’s coming in between the Jazz Fest weekends… but I know for sure we’ll find some concerts or something entertaining to relax after a hard day’s work. Also, through pure serendipity, a guy from Chicago read the New Orleans article in The Oregonian and emailed me asking if I needed help. YES, I do, Peris. Thank you. So while he’s here for Jazz Fest, he and his wife (and maybe their German friend) will be helping out. I can’t tell y’all how pleased I am.


Yesterday, my mother and I pulled out almost all the moldy drywall in one of the rooms in my house. The entire time I wondered if it REALLY was necessary. Since New Orleans is such a wet environment, there is ALWAYS gonna be mold. It’s just a matter of how much and how sensitive one is to it. My uncle/contractor advised me not to remove the moldy drywall for that reason. I have another uncle who owns rental property here (but is not a contractor) who advised me to remove it at all costs. And a woman who is a mold specialist with a local historic recovery grant program said “Well, it’s really up to you.” Yes, it is. And therein lies the problem. Needless to say, I decided to be on the safe side and take it down. Then at least I know for sure that there’s no mold (for now) in my house. Also, I’m learning more about my house, how it was built and how to repair/maintain it. In order to remove the baseboards, I had to learn how to “de-wire” (not AT ALL a proper technical term) an electric socket. Deconstructing a shoddy built-in closet proved to be a lesson in building; I had to figure out how it was held together in order to take it apart. This is like a fun amusement park ride, y’all! I’m learning so much. Photos below:

We ripped out the drywall four feet from the floor.
The water came three feet into the house.

That's what I call accomplishment!

My mom releasing all her pent-up anger on that unsuspecting moldy drywall.

Today, I went over to Maela’s for yet another lesson. She’s installing beadboard along the lower third of her first floor walls. So I got to use a table saw and a chop saw. Using power tools makes you feel strong!!! I understand why boys are into them (joke). I remember when I bought my first power drill. I just wanted to drill everything. Being able to make something with one’s own hands creates such a feeling of accomplishment. It’s an ego boost; it’s a rush. Anyway, Maela and I had to figure out how to cut the beadboard slats around a window so that they fit together properly AND were flush against the window frame. Sounds easier than it was. Maela’s house is quite old too, and therefore has a lot of… shall we say “character.” So there are no straight lines; the window is not perfectly perpendicular to the floor. We had to improvise. Well, Maela had to improvise. I humbly took the role of the eager assistant, giving “advice” only when I felt it would be extremely useful. But we figured it out and I got to cut some wood! Ain’t nothin better than that, huh?


Brien said...

So do things in your life feel congruent for you these days? Seems like it... you'll make real estate mogel yet. :-P

Tuta said...


On the volunteer thing - we had a lil' family discussion a good month ago, and we even picked out a name for our lil' volunteer group. We had Leaughan trying to come up with some designs for our T-Shirts that we were gonna get. And then we were gonna get to volunteering - we decided on one Saturday per month.

....like I said, that was about a month ago - and no T-Shirt, and no volunteering on the horizon, I guess I'm reaching out to you to kick-start my family's volunteerism. If you know of something, let me know. Otherwise, I guess I'll be giving you the same report next month.

...oh, and reading your blog makes me want to start mine back up - but as you are apparently finding out, it takes up so much time. Oh well, we'll see.


Mtume said...

Hilarious, Jenga. And I don't know why, exactly. You're just funny.

Let's see. First it was 'guess which one's me.' Then it was wanting to screw everything just because you had a drill. (Wait, that didn't come out the way I meant it to.) Then it was improvising with Maela...or rather, being the trusty assistant while Maela improvised.

I have a question though. What are you doing for money? Living off of savings or what? I noticed you said you were working - and it sounds like you're working hard - but you also said your work is volunteer stuff. Which means, no $$$. So what gives?

Later! Keep writing...


Alan said...

now, now, mtume, it's rude to ask how people make a living without offering them a job. LOL.