The Vanishing Craftsman

The house is barely six months old, but it has already begun to settle. Loose steps creak, doors hang, and cracks appear along the baseboards. If I were a carpenter, as my father was for 40 years, or knew enough of such things, I would have built my own house, as he did. But I am "educated" and therefore helpless by comparison. Though I can barely drive a nail, I am my father's son and through him have absorbed enough of practical things to know that though the steps creak and the doors hang on the doorjambs and the baseboards are cracked, it is not a bad house by today's standards. Plywood, not particle board—which is really not "board" at all, but sawdust and woodchips bonded by glue and pressed into a wafer—make up the floors and roof. Porcelain sinks and bathtubs and a certain vault-like firmness attest to the basic integrity of the house.

Still, as Daddy points out on a visit, corners have been cut. The basement's copper water lines are merely stapled to the two-by-fours bracing the ceiling; the cracking paint on the porch and the loose stair rail tell the talc: shoddy work, a half-assed job is what he sees, and what seems all too obvious to me now. He is a little disgusted—this is an erector-set house, prefabricated, and even though it is not too bad as they go nowadays, a blind man could see in a minute that, to the men who built it, it was just a job, like digging a ditch or...

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