The summer of the deck
With an abundance of optimism, I suggested to Darryl we replace our ailing front deck this summer.
The old deck was not providing what even the kindest designers would call curb appeal. We use it often – almost every evening if the weather is even remotely cooperative, pushing the seasons.
I love winter. I loved the blizzards of Muskoka – the Georgian Bay streamers dumping three feet of snow in a day, a couple of days in a row. When we get snow in Hilton, I’m out there, and there’s nothing as fun as shovelling the deck and hitting a raised screw. Several times. My massage therapist really loves it.
Darryl’s a warm weather guy. High heat and high humidity and he’s all smiles. His favourite February location is Lockyer’s in Picton, where he communes with the turtles and soaks in the greenhouse glory.
We have taken Florida vacations in July, and Maine vacations in November. He’s Coke to my Pepsi, red to my white, and yet somehow this police officer married to the journalist thing continues to be a pretty good deal. Time to test that theory and build a deck together.
In our neighbourhood, of which I have written often and lovingly, there is no such thing as a solitary project. In fact, here on this hill, there are seldom enough chores for all the help available. Last year, Darryl was sidelined with a recurrence of a back injury. I don’t think we had to mow our lawn once. There was a waiting list of neighbours to help. On any given snow day, under the parkas and toques and mittens, the only way to tell the neighbours apart is by their snowblowers, which are usually finishing someone else’s driveway. It’s a good ’hood.
We knew when we started the deck help was near, but we really wanted to tackle this on our own. Partly for the challenge and pride of a job well done, but mostly because we have a reputation for being a very happy couple, and we thought it best to shield others from the inevitable.
I have a much greater confidence in my construction abilities than may actually exist, and Darryl hates construction. Hates it. Hates it. Hates it. He has a full woodworking shop and creates beautiful pieces, but he feels construction inhibits his self-expression, although I have to say, at times we seemed quite good at expressing exactly how we felt about the deck project. Very clear. Crystal.
First, a visit with Rick Jones at the building department. He’s an aviation buff, and a most helpful down-to-earth inspector. We chatted about the plans, and then he saved us a huge hunk of money, hours of extra work, and mistakes. “If you’re not a professional builder, talk to one,” he gently admonished. “You’re building a deck, not an aircraft carrier.”
With the old deck demolished and a big pile of lumber in the driveway, staring at us, taunting us, daring us, just beyond we saw salvation. Our 81-year-old neighbour, a retired shop teacher, an experienced builder, Jim has kept us clear of the shoals before.
With plans discussed and assignments understood, Jim went on with his day, while we made progress. He’d check in every morning and evening, suggesting, teaching, and never hesitant to get in the trenches with us. Suddenly, this pile of construction material was turning into a structure. Miracle of miracles, it was level, plumb, and square. While we were working, we’d hear a lawn tractor in the distance and glimpse Douglas or his nephew David, our neighbours to the east, cutting our tricky ditches or our lower land near their property line.
Our neighbour Lil is an award-winning gardener and she loves tropical plants. As soon as our planters were in place, she interrupted her own work to create a mini-jungle, matching the two new gardens she’d already designed for us.
When I write about neighbours, read friends.
The deck is done. We use it every evening, still happily together. We chat with neighbours walking dogs and children and watch the sunset and live our Norman Rockwell lives on our very precious hill, where some evenings bagpipes play in the distance and aircraft from nearby 8 Wing give us a private airshow.
We learned a lot during this project. We learned good neighbours make good decks, and if neighbours are going to build something, let’s not make it a wall.
Thanks for turning the page.