When my husband Chuck and I married in 1966, we were both highly motivated to tackle the rejuvenation of some old home and turn it into a lovely dwelling. It didn’t take long to find what we wanted: a Century Home of 103 years on Madison Avenue in Painesville Township.
The location seemed ideal for both of us since he was employed by Avery Dennison in Painesville, and two years later I would leave my teaching position at Mentor High School and begin at Riverside. The home was in need of almost everything. Chuck moved out of his apartment and into it before it had hot water. We worked diligently for eleven years amid major projects.
The Madison Avenue renovation had taught us a great deal about working in an aged building. Slanted floors needed leveling, inside plaster needed replacement with drywall, and the home’s heating system was inadequate. All siding and windows were in terrible shape. The most important work was completed within 11 years.
Other events finally sent us searching in a more rural area because Chuck’s dream had always been to live in a home on land large enough to have an airstrip. He had long been a private pilot, and I had earned my license in ‘68. We found the ideal setting in ’77 on Trask Road in Leroy Township: a “newer home (28 years old) on plenty of land to have two intersecting runways. We looked forward to not dealing with sloping floors and parallelogram-shaped rooms rather than rectangular or square ones.
Conveniently, Chuck’s sister and brother-in-law, Joanne and Don Carter, had moved back from Canada and bought the house on Madison Avenue. (At 93 years old, she still lives there). We moved almost everything to Leroy in many trips with our pick-up truck and just settled in when the Great Blizzard of ’78 hit. We had just a few days earlier settled on choices for new wallpaper and paint in the Leroy home.
It was a shock to discover that the wallpaper, some of it striped, was not a good choice. With the first strips Chuck measured and pasted on the hall and stairway wall, he discovered nothing was parallel and would find the same situation in the downstairs rooms. We were dealing with the same off-kilter construction we had faced on Madison Avenue. Being snowed in was perfect timing, however, as we could concentrate on some redecorating and getting things organized.
Nonetheless, we were both so fond of wallpaper that for the kitchen and dining room, we chose a more variegated pattern that worked far better than stripes. Other rooms are paneled and needed nothing, and we chose paint for remaining ones.
Because the house’s basic structure had been so impressive with its hefty beams and rafters, we had assumed other construction would be perfect. We later found out that the lumber for the home had been harvested off the land; the builder had his own sawmill back in the woods, so it seems he had chosen to build a “fort” instead of simply going with the building code of the times. We also knew he had built it with intentions of his family staying in it, but later his plan changed. He built a few other homes in Lake County; we often wondered if those were as off square as ours.
As years passed, the home suited our needs just fine, and its crookedness became somewhat of a joke when we would point out to people that the wallpaper stripes were not in straight lines.
One day about 20 years ago, we were at a community gathering and saw Bob Ondrick and his wife Donna, whom Chuck had known for many years. He also knew that Bob’s dad, Jerry, had built our Leroy house. Chuck couldn’t resist asking Bob, “You know we love our home, but do you have any idea why almost nothing is parallel or square in the Trask Road house?”
Bob replied, “Oh, I thought you knew my dad was blind in one eye. He didn’t believe in new construction gadgets, like carpenter’s levels, and just eye-balled everything as he hammered.”
From that time on, we referred to Jerry Ondrick as the “one-eyed builder.” A couple of years ago, when Chris Joles, my airport manager, and I were having dinner, he saw me adjusting a couple of pictures on the north wall of the dining room. Chris said to me, “You might as well give up trying to get those level; the chair rail under them is at least half an inch off from left to right. Try adjusting them to the ceiling, not the rail.” For about 42 years, I had tried to straighten those pictures every time I passed them, and they never looked even.
And so, things remain as they were. The ceiling may not be straight either, but some things need to be accepted as they are. Having a home that stands up to the worst Ohio weather is more important than dealing with harmless anomalies in construction.
Although I am not a believer in ghosts, my crooked home is a place I wish the one-eyed builder’s spirit could visit. I would lead him over to the slanted chair rail and say, “Thank you, Jerry, for building the home of my dreams, crooked as it is. If you care to come around some Christmas, I will have a carpenter’s level wrapped and ready for you.”