Wednesday, January 23, 2008 | New Orleans
All I could think about while I worked was “This is Mrs. Float’s HOME.” It’s not a temporary house that she’ll live in until she can get a permanent one. It’s not a cabin, where you often live with less than ideal conditions since you’re “just there for a couple of weeks in the summer.” No, this IS her home. It’s all she’s got. It’s a duplex “shotgun” house. Her plan is for her father to live in the left-side duplex while she lives on the right side. For the time being Mrs. Float lives in an 8 x 30 foot FEMA trailer right outside the back door, squeezed between the sidewalk and her house, like many of her neighbors who are in one stage or another of rebuilding.
Our job on this last day in New Orleans was to remove the rotted floorboards in two bathrooms and part of the kitchen and install new floor joists and sub-floor so that the plumber could complete what he started. He had installed all new plumbing beneath the house (most houses in N.O. stand on blocks about 2-3 feet off the ground) but couldn’t continue above the floor because there were no solid wood walls or floors to fasten the plumbing pipes to.
Mrs. Float went down to the government center and found out her house was built before 1907. “When they got back that far, I told ‘em to stop… I don’t need to go back any farther than that,” she told us.
The floor we removed was really four floors—ceramic tile, ¼” underlayment, linoleum tiles, and the original 1x3 wood slats over floor joists. I went out about two feet from each side of the rotted flooring and cut out a big chunk of floor. It was still bad. So I went out another two feet and finally hit solid wood. We could nail into that and begin to rebuild the floor from there. When we left later that day there were huge areas where there was no floor. Just rough-sawn timber joists cut and put into place sometime before 1907 by men long since dead. We had to knock down parts of interior walls too since the bottoms had rotted away from the floor, and in some cases, the floor under the studs had disintegrated.
I have to admit that several times I caught myself wondering if this house was really worth saving. But yet it was all Mrs. Float had. There really wasn’t a choice. So I decided that I would do my best workmanship. Because that’s how I would approach it if it was my house. How could I do any less for Mrs. Float? She is, after all, my sister… if you go back even a lot further than 1907. So I tore up flooring, denailed studs, pried down walls, measured and sawed floor boards with one mantra: “This is Mrs. Float’s home.”