Doorbell, no longer dormant, rings out year

December 31, 2005|By ROB KASPER

Late in the year, journalists like to weigh in on the big national and international stories of the past 12 months. Not me. I will leave it to others in my craft to analyze whether the powers that be should have been tapping phones, opening the wilderness up to oil exploration or getting more seasoned slingers on the mound at Camden Yards.

I'll concentrate on what happened on the home front. For me, 2005 will be remembered as the year we lived with a dormant doorbell. The doorbell went into a quiescent state, along with other conveniences in our lives, around mid-May. That was when the kitchen restoration project began. It was a project that started out as an update and became an overhaul.

It is a truism among lawyers that you never ask a question in court that you don't already know the answer to. The equivalent in restoring an old house, I surmise, is to never look behind a wall unless you know what you are going to find there.

By now I am exceptionally familiar with what is behind the walls of our ground-floor kitchen. Much of the old stuff has been yanked out, replaced with ribbons of new electrical wires, rivers of new plumbing and a small forest of new supporting timbers. Although we have taken many photographs of wires and pipes, they are not glamorous. This infrastructure is basic, costly and, for perhaps the first time in the history of the 125-plus-year-old house, conforming to modern building codes.

As I have told my wife many times over the past months, whoever lives in this house when I am long gone had better appreciate what is behind those walls. If not, I may come back from my grave and haunt them.

Some time I will write, at length, about the ups and downs of the great kitchen renovation project. For now I will just say that it is nearing completion. It has taken a long time, seven months and counting. We couldn't have survived without Cy's Amazing Machine. This is a combination sink, dishwasher and two-burner range that our contractor, Cy Fishburn, built. When he hooked it up in our dining room, it gave us a backup kitchen. Soon it will be rolled away, in search of another kitchen-free home.

Until Thanksgiving, we did not have an oven. I missed the oven. As fond as I am of cooking on the barbecue grill, it does not rival an oven for baking a cake or for simple convenience.

We also didn't have a doorbell, which I didn't miss much. The doorbell went into abeyance when the wall where it once resided was swallowed in the maw of construction. I taped a note stating "doorbell under construction" on the front of the house and retreated into relative isolation for several months.

There were advantages to living a doorbell-free existence. First of all, when you don't have a doorbell, you cut down on surprise visits. Visitors have to "be announced." They have to telephone and let you know they are coming to see you. Or they can lift up the mail slot on the front door and holler a hello into the hallway. This method of communication may strike some as unseemly. But not me. If somebody is not comfortable hollering greetings through my mail slot, I probably don't want to see them.

On the other hand, surprise visitors have an affinity for showing up at your front door just as you are sitting down to supper. If you don't have a doorbell, you can pretend that you never hear them knocking. In some cases, you aren't pretending.

The fact that our doorbell was sleeping did not seem to matter much to our 20-something sons and their friends. When their friends arrived outside our house, instead of searching for a doorbell, they pulled out a cell phone and gave our sons a call. It was a cellular bypass of old technology.

Living without a doorbell did require us to write more. If we knew a package was scheduled to be delivered, we would write a note telling the carrier where to stash the goods. If we were expecting guests, we would sometimes write them a note telling them to walk in. At times, our front door looked like a bulletin board festooned with notes.

Many of the notes instructed visitors to go to the back door. There workmen were coming and going. There goods could be delivered.

Late last week, one of those workmen, electrician Stephen Scalf, installed our new doorbell. The first time it sounded it startled me. After seven months of bunker living, it was ringing in a new year and perhaps signaling a return to normality.

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