Andrea Howe

Andrea Howe

I wasn’t happy, as a young reporter who had recently purchased a new-to-me home in the 1980s, to learn from President Ronald Reagan that I was considered a member of the working poor class.

I’m sure I knew that I wasn’t rich.

But I had a lot of rich experiences.

When I was 6 in 1967, my parents bought a ramshackle house on an acre of sandy ground for $1,600.

We carted loads of critter skeletons and junk from the cellar and the attic.

Dad replaced a hand pump in the kitchen with running water after drilling a well and buying an electric water pump. (When the power went out during storms, we were happy there was still a hand pump in the barn.)

He crushed the outhouse and divided up a room to create a bathroom with plumbing.

He patched the screen on the back porch and ran a drain to allow my mother a place to park her wringer washer.

He strung new wire on the clothesline poles.

He hung sheet rock in two upstairs bedrooms — one room for three children and one at the stair landing for him and my mom.

The first winter, my dad put a coal stove in the kitchen and living room. We took turns slipping our feet into Dad’s Northerner boots to clump out to the coal pile with a bucket.

Bored in the winter if it was too cold to play outside for hours, we took hammers to the plaster in the extra room upstairs and the “front room” downstairs, preparing them for the day when they’d be paneled.

We lived in that house three years before Dad had the time and money to get the “front room” presentable enough for me to invite my 4-H club over for a meeting.

In the 13 years I lived there, the house was never really finished.

They were working class people, and home improvement happened in stages, as money allowed.

Mom could feed a family of five on $20 a week in the 1970s by shopping at six grocery stores and drawing from a root cellar full of garden produce.

Even though money was — and can still be tight at times in retirement — they made a commitment to not let that house get away from them.

As we left the nest, my parents added a family room, dry-walled, moved bedrooms downstairs, enclosed porches, changed out cabinets and wallpaper and plumbing and drilled a new water well, built a new garage, fenced the yard, re-roofed, changed out windows, changed siding — the list just goes on and on.

So it makes me sad when I see houses that don’t have people like my parents, who make a point to allocate the time and patience/grit and money to keep them from falling in.

I live on Princeton’s near northeast side.

My house isn’t a showplace, but my husband’s on the roof every spring, scooping the maple spinners out of the gutter and it’s not uncommon for me to be out slapping paint on the garage door and window trim.

Most of my neighbors work at keeping their property in order, too. There’s no neighborhood association covenant that requires it. Usually, someone hears another person’s mower, and the next thing you know, the whole neighborhood’s cutting grass.

Buildings in disrepair stick out like a sore thumb. Many times it’s no one person’s fault. Health problems, lack of finances, the distance between the property and the owner all contribute to the making of an eyesore.

That’s the great thing about the Blight Elimination Program grant work in progress here in Gibson County.

During Christmas vacation, I was daydreaming while standing in my kitchen, suddenly startled by a “BOOM” and rattle that vaguely reminded me of the April 18, 2008 earthquake.

I whipped my head to the right and looked out my kitchen window to find the source of the noise.

And I was pleased.

The boom was a load of refuse hitting a roll-back dumpster on the site of one of the BEP projects on North Gibson Street.

Today the lot is clear and strawed as a fresh canvas. Now, when I look out my kitchen window, I see the next house, a well-kept white brick home.

Gibson County Commissioners just awarded a second round of bids for the BEP demolition work. With eight buildings down, 11 more on the demo list this month and dozens more to come, we will begin to see more fresh canvas.

Meanwhile, I’ve got some paint to scrape in my own back yard.


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