The floor of our 205-year-old house gave way last week, and my wife Kristina plunged through it to her doom, ultimately landing on the dirt floor of our basement.
I was in the living room when I heard a cry and a crash, in rapid succession. I ran toward the sound. Turns out the cry had come from the first floor, as she began plummeting toward almost-certain death, but the crash I heard had echoed up from below, where her mangled body now lay.
My first thought, of course, was: This will be a good column for the paper! But very, very quickly, I re-ordered my priorities and ran back through the living room and the kitchen to the basement door and down the steps. I felt vaguely foolish taking the long route, when Kristina had just made this journey much more efficiently, but in any case I was soon standing over the victim, who, like Tiny Tim, did not die.
The problem in writing about this horrifying incident is that Kristina serves as my first reader, reviewing the initial draft of every piece I produce, and she feels some unreasonable need to stick with the facts. (She says I have a tendency to exaggerate, which is an utterly ridiculous suggestion, but I keep letting her edit me because I don’t want to go to prison for libel.) So far, in the piece you’re reading right now, she has objected to “plunged,” “doom,” “plummeting,” and “mangled.” She also edited out the part where she fell 125 feet, screaming.
And, picayune as she is, Kristina says that technically it wasn’t a “floor” that gave way. She was trying to repair a broken brace under the first-floor staircase landing — she’s always been the family handyman — so she had taken up the floorboards of the landing. At that point, she could look down and see that the stairs had originally continued into the basement. She could also see flooring on the top side of the basement ceiling. (What appeared to be flooring. —K.)She stepped down onto it, tested it a bit, and it held; so she proceeded to go to work.
That part of the basement ceiling, however, was actually just a covering, intended to mask the underside of the landing after the stairs were redesigned. Within a few minutes, the not-a-floor proved that it was not a floor, and Kristina dropped to the next available actual floor, which was dirt, and miraculously avoided brain damage. (Not miraculously. —K.)
Kristina also insists on pointing out that she didn’t drop directly onto the dirt floor. She owned the beloved Time & Tide fine art gallery on Market Street, and even though the gallery closed in 2012, we have kept much of the gallery gear on a shelving unit in our basement, with a tarp thrown over it. It was this mountain of stuff (not really a mountain —K.) that broke Kristina’s fall; she bounced off of it onto the floor (not really a bounce —K.), coming away with nothing but a couple remarkable bruises and a bit of a bump on the back of her head. Which proves that art saves lives. And/or: Hoarding saves lives. (Not “proves.” —K.)
My handyman always prefers to make repairs herself, on the cheap, rather than hiring a costly professional, but after barely dodging massive injury and an agonizing death (hyperbole —K.), she blew the dust off of her checkbook (exaggeration —K.) and called an expert. Ipswich town historian Gordon Harris is a semi-retired master carpenter who adores antique houses, so he was eager to help. He worked quickly, adroitly, and cheerfully, and his invoice was delightfully reasonable. (Not delightfully. —K.) Today, in a house where each vintage floorboard makes a unique sound — squeaking, squawking, moaning — the staircase landing is proudly silent. To be honest, I’m feeling a little paranoid about walking anywhere else in this house.
Doug Brendel steps lightly in his old house on outer Linebrook Road. Follow him at DougBrendel.com.