Column, Mountain Meditation

The big move from tent to basement

Part 3 of a series on building our Killington dream lodge

Every weekend and during vacations we fled to Vermont for more adventures while building the ski lodge Dad dreamed of. While residing in our tent in the woods, we cleared the land and leveled the ground, no small achievement in a state made of rock. The next step on Dad’s list was to build a basement with cement block walls. Dad hired a mason (we thought) to start it, but when we returned the following weekend, the wall he’d begun was too far off kilter. He must have been tipsy when he built it so it had to be torn down and redone. Once corrected by someone else, the other walls followed — all checked with Dad’s level. Fortunately, they were as straight as an arrow.

Dad did all the work he could but needed help with some of the big jobs and those that required too many weekends. Most of the workers Dad hired to help him were diligent, experienced and became our friends. Some of the others just didn’t show up.

Dad always knew what the next step was. He was a mechanical engineer but not an expert in construction. So, each week in preparation, Dad studied, researched and interviewed experts at New Jersey and New York building sites. He budgeted and bought building materials that were on sale or repurposed. We hauled them north in or on top of our 1956 blue Country Squire station wagon. Her name was Blue Bell. She was nearly 12 feet long but not long enough for two of the 16-foot beams or multiple joists we carried on top every week for a year.

Those beams Dad reclaimed from a New York City demolition stuck out on both ends where we tied red flags and white rags as warnings to other drivers. Whenever we stopped, we carefully checked and retied ropes and flags in place. The beams were so heavy they caved in the roof, but Dad found a solution. Star and I got out of the car so Dad could lay down in the middle seat. He pushed the roof back up with his legs in true Vermont jackleg style. (Dad had broken the strength machine when he played football at Annapolis!)

We hauled a beam and/or joist each week. Dad used leverage, pulleys, and sheer strength to lift up and put them in place. He drilled and attached heavy steel bolts and brackets that will hold them together forever. Vermonters far and wide who heard tell of our house looked up the hill, scratched their heads and asked, “What’s it gonna be?” Once they saw our house right up close, they added, “I know where I’m going when there’s a bomb scare!”

When all the beams and joists were in place, we nailed down plywood and rolled out tar paper. We sealed the seams with sticky black tar, also from Rutland’s Mintzer Brothers.

Mom and I mixed the cement for the floor. We learned how to operate the cement mixer, then measured and added cement mix and water into the loud rotating monster. It was like making a giant cake except we didn’t need an oven. We pivoted the mixer downwards to pour our thick liquid batter into Dad’s wheelbarrow. He rolled it along the open floor frame where he’d laid pipes, pebbles, and metal wires. Then he dumped and evenly spread the cement, just like icing a cake. The floor was so large, 30 feet y 60 feet, it took many batches and was divided in sections.

To have a roof over our heads as well as a floor were humongous accomplishments. As soon as the floor was dry enough, we carried up furniture on top of the car. Mom had been shopping in New Jersey thrift stores to her heart’s content for the past year for used furniture and other stuff to supply our to-be Vermont ski lodge. The basics were for the basement including beds, tables, chairs, and miscellaneous. Her shopping continued to fill our attic, then our downstairs from stairs to door with nicer things for the future when we had an upstairs to put them in. Tunneling through it was quite a challenge, but Star didn’t mind a bit since the obstacle course became a game for our flexible sweet Labrador.

As we arrived with the furniture, we began breaking up our outdoor campsite and gradually moved into our brand new basement with a floor and a roof overhead. I loved helping to set it up. Mom’s inner interior decorator came out in a flourish with the furniture layout and her many creative touches. The natural feng shui she felt made sense for our needs which were quite utilitarian. But Mom had a need for aesthetics so our kitchen was at the end by the windows with a view. We could prepare food and wash dishes looking out to see what our men folk were up to. Her pioneer spirit was at its height.

A round oak table with old Mission style chairs created a warm family dining environment (although the room remained quite cold). The wall was lined with wooden storage boxes we’d used outside with locks and keys that held tools, sleeping bags, pillows, blankets and whatever else might be needed. Between the crates and back wall was a row of seven beds, six twins and a bunk. Mom chose the bottom bunk (to protect her from whatever fell from above). 

Mom added splashes of color where she could with the bedding (over drab sleeping bags), a cheerful tablecloth, colorful mismatched dishes, and myriad other touches. Our Vermont basement became our second home for much longer than we ever expected.

 Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer from Killington and Florida.

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