When I was in high school several of my parents friends began building houses in the small Wisconsin town of Hazelhurst, just south of Minocqua — a popular vacation destination for people from Illinois. One friend of my parents, Neal, had a brother-in-law who lived in a small cabin on a tiny lake off County Road D in Hazelhurst. This lake had plenty of open lots that were for sale in the mid-1970’s and Neal, my parents and the Pasholks all decided to buy land and build vacation homes there. Their plan was to someday retire in these homes.
The first to build there were the Pasholks, Marcia‘s parents. They bought a motor home or two and set them up on their property, built an outhouse and began building. Jack, Marcia’s dad, was a man-of-all-trades if there ever was one. He could build you a house, lay your carpet and build your furniture without consulting a book or expert. He also knew how to organize a group of people to help build that house. Some would say he was bossy. He’d say he was efficient. Either way, he got the job done with the help of his friends. Even Jeremy helped hammer drywall.
While the friends helped build Jack’s house they stayed at Neal’s brother-in-law’s house, Jack’s motor homes or in tents. It was like a barn raising that I’d read about in history books. The women made breakfast, lunch and dinner for the men. The teenagers helped out how they could some of the time but mostly enjoyed the lake or the lure of Minocqua. This was Wisconsin, where the drinking age was 18. Three years younger than the drinking age in Illinois.
The next house to be built was Neal’s I think. I don’t remember being there for the building of it, but I remember camping out on my parent’s property. We borrowed a camper from a friend and a tent from someone else. We showered at Neal’s brother-in-law’s house or bathed in the lake (using the only biodegradable shampoo available at the time — Clarol herbal essence shampoo). My cousin Bob, who was living with us a the time, came along and helped build the house. He also met a local girl and had a week-long romance. Jeremy was also along this trip.
When it came time to build my parent’s house, I’d broken up with Jeremy and met Dean. In between I dated a roofer who put the roof on my parent’s house. Dean came along to help work on my parent’s house one summer. We stayed in Neal’s house this time. Again all the friends helped with the building of my parent’s vacation home.
Before Habitat for Humanity and that house building show on ABC right before Desperate Housewives, when I told people about the house raisings in Wisconsin, they were impressed that I got to witness such strong friendships as to help each other build their homes. They thought this only happened in the past. I feel lucky that I was part of it. I only hammered a couple of nails, but was there in other ways. When I visit the homes that my friends and family built, I feel a strong connection to them. I remember the land before it was disturbed, I remember seeing the huge holes in the ground, the foundations being laid, the skeletons of the houses, the walls being erected, the roofs being constructed. I’ve slept in all of these houses, eaten meals in each of the homes, played games, drank wine, and had deep conversations in them all. Some of the people I remember from these homes are gone from my life, some are gone from this world. But the memories remain.