Lauren Lewis is in the kitchen preparing a massive pot of rice and beans. Her six-year-old son, Tahj, just threw the football over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, and her cousin Kenny is in the driveway piecing together the grill that he just bought for Lauren and Tahj’s welcome home party.
I walk into the house and see it again as the open space it was just ten weeks ago, studs and joists with nothing in between. I think back to the first week, when my dad volunteered with me and a family from New York helped insulate the house, even the twelve-year-old child. It was also the first time I met Kenny, an incredibly generous man who worked on the house every step of the way.
The second week girls from Wheelock College found their inner Rosie the Riveters and screwed drywall to the studs and joists to create walls and ceilings.
The third week a church group from New Jersey finished drywall and began mudding. I remember the youngest volunteer as he finished Lauren’s shoe and purse closet. Another volunteer promised to raise money for furniture (and cried as she hugged Lauren). And another made phone calls to buy Lauren a washer/dryer. All of the happy faces when Kenny delivered chicken and jambalaya that Lauren and her mother had just fixed for the volunteers.
I worked on a different house during the fourth week, but I still see the work from that week in the now seamless seams between the pieces of drywall. Week five my mother and a church group from Iowa painted Tahj’s room blue and installed flooring, soffet, baseboard, and doors. On week six the Canadians volunteered working on tile, doors, and painting. The same week Church of the Brethren volunteers worked tirelessly on the exterior of the house. The seventh week a group including Jay and not-so-silent Bob installed cabinets, and finally the eighth and final week of construction more Church of the Brethren volunteers built a beautiful bar and installed appliances.
Eight weeks of songs, corny jokes, and hard work. Over fifty volunteers who dedicated themselves to finishing their part of the Lewis house.
The house sounds different now. There are children running around, Lauren’s niece making baby noises. Low, drawn-out conversation. The smells have changed, too. The beans and rice on the stove are filling the whole house with a rich aroma, and there is scented soap in the bathroom. The whole house has finally slowed from the fast pace of a construction site to the slow, comfortable tempo of daily life.
Thanks to volunteers, Lauren can now set food on the bar. Tahj can hide in the shoe and purse closet; Kenny can hopefully start fixing up his own house. The Lewis house is finished, and as I walk through at Lauren’s welcome home party I see two houses: the house that volunteers built, and the home where Lauren and Tahj live.