Last spring, just as lumber prices were soaring into the stratosphere, I had the bright idea to build a screenhouse at our farm, a cool place to sit and read and contemplate our green valley. I phoned my friend Ross Hutcheson, who ten years before had renovated the farmhouse my wife’s grandfather had begun in 1913. When Ross isn’t building million-dollar mansions north of Indianapolis, he lives in a log cabin a hundred miles south of the city, over the ridge and through the woods from our farmhouse, and can sometimes be coaxed into abandoning the millionaires for a week or two to build something for me.
We met the next Saturday at the farm and I drew, in broad ambiguous strokes, the kind of screenhouse I wanted, trusting Ross would not only fill in the blanks, but improve the design. My drawing looked like something first-graders might sketch when told by their teacher to draw a house. The only thing missing was the chimney, the puff of smoke, and the sun in the upper right-hand corner.
Ross advised me to wait until lumber prices eased, but I, for the first time in our years of association, had a clever idea he hadn’t thought of first. “Let’s buy raw lumber from Mike Lowe’s sawmill,” I said. “It’s a lot cheaper. Then we’ll let it dry in my barn and start building in early fall.” I’m being overly generous with the pronoun we, since Ross and his crew did all the work, but I wanted Ross to feel he could count on my assistance.
The next week I ordered the lumber from the sawmill, and two weeks after that Mike Lowe phoned to tell me the lumber was cut, so I asked my neighbor Jeff Lindley if he might drive his truck and trailer to the sawmill to retrieve the lumber. His father, Jack, met us at the farm to offload the lumber with his tractor, and I stacked it in the barn, a thoroughly unpleasant task until my friend Dave Helton stopped past and I talked him into helping by promising to assist him if he ever built a screenhouse. Thankfully, Dave has a poor memory and soon forgot my promise.
Summer dwindled into autumn, the lumber shed its moisture, and Ross and his crew arrived on a Wednesday morning in late September to set the posts, after identifying the ideal location, 20 feet from the back porch, near enough a maple tree to eventually enjoy its shade but not so close to be caved in should it fall. What seemed while stacking in the barn to be a colossal amount of lumber proved to be insufficient for the task, so more lumber was ordered, Jeff Lindley and his trailer were once again summoned, and this time my wife helped me stack the wood to dry. Ross returned in mid-December to finish the job, except for the screened windows, which I will build this spring, just in time for screenhouse season. After that, there’ll be river rock to spread under the screenhouse to keep the weeds in check, rose bushes to plant at the corners, and two coats of stain to protect the wood. If all goes according to my plan, my wife will do that.
It’s sobering to realize all the work that goes into the construction of a simple 12 x 16 screenhouse. Even writing about it is somewhat wearying, so I will likely be spending a great deal of the spring and summer in my screenhouse, catching my breath.
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series, featuring Sam Gardner.
This article is featured in the March/April 2022 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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