A light in the tunnel: Workday at the House

One of the most frequent questions we get about life at Beacon Hill Friends House is: Who does all the work? A few of the answers: The house has a paid staff of three: director, kitchen manager and residency manager. You just heard from Carol about the system of resident chore and dish crew obligations. The third piece is a command performance that happens twice a year: Workday.

light in tunntel

Designed as a way of getting the house in shape for approaching seasons, Workday requires the participation of all residents to install or remove storm windows, stash or put out the deck’s warm weather furniture and otherwise prepare this 200 year-old edifice for another Boston winter or summer.

But Workday is also the time for home improvements that will serve the house all year long. Among the more ambitious projects last Saturday: the first stage of creating a bike shed in the courtyard outside the kitchen. This involved hauling many wheelbarrows full of gravel from a pick-up truck out front through the narrow tunnel (pictured at left) to the courtyard. Team Earthworm extended a raised area at the end of the courtyard that will serve as a foundation for the shed when we build it in the spring. All of which will eliminate the need to haul bikes up and down the steep stone steps to the cellar.

Carol served her first Workday as a member of Team Windows, installing custom-made chill-blockers that slip into windows throughout the house. Team Windows managed to get its work done without a crew chief, its four members collaborating throughout the day to seal this place up tight.

Electric KevinI was relieved to learn that the team I was assigned to for the day — Team Electricity — most certainly did have a crew chief, and that it was not me. Kevin (pictured at right) not only understands the intricacies of electricity in ways that have always eluded me, sometimes painfully, he’s a good and patient coach.

I spent most of Workday as the electrician’s apprentice and then, when our electrical tasks were finished, as an apprentice to Lucas, crew chief of Team Carpentry. Kevin and Lucas are both younger than our youngest child — actually closer in age to our eldest grandchild — so serving as their apprentice was a refreshing twist on the conventions of age.

More than once on Workday, I found myself recalling my Dad’s simple instruction when I helped with various repair tasks as a kid. “Hold the light so you can see what I’m doing,” he’d say, “and then I’ll be able to see, too.” Holding the light so Kevin could keep his wires straight, it struck me that Dad had taught me a pretty good lesson about teamwork.

Since BHFH was built many decades before any electricity was installed in it, you can imagine the various placements and generations of wire throughout the house. Kevin seems to have made the acquaintance of many of those wires over the couple of years he’s lived in the house, and was the ideal foreman on the various tasks he lined up for us to complete.

Workday Team RosterMy favorite: Installing a light in the tunnel that leads from Chestnut Street to the courtyard and serves as our backdoor entrance to the house. One story has it that its width was mandated by the presumed girth of a cow led by a 12 year-old boy returning said cow to the courtyard after a day’s grazing on Boston Common. Judging from the number of times I’ve whacked my head on the bricks overhead, the builders apparently also had in mind the height of a 12-year-old boy.

Before Workday, we had a light at the end of the tunnel that was rarely used. Now we have one in the middle that will be on all the time (we’re using a low-wattage bulb and it would have been a bitch to add a switch).

I never realized how much more I like the idea of a light at the middle of the tunnel than at the end (this may have something to do with turning 65 a couple of weeks ago). And it wasn’t until Susan Ager mentioned the importance of light in what makes a house a home that I realized just how welcoming it is to duck into our tunnel with a light forever on.

I bet the boy with the cow would have liked it, too.

What’s on your list for Workday? 

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