November 12, 2007 by Ellen Stimson in Country Living, Home, New England, Travel, Vermont

Cliffy was a carpenter whom I’d found at the local hardware store. I’d taken to hanging out there in hopes of finding someone who could fix our doors so that they opened when one was on the inside wanting out. It seemed like a reasonable thing to ask of a door and yet all of ours were extraordinarily bad at it. We’d bought this house in Vermont and moved over a thousand miles to start a new life in a beautiful place. Our practically ancient house with it’s quirky slanting floors, and gorgeous tin ceilings had many charms. Plus we’d spent two fortunes renovating it before we moved in. But that was not enough. We’d made the unforgivable sin of hiring contractors from AWAY. That was because all of the locals heard that your address was in Dorset and promptly doubled their prices. And there were hardly any people here either which was one of the draws of the new life. But unfortunately that meant there was a very small labor pool too. The local contractors gave us estimates of a year or more to get the work done. So we used a fellow whom we’d used before in St. Louis. He brought a crew of 16. They rented a house and worked in shifts. The work was done in just eight weeks. But they were from AWAY. And this was a problem for the locals.

And we were not handy people.

And we’d bought a very old house.

We’d called every carpenter, handyman, and contractor listed in the phone book from up to 50 miles away. Most didn’t bother calling us back. The ones who did were booked until next year. They counseled leaving the doors open until winter when they wouldn’t stick. Only there were bugs that came in when we did that, because we were living at the base of the mountains surrounded by forests. We had wanted a new life….

So I wore low cut blouses and hung out at the hardware store.

Because even though we’d renovated, our crew had gone home and now our house had the unfortunate habit of locking us in. We’d gotten locked in by the back kitchen door, and all the bed and bath doors too. Then the front door, as if joining some sort of door party, joined in and we found ourselves climbing out of windows. It was highly unsuitable. But we’d pissed off the locals, of whom there were already too few to get much done anyway, and now our doors were surely the butt of jokes at every barroom and deer camp for miles.

So then there was Cliffy. He came and ascertained the various problems with a series of sounds Vermonters make to show that they have figured something out.

It goes…. Aiiup.

It means, “yes I agree”, or “aha, lookee here and see what I have found”. He left and came back with a sack full of stuff and began to chisel out the offending knobs and locks. He worked for several hours. Then he left, asking for a check for the work so far, leaving gaping holes partially filled with putty that needed to dry before it’s next coat….and then….he just never came back again.

Did somebody tell him we’d finished the renovations with people from AWAY? Did I say something that offended him? I will never know because I called him 17 times in the next days and weeks, and his wife stopped answering the phone around the fifth time. I left messages that begged and pleaded, and pissed and moaned. All to no avail. He simply disappeared. I even tried a message apologizing to his wife if in fact he had died and my messages were the insensitive rantings of a woman who only had holes in her doors and locks that only worked when you didn’t want them too. Nothing. Nada.

Now I have lived here for four and one half years. We live in a teeny tiny village of about 2000 so I see Cliffy with a fair amount of regularity. He is doing the renovations on the house up the road. I say good morning. He says Aiiup. Sometimes we discuss his work and the progress they are making. He even tells me stories about his kids once in a while. And we have never ever mentioned, not even once, that terrible time when holed up in my bathroom, with a dying portable phone for four hours waiting for someone to come and get me out, I left him a four minute message where I actually cried. I will just never know. I am a Vermonter now and we are restrained.


  • katiedid

    Everybody knows this guy. Those of us in cities don’t have to have coffee with him afterward.
    Did you ever get those doors fixed??

  • library lady

    Having been the victim (albeit only briefly) of one of your bathroom doors, I applaud your efforts at getting free from your house when you need/want to.

  • Anonymous

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