Duke’s Mudwasps

Jean and Duke Kitonis’s place was high on the hill just across the road from Jack’s. It had been there as long as anyone could remember. Saul Douglas’s grandfather had built the house sometime during the Civil War and not much had been done to it by man since then. Nature, however, had done a great deal to it, which is why Duke had undertaken to build a new home 32 feet to the south about seven years ago, adding to the new structure as their limited resources would allow.

The cellar floor of the “ranch” as Duke liked to refer to the new place was tamped earth, and the perimeter walls were scrounged cinderblock laid up dry and slathered with “Block Bond.” The ground floor was framed atop the cellar wall and covered with 5/8” plywood that was beginning to buckle from the four harsh winters with no covering but an old blue tarp shredding in the sun and dotting the already littered yard with thin blue ribbons. To Duke’s great pleasure the cellar hole, however, remained quite dry year round, an auspicious sign for the their future home.

The old place, the “homestead” as Jean called it, bore no residual signs of paint and Duke’s plan was to tear it down when the new place was done and sell the weathered exterior to city folks to put in their living rooms. Jean had heard there was a factory in Wolcott that made weathered wood with some kind of process, but heard it didn’t look as good as the real stuff siding their home.

The state, at one point, had prevailed on Duke and Jean to weatherize their home to help them lower fuel costs. The work and materials were free to “qualified” homeowners which Jean figured meant “welfare kin.” The engineer who came to the house calculated that if Duke burned six cords of wood heating the house now, it would only take three cords after the insulation was installed, so they cheerfully accepted the state’s offer, especially as Duke was running rapidly out of unguarded woodlots where he could scavenge free firewood.

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