The first job my father ever allowed me to help him with was tearing off the old roof on our home’s ‘back room,’ as we called it. The space ran across the entire back end of the house and had a shed roof. For most of my childhood, it was used for storage, and before Dad built the garage, it contained his work bench and tools. I was in my early teens, and was thrilled. Not only did I get to climb the ladder onto the roof, but I felt proud to be helping him. It was back-breaking, filthy work – and I loved it. It also felt like an affirmation from my very traditional father who I’m certain was sometimes baffled by his offbeat daughter in the days before women’s lib became a part of the public consciousness. Up until then, I’d felt that he hadn’t taken my interest in his activities very seriously. He was always building or repairing something, and while he met my natural interest with flippancy, he encouraged my younger brother’s participation. Back then, I understood that was to be expected, along with other inequalities. Boys in school took shop, while girls did home economics, and that really rankled me. While I had to cook and sew – things I already knew how to do – the guys in my class got to make tables and bookcases, or do body work on cars. So unfair.
These days, I know my father is proud of what his daughter can do – and I still love getting down and dirty with hammer and saw. So when I read about the Women’s Build Day for Bennington County Habitat for Humanity, I knew the time was right for me to get involved. I’d been thinking about participating for quite some time. They build twice weekly – but there’s always something else to demand my attention, and I kept putting it off. So two Wednesdays ago I put on my workboots and grabbed my tool pouch to spend the morning with about 20 other women at the most recent house being built on Jennifer Lane in Manchester. Some were novices, others had a little experience, and a few really knew their way around a worksite. Our reasons for being there were as varied as we were. Our ages ranged from 16 to 75. One woman’s dream of building her own home led her to want to see how it’s done; a group of students were fulfilling their school’s community service requirement. Others wanted to challenge themselves, learn new skills, meet people or help out the homeowner, a single mom and her two daughters. We all, I think, were excited to be a part of something larger than ourselves. And we worked hard – on that day, nailing in strapping, caulking, roofing, moving and mixing 80-pound bags of cement, dismantling scaffolding, and more. Even so, it was fun – and wonderful to see so many strong, confident women come together to create and to serve.
The homes that Habitat builds are very energy-efficient, and the homebuyers work alongside the crews from the ground up. There are two build locations. Jennifer Lane build days are Wednesday and Saturday; on North Branch Street in Bennington, Thursday and Saturday. For more about their projects and how to get involved – whether you’re a man or a woman – visit the website at benningtonareahabitat.com.