Stepping It Up
Take on a house and you’ll never run out of things to do. It’s true. I’ve never been without one since my twenties and I’ve been busy ever since – and my twenties went out with Jimmy Carter. In fact, it seems my life has come to be defined by a parade of houses, each attached at the time of purchase with the naive notion that it would serve as my final home sweet home. While some of these houses have certainly been sweet, none have nailed me down as much as I’ve nailed them down. As soon as I get a house squared away, so to speak, the god of change takes a turn at the drafting board and new plans push me out into the great yonder again.
So, five changes later, here I am in what is colloquially referred to as an “EJ House.” People in the local community would have no trouble understanding the moniker. For people in the Greater Binghamton New York region, the name Endicott Johnson would be more apt. For anyone else, the simple expression “company town” would make the most sense. The Endicott Johnson Corporation, cobbled together by two enterprising individuals by the same names, joined together over 100 years ago to create a modern shoe manufacturing business that ultimately became one of the biggest success stories in American capitalism. The company produced millions and millions of shoes in its heyday, employing thousands in many factory buildings. Not only was the business profitable (even running in the black during the depression), but it was one of the best examples of the now rare belief that a company’s workforce was to be respected. Respect included good wages, healthcare, entertainment, vacations, vocational training and, yes, houses the employees could own. Following the war, George Johnson began constructing neighborhoods of single family dwellings near the factories and selling them to the workers with fixed, low-interest mortgages. Which brings me back to the EJ house my wife and I own.
EJ Factory Postcard
While George Johnson had knack for both good employee relations and good bottom lines, the houses by today’s standards are nothing to write home about. They are all made from a “cookie-cutter,” measuring 30×30, double story, on a postage stamp plot of land and, sometimes, with a single car garage. To look down some of these streets, one is easily reminded of the downside of living in the so-called “American Dream.” In this flat world, like the great steppes of asia, everything is almost two-dimensional. All the houses look the same, the inter-changeable streets run in painfully straight lines – and on more than one occasion this twilight zone environment has resulted in my driving right past our own house. But these are solid little houses. The novelty of providing low cost housing for workers endeared these houses to the community to this day. Another thing that cements them to the community are the solid concrete steps that lead up to the front door, these out-of square, crumbling, well-intentioned monuments to a generous industrialist of the past.
Now you know where this story is headed – right out the front door. The recent blasts of cold air jolted our weighty thinking about the front steps. Piles of snow are not far behind. One look from my wife and I knew the next TLC job was to be applied. With power drill, sledge hammer, sawz-all, and a brand new outfit of Wool-X, I hit the steps, if not running, then at least swinging. I can only say that the first round was won by George Johnson himself. If he wanted to make these houses last he certainly succeeded with the steps. The concrete, though old, isn’t going anywhere. I’ve been resigned to building a new structure over them. C’est la guerre, as the French say. The “Battle of the Steppes” is underway.