Janet Combs

Janet Combs

One good way to break your foot is to carry a tall, vision-blocking cardboard box of charitable donations down your staircase, somehow losing count of exactly which step you’re on.

Yikes! Turns out, it’s a very long way down one missed step. Fortunately, the box of brass light fixtures fared better than the bone that extends from the pinky toe on my left foot, which, in medical jargon, is termed “pinky toe bone of the left foot.”

Next time, I will be more mindful—but this is not a column about my obvious carelessness. Or the ridiculous notion that I can do everything I did at age 25. Or my goofy dog, who helpfully circled me at the bottom of the stairs for 15 minutes while I called for help.

No, this is the story of two DIY-ers. One who is 100 percent qualified and one freelance writer—who bought the home of their dreams in Georgetown County, two blocks from the ocean.

A fixer-upper that had fallen into the Tim Burton category on Zillow, complete with massive spider webs and overgrown live oak fingers that threatened to scrape the roof of any vehicle daring to enter its driveway. Ceiling fan blades hung like broken angel wings from their corroded fixtures on the front porch and a big blade of rusty metal something-or-other dangled welcomingly from the roof in the opening online photo. But wait, there’s more! It was a foreclosed home that had to be purchased “as is,” with no inspection of its heating or plumbing or roofing or any other system required for habitable shelter.

We scheduled a showing with our knowledgeable, patient and just plain nice real estate agent. My husband, a retired custom home-builder, walked around the property -- citing all sorts of stuff I would never notice like joists and straps and stringers, and he announced it had good bones -- unlike mine, apparently. We stood together on the front porch before entering the home—and that is when we heard the sound of the ocean.

The sound of the ocean is a magical thing. No wonder it’s a top selection on sleep-inducing devices—it’s a balm for the soul, mirroring the breath we take. It’s a kind of drug that’s good for you, though it has one heretoforeundocumented side-effect: it causes temporary blindness to rotting windowsills, ripped-out appliances and popcorn ceilings.

Yep, we made an offer. We got a dastardly contract with a short deadline, full of unintelligible legalese that basically says, “We, the bank, can decide at any moment not to sell this gem to you. If the house catches on fire after you sign, it’s your fault. If there are free-range chickens in your attic, please enjoy them.” We deliberated. The deadline loomed.

I recall driving and discussing the sound of the ocean versus the cha-ching of renovation costs when my husband suddenly pulled into a parking lot so we could make a decision. 

And so, the foreclosure became our fixer-upper. Surely you’ve seen the television programs that make complete home transformations in a pristine half-hour’s time. The hosts cajole, the children cavort, and the producers carefully edit out the part where you’re coughing for a week because you’ve inhaled too much bleach while cleaning insect frass.

Clearly, this is not going to be that manicured, sanitized story.

But for the next year—or however long it takes—I invite you to step weekly into our lives as we tackle the unglamorous projects not shown on TV and remain happily married.

Because here is the thing about faith: when you’ve got it, you make all sorts of incongruous leaps. Possibly even breaking your foot.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Her column, "Planet Janet," will be published weekly in the Georgetown Times and the South Strand News. Contact her at https://janetfrickecombs.wordpress.com/