A Visit Home

6 Jun
Salemme bungalow 1 6-6-13

Habitat for Humanity supervisor Peter Salemme amid bungalow renovation.

            Forearms coated with sweat and sawdust, Peter Salemme walked me through the renovation in progress – a bungalow tucked at the bottom of a hill in Tuscaloosa’s Alberta City neighborhood.

            Above him, through the rafters of the roof to come, young men from a variety of northern Mennonite churches clambered and hammered.

“You know how every group of people has a joke about how many of them it takes to screw in a light bulb?” Peter asks. I nod.

“Well, the Mennonite version of that joke is, ‘How many Mennonites does it take to … oh, wait, it’s done already.’ “

He gestured to the half of the roof already installed.

“They put all that up yesterday.”

Mennonite at work on bungalow roof.

Mennonite at work on bungalow roof.

They’ll need to keep up that pace, since they hope to have the renovation complete by June 20th, the birthday of homeowner Willie Bishop.

Willie, a Korean War veteran, not only has lived in the bungalow – he in fact built it, some 65 years ago, when he was a young man of 20. Then, over the years, as Peter put it, “Mother Nature started to take over.”

While the renovation is not related to the April 27, 2011 tornado that killed 54 people in my hometown, it’s at the edge of the path of destruction – and not far from where, back in January, Assumption College students helped build a row of homes with Peter and others from Habitat for Humanity Tuscaloosa. (The school will return for a third year come January.)

The day before calling on Salemme and company, I had in error sought him at the old locale – only to find the row of homes complete, the only humans in evidence two kids sitting on their front porch steps – the youngest of which told me of hiding in the closet during the twister.  The homes felt new, yet the yards already green,  with saplings planted in several yards. Looking back the other way, across the oddly open, empty land stretching from their yards to University Boulevard, it was easier to imagine a day when that view would be blocked by rows of such homes, occupied by people who need them most

But for now, there’s a birthday party to get ready for.

Habitat row 1 6-5-13

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