Last weekend I completed a task that was years in the making. Something I dreaded doing, something that I may very well have lost some sleep over.
I’m talking about hanging up Christmas lights.
“Oh, come now!” you scoff. “What could be so dreadful about stringing up a few lights?”
For the most part, nothing. I enjoy it. It makes the house look nice, and lends to the festive atmosphere of the neighborhood during the holiday season. Not all houses are lit up, so we feel that in some way we owe it to our street to make up the difference.
But it has to be done right. I don’t like skimping, and I don’t like odd ends. You know what I’m talking about: those houses where they’ve hung up a string or two along the gutters, but don’t quite have enough to make it the whole distance, leaving a big empty spot. Lame. Or maybe they have too much, and either make an “X” on the window they’ve encircled, or just let the ends trail into the bushes nearby. Very lame. You can find all sorts of examples of these kinds of efforts at Ugly Christmas Lights.
Thus, I make sure I have enough lights to cover the area I’m targeting, so there are no gaps or sudden stops. And in the cases where I have excess lighting, I find a way to tastefully hide it.
The problem has always been an inaccessible spot on the second story, just above the garage. I give you exhibit A:
For years, I’ve tried reaching that spot. I have an extension ladder that is plenty long. I can reach the highest gutters on all sides of the house, except for that spot and its twin on the other side of the garage. Standing on the little peak of garage roof allows me to reach the center of that stretch, but not more than six or eight feet of it. Thus, any light strings I hang off the eaves either end there, or are hung with a great swooping drop right at those two angled sections.
One year, I managed to put lights there by climbing on the top of the second story roof and perching precariously on the very edge, leaning over and clipping lights to the shingles. Despite my bravado, I was a nervous wreck doing it. I’d make the joking comment “Hey, I can see our house from here!” several times out loud to whomever might be down on the lawn with the phone ready to dial 911, but inside I was simply repeating the Lord’s Prayer over and over, and selecting a choice landing spot.
That was a few years ago. I’m older now, and the moss on the roof has made it a lot less stable a surface for walking around. I am definitely NEVER going to go up there again.
But we have the neatest icicle lights now, and they HAD to be strung up there. For a few years we’ve had them strung all along the lower level. That I can get to with the 8 foot ladder. No sweat.
What I needed for the upper section was cup hooks all along the fascia. If I could get cup hooks on there, just once, from then on I could use a pole to hang the icicle light strings every year after.
The trouble is, how to reach. The ladders won’t help, because of the weird roof line. There’s really no safe way to get at it from above. What I’d need is some sort of scaffold on the lower roof to give me the extra height I need. Something that would fit on the roof without requiring nails or screws, but would be rock solid and stable.
In my mind, I began building. It would have to provide a long, flat walking surface and somehow accommodate the angle of the roof, and would need to grip the composite shingles.
After a few virtual failures, my brain finally settled on something simple: a simple support that would rest on the angle of the roof using a carpeted surface to grip the shingles, and a long plank that would stretch from the support over to the extension ladder, about 12 feet away.
Sure. Simplicity itself. It would work just like this:
The plank was easy. I used three fourteen foot 2×4 studs tied together with 12″ blocks to create a 12″ plank. This would fit within the rungs of the ladder. The support took some measurements to match the pitch of the roof. Luckily I had all the lumber I needed in my pile. I grabbed a discarded doormat for a gripping surface and tacked that down on the angled plate.
With all the pieces ready, I hauled the support up to the roof. This is when my wife came out to see what I was doing (she made me promise to NOT get on the roof unless she was out there to observe, phone in hand).
“Look, honey! See? This is the support.” I set it on the roof and nestled it in place, pressing down hard. She gave it a doubtful look. “The rug grips the roof. It’s rock solid!” I gave it a little kick, and it skittered down the roof in a manner that was quite un-rock-solid-like.
“Yeah,” my wife said.
“Shoot. I don’t know what to do,” I said, and climbed down the ladder, defeated.
But I didn’t have any other options. I had to hang those lights, and I had to reach that spot.
An hour or so later, I re-gathered my courage and set out to try it again.
“Can I try it one more time?” I asked my wife. I’ve learned, over the years, not to push my luck beyond what she’s willing to absorb.
Hurray! Carefully I set the support on the dry section of the roof (no moss, no slipping) and pulled up the plank. “Okay, here we go,” I said. I placed the plank on the support and set the other end through the ladder.With the plank in place, I tentatively put one foot on the plan and put weight on it.
The support and plank held. It didn’t move a bit.
As quickly as I could I edged out toward the no-longer-inaccessible areas and drilled in a pilot hole, then screwed in a cup hook. I dropped the hook, which clattered down the roof an onto the walkway. “Look out below!” I called, too late.
Another cup hook. I dropped it too. “Watch out!” I called. My wife had wisely moved before I called.
After dropping five or six, I managed to screw one in, and I moved on down the plank.
Dutifully, my loving wife stood below and held the ladder stable while the plank bounced up and down.
Then, while drilling a pilot hole, the drill slipped from my hands.
“LOOK OUT!” I yelled, and she hurriedly ducked under the eaves behind the ladder as the drill tumbled once, struck a rung and embedded itself in the lawn. “Sorry!” I said.
She retrieved the drill and the fallen cup hooks, and then my dear sweet wife, the one who is terrified of heights, climbed eight feet up the ladder to hand them to me. She deserves a medal, I think.
We continued on, one pilot hole and cup hook at a time.
At one point, Uncle T (my step daughter’s dad) dropped by with his wife and daughter for a Christmas picture photo op. He helped hold the ladder while I dropped cup hooks on his head, giving my poor wife a much-needed break.
“What are you doing up there?” Auntie C called out.
“Trying to reach the edge of the roof here to hang up lights,” I said.
“Wow, you’re really brave,” she said.
“No, just really stupid,” I said.
Eventually it came time to move the ladder. At this point my daughter L came out to help.
“What can I do?” she called to me.
“Well, I’ll need to move the ladder,” I said.
“I can do that!” she said.
“You couldn’t. It’s way too heavy.”
“No it’s not.” And with that, she grabbed the ladder. I was amused to see her determination and foolhardiness in hoisting a 24 foot extension ladder that probably weighs more than she does, and moving it around the house (I wonder where she gets that foolhardy streak?).
My amusement turned to concern and a bit of anxiety when I realized that the ladder was my only way down, and if she couldn’t put it back up, I’d be stuck.
Concern gave way to helpless panic when I saw the ladder topple backwards as L struggled to keep it upright. My wife stepped in and steadied it, and together they wrestled it over to the other edge of the roof, where I needed it.
After replacing the plank, I was able to finish the pilot holes and cup hooks on that side, until the whole front part of the house was complete.
We had done it.
A little later I hauled out the icicles and easily hung them up on their hooks using a pole without having to stand on a scaffold of any kind.
It was a risky and perhaps even foolish plan I had concocted. With every scenario I’d envisioned as I played out my scheme in my mind, I’d end up on the ground with multiple fractures, and the plank usually ended up jutting out of the van’s windshield.
But it worked. I think God needs me here a little longer for some reason. But I’m sure He’s getting a little annoyed with how I keep pushing my luck.
Merry Christmas to all! I’m going to go have eggnog now.