My First Framing Day – A Habitat Build Story

On Saturday, September 21, 2002 I attended my first Framing Day Event for Habitat For Humanity. A day that will always remembered as one of the top ten remarkable days in my life.

When I first signed up for Framing Day I tried to convince my friend Susan that it would be best if I made sandwiches and coffee for the workers, as I had no idea how to hammer a nail into wood. Well, my offer to make sandwiches was kindly declined, but my general offer to help out was accepted and I was immediately assigned to a working crew. I reluctantly agreed and secretly thought they would realize their error come Framing Day.

The morning of September 21 dawned and I was anything but comfortable. It had rained the night before so I thought maybe they would cancel… in case it started to rain again.  Then I thought, “well maybe I should just stay home,” because – after all – didn’t I know better than them how incompetent and incapable I would be with a hammer in hand on a construction site?  This went on for about an hour until I realized that the bottom line was I had made a commitment that I needed to honour. So off I went to Framing Day.

Upon arrival I met Fran who guided me through the struggles of finding a construction hat and a pair of boots that fit (no easy task for someone with size 5 shoes)!  I was then instructed to go see “Tom” my crew leader. Upon my announcement that I had returned and was ready for work I was asked if I had a hammer. As I stood there dumbfounded and dismayed at my own stupidity for not having even thought to ask for a hammer, some kind soul named “Fred” offered to find me one.  

Now I was ready for work!

Having been given my instructions, I started the task of hammering nails into 2 x 4’s.  Well imagine my lack of surprise when my crew leader promptly interceded and kindly suggested I wasn’t hammering properly!

Hence,  Lesson # 1 on how to hammer a nail commenced. I listened carefully and then tried to follow through with my new set of instructions.

Hence, Lesson #2 unfolded with the opening question, do you golf? A “No” response brought about a re-grouping of thoughts in the mind of my crew leader as he once again tried to explain the science of hammering a nail into a piece of wood.  

It turns out it all has to do with where you hold the hammer, the placement of your feet, the positioning of your body weight, how you lean, the angle of the nail and the placement of the hammer when it makes contact with the nail.  So off I went to hammer and though I didn’t always follow form I did improve upon my early beginnings.

As the morning wore on I started to learn some lingo: “in” and “out” nailing, the “high side” of a 2×4, sheeting, and stapling. Then came the big moment when I was informed it was time to raise the wall. With great excitement I took a place in line beside a fellow builder (I was starting to feel more comfortable in my boots) and awaited further instructions. However, my new colleague kindly informed me that I had best move down a tad as I was standing directly in front of the window! Finally, the big moment arrived when, on the count of three, everyone was lined up and ready to ensemble raise the wall. One, two, three, lift and voila, the back wall of the house was standing! At that moment I experienced such a surge of joy…imagine, I had contributed to the building of a wall!

Together, we built and raised all four walls that day along with some of the interior walls.  And around mid-day there was a moment of truth, when someone said, “Do you know why we are doing this Bev?”  He pointed to the house next door (Burlington’s first Habitat for Humanity Home) and to where two children were playing in the yard. Then he said, “That’s why we are doing this!”

That day, I saw folks working together to help one another.  I saw people acting out their belief that every one needs a home and that together we can make this happen.  So to Habitat for Humanity I say thank you for the opportunity to help build a home and build hope!

Beverley O’Connell