But one house is not enough

By: deborahsc

Nov 27 2007

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Category: Story

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Omayra lives on Pennington Street between Orchard and Murray Street. She can not remember a time when she didn’t live there. She calculates that would be 132 months or 4,017 days or 96,408 hours. Quite a long time, she feels, a lot longer then 11 years seems. One day she looks around her fifth floor aparment and says, “I’m going to be a builder when I grow up.” She believes that it is never too early to have a plan and after making her previous computations, it seems almost late.
Her brothers look up from their game long enough to call out, “Yeah, the Leaning Tower of Pizza!!”

Her older sister throws her a glance that says, “Get real.”

But Omayra’s mother likes the idea. “Why not?” she says. “There are two abandoned buldings right on this block. Why don’t you do something with those sad, old buildings?”
“Girls can build houses, right?” Omayra has never met a woman builder, but she has seen doctors who are women and subway drivers who are women, too.

What would it take to build a house, like the one down the street, she wondered. To build a house you have to know what kind of house you want. Some houses in this city are too tall with too many people; some houses still have the bathtub in the kitchen or the bathroom down the hall; some houses are built with very few windows, or tiny kitchens and some houses were built a l-o-n-g time ago. If Omayra is going to be the builder none of those houses would do.

To build a house, you have to know how to read the plans. Omayra would ask Nixie, the best reader in her fifth grade class, who loves charts and maps to help.

To build a house, you have to know how to accurately measure. So she would recruit Tia Ana who knows how to measure and has been doing it for years-for recipes, dress patterns and hems. A house is only a little bigger.

To build a house, you have to know how to buy wisely. She would invite her mother who always makes the best choices, finds the best bargains, and knows how to stretch a budget without you feeling it pinch.

To build a house, you have to know the law, so that it will be sturdy and safe. So Omaryra decides to ask Mrs. Chin, the crossing guard to join them. She is an officer of the law and she knows all the traffic regulations. She can find out about the housing laws, too.

To build a house, you have to work long hours. Omayra then has the idea to invite all her friends to come and work-in shifts. There is time to build, to learn about all the different skills and there is still enough time to laugh and eat all the different foods that come from all parts of the neighborhood.

Finally, to build a house, you need to find people who will care for it so that it will last a long time and be home to many families over the years.

Omayra looks at the house she has imagined on Pennington Street and sees space to be by herself at times, a larger place to gather in the kitchen, to eat and to homework and to have long talks alone with Mamí There will be places where the sun can come in and warm the house, inviting the plants to turn their faces to the window to grow and stretch upward and out the window to the top floor

This is what Omyra really likes to do best. She likes to plan. People like her ideas, too, and that’s why they are happy to work along with her. Omayra checks with them to see if their work and their plans match. They discuss changes carefully and make sure they get everyone’s opinions. And everyone has opinions.

Omayra gathers a dozen people to work on the first sad old house down the street. They work for many months and finally the building is finished. It is still and old house, but now it has a new face and is happy., with a new heart and boiler to match.

But a new problem comes up. Many people have watched the group’s work and they want to live in a place like that too.

Omayra thinks that one house is not enough for all the people who need homes and all the families that want to build them.

Tia Ana tells her that if she wants to rebuild other houses then the group needs to think about building more bedrooms and larger rooms.

Her mother tells her that if she wants to rebuild other sad old houses, the group must buy materials in bulk and look for discounts.

Mrs. Chin reminds her that bigger houses with more families mean learning new regulations to make those houses safe too. But, most of all, everyone tells her she should build stores and schools and better streets and have more buses going up Broad Street.

Omayra realizes that they are not just building houses, they are rebuilding their sad, old city. Maybe, instead of being a builder, she ought to be mayor. Then with Nixie, Tia Ana, Mrs. Chin, Mamí and all the neighbors, she would take what they are learning and apply it to every neighborhood in the city. Then they would have a brand new city, put together by everyone living there, making a place designed just for them.

Omayra likes this kind of building best.

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