Uncle Emery’s Last Deal

lowtec-house-christoph-b-01“You can’t stay here,” Emery’s niece told him.

He didn’t see why he couldn’t. He had lived on the family farm since the day he was born, ninety-four years ago, and he no intention of living anywhere else.

Glenis had a good heart but she was a busy body who was always looking for a reason to move him to assisted living – and she finally found one.

Earlier that week, a FedEx driver spotted Emery thrashing about in a snowbank. He had been crossing his yard to the one-hole outhouse when he fell and got twisted up in his walker. Fortunately, the driver noticed before he froze.

Now, Glenis had her leverage.

“Whose going to pay for a nursing home?” Emery wanted to know.

“It is assisted living, not a nursing home. There is a difference and you can afford it,” she reminded him.

“I’m not spending a dime on it,” he told her.

He wasn’t joking. Rumor has it that Emery was so tight that he never spent a dime on anything – but this was not true.

It was a nickel he never spent.

On the day Emery got out of the service in 1945, he slipped a nickel into the watch pocket of his Levis and never took it out. After that, he never spent a dollar on taxes, a dime on land nor a nickel on seed – and he never, ever, under any circumstances, wasted a penny on his old house.

How he managed this is a mystery for some and a legend for others but let’s just say, Emery lived for deals.

He enrolled his woodlot in a county program that swapped hardwood for taxes. He raised cattle and always traded up and he sharecropped his land  to neighbors in exchange for the supplies he needed. He was always cutting deals and was always two steps ahead of everyone else.

Two steps that is – until FeDex found him stuck in a snowbank.

That afternoon, Glenis read him the riot act.

“Here is the deal,” she said, “either you get indoor plumbing or you go into assisted living. You cannot stay here alone under these conditions.”

“Don’t sound like much of a deal to me,” he grumbled.

Glenis sighed – then sprung a plan she had been thinking about for years. “I have a pretty sweet deal for the both of us.”

Now, Emery was all ears.

“Since you won’t spend a penny on this place, I will.”

Emery liked where this was going.

“I have always loved this house and since we both agreed it will be mine when you are gone, I am willing to invest my savings to fix it up. That way you can live here as long as you are able.”

It’s the kind of deal that Emery loved. He didn’t have to spend a nickel and he got what he wanted. So they shook on it.

Glenis got right to work.

She pushed back from the table and pulled a tape measure out of her purse. For the next hour, she measured every part of the house and all of those numbers went straight into a three dimensional model on her laptop and the model went off to a local contractor.

She knew exactly what she was doing because Glenis was a devoted fan of the cable channel HGTV and every episode of Property Brothers, Flip or Flop and especially Fix’er Up’er made her yearn for the day when she could renovate Emery’s house.

“My all-in budget is $100,000,” she told her contractor

“That is probably more than you need,” he said, “but it is always wise to keep money in reserve for…”

His voice trailed off.

“…contingencies,” Glenis said, finishing his sentence for him.

She knew all about contingencies. They were a reoccurring theme on HGTV and always came up unexpectedly halfway through a project.  But she was ready. She expected the unexpected.

The first call came from the plumber.

“You know there is no plumbing in that house at all?”

“I do,” she said. “that ought to make your job easier.”

“It would if there was a compliant well and an existing septic system,” he told her. “but there is neither, just a hand-pump in the kitchen and a grandfathered in one-hole outhouse out by the barn.”

“Oh dear,” she said.

“You’re looking at $20,000 for the well and $20,000 for the septic system and we have not even gotten into the house.”

The next call came from the electrician. “The service to the house is good as new but there isn’t a wire, fuse or outlet inside that is up to code.”

While discussing these contingencies with her general contractor, he told her not to worry about them.  He said he pretty much figured on replacing the plumbing, the wiring, the septic and the well and it was all more or less in his bid.

“But I have bad news for you.”

“What could that be?” Glenis wondered.

“The foundation is nothing but a loose pile of field stone. It all has to be replaced. We will have to lift the house up and dig under it.”

“How much will that cost?”

“About $20,000.”

“Why does everything cost $20,000?”

“I’ve often wondered that myself,” he said. “It’s a hell of a coincidence. Come to think of it, it will cost $20,000 to finish the plumbing, electrical and HVAC. That doesn’t leave you with much.”

Glenis was forced to do something she did not want to do: ask Uncle Emery for the money to finish the project. After all, he was the one living there.

He set his jaw and folded his arms.  “A deal is a deal,” he said.

“But Uncle Emery….” she cried.

“I have got a deal for you though,” he said. “Do the well, septic, plumbing and electrical then put in a basic bathroom, utilitarian kitchen and plain bedroom. Everything else can just be studs. I don’t need nothing fancy.”

She thought about it.

“Okay,” she said.

So she went ahead with the abbreviated project.

This time it was the mail carrier who found Emery tangled up in his walker in the snowbank near his one-hole outhouse.

He was frozen solid.

No one knows why he refused to use the bathroom in the house. Maybe habit. Maybe stubbornness. It is anybody’s guess.

The most interesting theory suggests that he refused to use the bathroom because he feared the septic system might somehow cost him every time he flushed.

Perhaps there is some truth to this because when the mail carrier found him, Emery’s frozen fingers were clutching an old nickel – and he was grinning triumphantly.

Author: Almost Iowa


42 thoughts on “Uncle Emery’s Last Deal”

  1. Love this story for so many reasons. But, the HGTV connection just made me laugh. I like a couple of their shows and always enjoy their creativity, but you see maybe 3-5 people when in reality you know they had a crew of 25 doing this job that takes part of a weekend but in reality would be a six month commitment. Nothing ever comes in ‘under’ budget, it’s always over. Unless you’re watching Maine Cabin Masters, and they’ll take $25,000 and redo an entire building which is so bogus and misleading. Bottom line, I loved Uncle Emery and the several morals to the story.

  2. A combination of triumph and sadness at the end of Uncle Emery’s story. He reminded me of one of my aunts who didn’t have indoor plumbing until later in life, and she resisted modern conveniences until the day she died. So easy for onlookers to think an assisted living or nursing home is best for someone, but if you are the ‘someone’ you won’t think it is such a good idea.

  3. Ah, the outhouse…a familiar place to me until the parents built a new house when I was about ten.

    The thing about starting any project is that one thing leads to another and soon your stash of nickels is gone.

    1. Uncle Emery was known to test any change that came his way by biting down on it. The old timers could taste test metal alloys. I’ve heard of them rejecting parts at the NAPA store after taking them out of the box and gnawing on them. 🙂

  4. I have a friend who is very similar. He told me last conversation that he’ll make sure there’s nothing for relatives to fight over when he dies. So he’s hoping the leaning back wall of his cottage stays upright long enough, as he refuses to pay for it to be fixed. Believe it or not, he was quoted $20,000 for the job!

  5. A new definition of tight, for sure Craig. My guess is that Uncle Emery was quite happy to go the way he did with no assisted living or nursing home in his future! –Curt

    1. It good to hear stories of elderly people who stay in their homes until the end. Some enjoy assisted living and nursing homes but for others, it is torture.

    1. A friend of mine told me how his parents hopped a freeway fence, crossed four lanes of traffic, hopped the center fence, crossed four more lanes of traffic then hopped the freeway fence on the other side – to walk a mile to get free soup. This was in Phoenix during the summer and both were in their 80’s. Btw, they are worth $millions.

  6. Another wonderful story. I know about home repair contingencies and I know about cheap older folks who’d rather die than indulge themselves in anything nice. 🙄

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