A First Home: An Excerpt From Make Something Good Today by Ben Napier

An excerpt from Ben and Erin's Make Something Good Today, a memoir about seeking out the good in life, celebrating the beauty of family and friends, and prospering within our communities—because everything we need to be happy in life is within our grasp. 


"As a Methodist preacher's kid, I called six different small towns home before I became a married man. Home was always more a state of mind than anything else. 

So I was excited to start a new life with Erin; putting down roots in laurel, a place where she already had them, felt good to me. Actually, putting down roots anywhere felt good. It was as though I had been carrying something heavy for a long time, and I was relieved to finally lay it all down. 

I fell in love with Erin's hometown while falling in love with her, so you can say that my love of Laurel was an extension of that love. And because she had come full circle about where had grown up, we decided to built a life together here, in the place that had grown her. 

Erin has long been motivated by the idea that a person, place, or thing can be what you want it to be— whether that is something you envision or remember or just want so badly that you can bring it to life. She had desire for her hometown to be the idyllic place that her imagination conjured up from memories, one that loosely approximated city life: sprawling festivals, crowded restaurants, unique shopping. We decided that if we were going to be eight minutes from her parents' place in the country, we'd at least live as though we were in the big city, in a walk-up loft downtown. A place where Amtrak's Crescent Line, which went all the way to New York City, would shake plaster dust from our walls. 

Erin's family owned a historic hundred-year-old flatiron building that we transformed into our first home. The space, the freedom, and the affordability made it easier for Erin to stomach the comments of friends who'd moved on to bigger cities and subtly took jabs at her choice of "settling." Until our wedding, for about ten months, we lived apart. She lived with her parents, while I lived in— and worked on renovating— our first home. 

During those months, I had only a toilet, a sink, and a bed. By then, Erin's Ole Miss roommate, Mallorie, and her cousin Jim were engaged and renovating the loft in the building adjoining ours, which had the luxury of a fully functioning bathroom. At 6:30 every morning, I would wake up, start my coffee, get dressed, go downstairs to the sidewalk, walk to their door, go up to their apartment, shower, get dressed again, go back to our place, and wait for the contractors who dealt with the big-picture stuff such as the plumbing and wiring. It was like my own personal walk of shame, every day. 

The two-story flatiron building in downtown Laurel had been Erin's uncle's former offices and toothpaste factory after World War II. It was the shape of a pizza slice with a bite taken from the tip of the triangle and visually no square-shaped rooms inside. On the ground floor there was a small insurance company, and the second floor was to be out loft. It was a beautiful, drafty old place.

Erin and I cam up with a plan, made some drawings, and looked to execute it in a way that wouldn't bankrupt us. The dark and creaky plank floors had a hole the size of a half-dollar near the stove that one swelled a drill bit I had dropped. The nine-foot-tall single-pane windows were a century old and would have cost a fortune to replace, so we learned to love how the wind whispered through them in the winter and how we felt like ants under a magnifying glass in the summer. 

We cut costs everywhere we could, taking on DIY projects, painting, and coming up with affordable substitutes for certain finishes and details. When it came to furniture, we had a lot of hand-me-downs, and I took it upon myself to build a few pieces.

I had found carpentry almost by accident, or, I guess you can say, it had found me. At Ole Miss, a fair amount of my time was spent in the art department, waiting for Erin to finish her studio work. Soon enough, half bored, half curious, I wandered into the wood shop to kill time. I became friends with a couple of those guys, good ol' boys with manual labor experience who had discovered they had an inclination for art. They showed me some tricks with the planer and the table saw, and pretty soon, I got my basic start. I can do this, I thought. 

The work came naturally to me in a way that nothing else had. I wouldn't even call it work; it never felt like it. I began with the simpler things: building picture frames for Erin's artwork along with the work of others she admired, which we hung all over the loft. Eventually, if Erin saw a piece of furniture she thought I could build, all she had to do was ask and I was game. It didn't occur to me at the time to make a life out of it; it was more like a skill I could use when needed. 

The more I got into woodworking, the more I loved it. With every piece, I wanted to tell a story. The furniture had to be beautiful, but the story it told made it even more beautiful. "

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