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Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl
Saving Etta: Chapter 10: The Freezer

This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters for more of the back story.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about this project I’m calling Saving Etta.

It had rained all night and I was up most of the night dreading what I’d find when I walked back into Etta’s interior rooms. Would it be a few drips or huge puddles of water on the floor? In the morning the rain had not quit and as I drove downtown it continued to intensify.

I pulled into the driveway of my investment house and was greeted by a bright orange and yellow port-a-potty that Mike had ordered for me. I laughed to myself thinking, “Awesome, my first bathroom is installed!”

I never thought I’d be so excited to see a port-a-potty, but honestly I couldn’t stomach using the bathroom inside the house. The floor around the toilet was sopping wet, black mold lined the walls, and the ceiling was about to cave in. The port-a-potty was definitely a step up.

Even though the port-a-potty was newly serviced and delivered, there was a thin layer of dust on all the surfaces. It would be fine for all the male tradesmen, but not for me. A quick wipe with some Clorox wipes freshened it up to my standards.

“Ahhh, much better.” I thought. Laughing again that I was so happy to have a port-a-potty.

As I opened the front door, the familiar mold smell hit my nostrils. As expected, I found some puddles in the back utility room, but the front room and hallway appeared to be dry. My cell phone rang from my pocket and as I answered it a voice said, “Mrs. Bailey, this is Raymond. I’m running a little late, but I’ll be there soon”

“Thanks, but who is this?” I questioned the caller.

“It’s Raymond with Junk to Dump.” he replied.

I was momentarily confused, but then remembered I had scheduled a junk hauling company to come out the day after closing.

“Oh good, I have a lot of things for you to take away.” I said.

He was quiet for a second, then asked me exactly what he was picking up.

“Mostly junk, some appliances, carpeting, old car batteries, and leftover stuff in the crawlspace.” I said matter-of-factly (worrying that he might back out of the job.)

Undeterred, he said he’d be there soon. After a good thirty minutes Raymond called back and said, “Are you there?”

“Where?” I asked.

“I’m at your house.” He said and then read off my home address.

I smacked my head, “No, that’s my home. I need you at the jobsite downtown.”

Raymond and his helper arrived 30 minutes later. Raymond was a handsome African American with a thousand watt smile. His teeth were perfect. Having worn braces for 5 years of my teenage life, I tend to notice extraordinarily perfect teeth. He seemed super friendly and ready to get started.

Walking around the house with Raymond, I pointed to piles and the ripped up carpeting that needed to be hauled off. When we got to the back of the house, I pointed at the chest freezer. “And that needs to go too.”

“Is there food in it?” he questioned.

“I’m not sure, there was last time I opened it. But I won’t open it now or it will stink up the whole house.” I explained.

“Uh uh.” Raymond shook his head. “No way, I don’t take food. And I certainly won’t take that moldy freezer.”

I couldn’t believe it. The junk hauler had found something he wouldn’t haul! Not that I could blame him, the freezer was pocked with black moldy dots.  But, I was desperate to get the freezer chest out of the house. So, I made him a deal.

“If I empty it and clean it, do you promise to haul it away?” I asked, extending my hand for him to shake.

“Okay.” he agreed.

I was sure he only agreed because he felt certain I wouldn’t touch the freezer with a ten foot pole.

We headed back toward the front of the house where I remembered to ask Raymond if he had insurance.

He replied, “Oh yes, a 5 million dollar policy.”

Okay then. Glad that’s the case. I thought to myself.

Raymond and his assistant made quick work of one of the rooms removing the piles I had pointed to.

“Shoot!” Raymond yelled and pulled up his pant leg to reveal a small hole that was oozing blood. I looked down at his feet and saw a jagged section of broken mirror that was protruding out of the bag he was holding.

“I have a first aid kit in the car.” I offered. At the truck I pulled out the first aid kit I had the foresight to purchase at the drugstore the day before. (As a previous Girl Scout, I strive to always be prepared.) A split second later, I realized my first mistake. I had not asked for a copy of Raymond’s insurance policy. I hoped to God that he really did have insurance and wouldn’t sue me. Mentally I made a note to get the insurance policy copy or call the insurance company next time!

Raymond cleaned his cut with soap and water. But, we discovered no neosporin or alcohol wipes in the kit. I handed him the hand sanitizer and told him to rub some on the cut. “It will sting.” I warned

Amazingly Raymond barely winced. Most men I knew would make a stink about it, but not Raymond. This guy was tough.

After helping Raymond, I suited up to tackle the freezer chest. I pulled on a rain coat, full coverage safety goggles, disposable dish gloves, and a respirator to cover my nose and mouth. I walked to the back with a purpose, ready to do battle with one moldy freezer chest and whatever lay inside. I looked very much like a surgeon heading into the OR. This was one job I was determined to complete come hell or high water.

I opened the freezer and knew what I’d see. It was filled with TV dinners. I began throwing them into the contractor grade trash bags being careful as the damp cardboard boxes threatened to fall apart.

Through the top layer of TV dinners was a layer of deli packaged ground beef and pork chops. Several of the thin cellophane wrappers were punctured and I barely recognized the cuts of meat displayed on the styrofoam trays. At purchase they were probably red, but now they were gray and green. The bile started to rise in my throat, but I swallowed it back down.

I took a deep breath inside the respirator, making a sound like Darth Vader, and dove my gloved hand into the chest. I fished out a rotting flank steak, pork chops and a whole chicken. I found a few popsicle boxes with just sticks and wrappers. Obviously the sugary treat had thawed and spilled out of the wrapper long ago.

As I hauled a whole chicken out of the freezer, I almost dropped it. Beneath the chicken was a pool of bloody brown-red liquid. If it wasn’t for the respirator blocking the odor, I surely would have vomited. I took another deep breath and continued dipping my gloved hand into the liquid fishing for more food. Finally all that was left was a brown and red pool of meat juice. I grabbed an empty Cool Whip tub and began scooping out the liquid and dumped it directly into the trash bag. When I could barely lift the bag I tied the top closed and dragged it into the back yard. Then I proceeded to fill another trash bag with just the liquid garbage.

After hauling the second bag outside, I quickly sprayed the exterior of the freezer chest with a bleach cleaner and wiped off the mold spores. Then I tossed the dirty paper towels into the trash and left the room in search of Raymond.

“Okay, I’m done.” I declared, as I found him muscling more trash bags into his work van.

He stared at me, the surprise barely hidden from his face.

“You emptied that whole freezer chest?” He asked surprised.

“Yes, all done.” I replied ripping off the gloves and respirator.

He paused a moment and then said, “I’ve only met one other woman as tough as you in my life.” He explained, “And the other woman is my momma.”

We both laughed and I was honored to be in the same company as his mother.

Raymond and I walked back into the house toward the freezer chest. I pulled on a dust mask, happy not to have to wear the respirator any longer. We pulled the freezer across the wet linoleum and hefted it over the threshold into the back yard. I felt a huge surge of accomplishment as we threw the empty chest into the yard with the other junk for Raymond to take. We stopped long enough so that Raymond could snap a picture of me posing victoriously on top of the freezer chest.

A few hours passed as we worked together to bring more leftover furniture and bags into the yard. By the end of the day I drove home feeling physically and mentally exhausted. At home, I walked in the door and Mike could sense I had no energy left to make dinner.

“Want me to cook dinner tonight?” he asked.

“Sure, that would be great.” I replied.

He reached into the fridge and pulled out a package of hamburger meat and set it on the counter. I nearly threw up thinking about all the meat I had cleaned out of the freezer chest.

“On second thought, I might just make myself a salad.” I replied.

. . . continued in Chapter 11.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Are you enjoying the Saving Etta chapters? I’d love to hear from you! What are you enjoying the most?

 

21 replies
  1. Holly Walters
    Holly Walters says:

    Oh, Brittany! I’ve done that, too. It’s like being on CSI and finding a barrel filled with a decomposed body. I imagined I could still smell it for days afterward! Good job Wonder Woman!

    Reply
  2. Vontreva Gammel
    Vontreva Gammel says:

    I have emptied a full freezer, three days after it had stopped running! I cried thinking about all of that wasted food. I had just purchased a month of groceries a week before…

    Reply
  3. Marta
    Marta says:

    Hello Brittany,

    I LOVE your stories. They are soo fascinating I can’t wait the next chapter. Thank you for such exciting moments.

    Best wishes in your journey.

    Marta from Poland

    Reply
  4. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Brittany,
    I’ve been there and had to clean out spoiled meat from a freezer. It’s enough to make anyone barf! Like you, I held my breath for a few seconds, and persevered!
    Can’t wait until the remodeling actually begins on Etta! Love your blog and will continue following your progress.

    Reply
  5. Colleen Taylor
    Colleen Taylor says:

    As I was reading this, if someone saw my facial contortions, gasps and shudders, I even had my gag reflex going. I’m sure they would have laughed at me. Holy cow girl, you are one tough woman! I’ve have many a dirty and awful projects including the cleanup of animal and human poop but this takes the cake. I think I need a shower after reading this.
    I don’t even know what more to say about your monster project. I’m cheering you on all the way!

    Reply
  6. Shawnda
    Shawnda says:

    Blech! Spoiled meat is the worst!

    Just an FYI about the insurance: His policy covers his liability to someone else for damage that he causes. It does not provide coverage for injuries he or his employees sustain on the job that are either their fault or accidental. That’s what workman’s comp does.

    Your policy provides coverage for any damages to someone else or their property due to your negligence. The medical payments coverage on your policy works as a suit deterrent-so if someone gets hurt, it covers their out of pocket expenses and they’re less likely to sue you for damages. Should the medical payments not be adequate, that is what your liability limit is for. 🙂

    I look forward to future installments

    Reply
  7. Mary
    Mary says:

    I’ve had to clean two different freezers full of food without the benefit of a respiratory. It was the most disgusting job I’ve ever taken on. Good thing I have a strong stomach, because I probably would have lost it after your descriptions. Blech.

    Reply
  8. Sandy Puckett
    Sandy Puckett says:

    When my kids were little, I used to write interesting letters to friends and family detailing our activities and the funny or interesting things they did. Many people told me how much they loved my letters.

    That’s the feeling I get when I read each chapter. You must have picked up some writing tips from your stepmom!

    I’m really enjoying this.

    Reply
    • Brittany Bailey
      Brittany Bailey says:

      Sandy, this is the biggest compliment you could have given me. Thanks for your comment and to answer your question, maybe I picked up tips by osmosis, but otherwise it has been a struggle for me to “write” this story.

      Reply
  9. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    I kind of hate you even though I’ve never met you. I love reading your chapters and HATE getting to the end knowing it’s going to be a week or more before I get to hear what happened next. Who do I need to talk to in order for these chapters to be published quicker? Like maybe daily or even hourly? 😉

    Seriously though, I’m a huge fan and as someone just completing a house renovation with a contractor, you’re so inspirational. I’d love to become a female contractor someday.

    Reply
    • Brittany Bailey
      Brittany Bailey says:

      Aww, Tiffany, sorry about that. Being the one person trying to do it all is challenging. Thanks for your comment and I’ll try to get the next chapter up soon ;-D. But, good to hear you are enjoying the series.

      Reply
      • Tiffany
        Tiffany says:

        Don’t apologize! I was totally kidding with you. Believe me, I understand being busy and having to prioritize. I can wait, I just don’t want to! haha.

        Also, I just wanted to reiterate how much I love this story and your POV and writing style. Can I ask, how far behind real time is this? Have you made significant progress with Etta or are you still in the demo/rough-in stage?

        Reply
  10. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    I just started and am enjoying this series very much! I’m hoping there are many more chapters to go in your adventures with Etta. I was thinking you would be great at a school career fair! You might really plant some seeds in some young girls minds. At least put up a pink sign with your business name or something to draw some attention to you being the one behind the project. Just sayin’! But I like that you have been dignified yet direct both in word and deed in setting people (men!) right about who is in charge and how blessed you are to have had a supportive Dad and husband! I’m sure your sons will follow suit!

    Reply

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