The Step in the Attic

by John C. Westervelt

This is a story about a wooden step, but more so about life’s journey. Soon after arriving in Tulsa in 1955, Nelda and I bought a small house with a one-car garage. Part of the garage ceiling was two feet lower and was floored for attic storage. The spring-loaded ladder was one piece with wide steps.

Nine years later we began shopping for a larger house to accommodate a growing family. After years of on-the-job safety training, I didn’t like the fold-up ladder with narrow steps found in most new houses. My input to the architectural drawings for a house called for a ladder like the one in the first house. When constructed, the ladder reached a three by four foot landing, which was two feet below the attic floor. The two-foot step-up was easy for me and not a problem for my elementary school-aged children.

A generation later, my preschool grandchildren spent hours on end with me at my garage workbench. The scrap wood in the attic was used for building little houses, cars, and trucks. Stored next to the wood was a selection of dowel rods and wooden wheels from the hobby shop. Of course, the grandchildren wanted to go with Grandpa John into the attic to select the wood for their creations. I thought about building a step on the landing to split the big step in half, but never found the time.

My grandchildren and I agreed that they would go up the ladder one child at a time repeating the safety slogan – "Keep your hands on the ladder." Safely on the landing, they were still two feet below the attic floor. I may have helped them a time or two, but soon they were crawling up on their stomach and coming down the same way. They got a little dirty, but they were never injured. While I followed them up the ladder, I went first when coming down, parroting our safety slogan. Should their feet slip, their hands would hold them. And if that should fail, which it never did, Grandpa was ready to catch them.

Life has a way of reversing itself. My grandson Brett is now a 6’-2" college freshman. Amy, my granddaughter, is a high school soccer player. The never-completed step is no problem for them, but now it’s become a problem for their Grandpa John.

A little over a year ago, I was diagnosed with neuropathy in the legs and arms. The doctors say that this type of nerve disease can be held in check by taking vitamin B12 shots for the rest of my life. While not debilitating, this disease does make my legs and arms clumsy. The attic still holds my scrap wood, the Christmas tree, a box of electrical and mechanical parts, and some shipping boxes.

Looking over the scrap wood, I found material to build a step and a handrail. I sketched a design, and then mulled it over in my mind for several days. Having a good supply of wood screws on hand, I chose screws for the assembly, because my hammering muscle doesn’t work too well, and my electric screwdriver does.

I cut the 12 by 14 inch step from a piece of three-quarter plywood with one side clear (no knots). The original sketch used 1 by 4 white pine for the supports. The six-foot long white pine board in the attic was not enough for the handrail and the supports. When the person from the lumberyard said that they only had yellow pine, I decided to use some poplar scraps left from a stained glass frame for the support pieces. (I share these details because of the good feeling that goes along with working with good woods.)

My project that was conceived years ago is finally complete. If you would agree to follow the safety slogan, "Keep your hands on the ladder," you could view my new step in the attic, and you would feel good too.

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