illustration by Beth Adams

Dream House: The Gangs of North Dallas

Viva the Dream House!

Sometime around the fourth month of renovations on my Dream House, I was no longer “Amanda,” “Mrs. Tackett,” “Mom,” or even the cute little nickname assigned by my husband, “Wifey.” I became “Boss Lady.” That’s Patróna in Spanish, and I like it.

The metamorphosis began the day 18-wheelers rumbled down the cul-de-sac. Pallet by pallet, tons of flagstone, chopped block, and decomposed granite were strewn across the Dream House yard. The following morning, I was in the drive-through line. I wasn’t ordering food. I was ordering stone masons at the Plano Day Labor Center, also known as the Blue House. Two eager laborers hopped into my car. Both were named Juan.

My Spanish is bad—I actually have difficulty ordering appetizers at Javier’s—but the Juans and I had a rapport. They, too, could visualize the ornate flagstone paths that set off raised beds, in mostly dappled light, that would feature gardens rivaled only by the Arboretum. The inside of the Dream House was a mess, but the outside would be fabulous, even if it killed me.

About 20 minutes into removing large sections of St. Augustine grass, there was a huge explosion. I’d run over a shotgun shell with my sod cutter. The machine seemed kaput, though I was unscathed save a piece of shrapnel that pierced my right leg. I tried to restart the cutter to no avail. The blast blew the bolts from the undercarriage.

I had no choice but to head to The Home Depot, Juans in tow. An employee, clad in a synthetic-blend orange apron festooned with bits of flair, listened intently to my tale of woe. Of course, I had to start at the beginning, with the purple banana-seat bike and my 30-year history with the Dream House. Unimpressed, he tapped furiously on his keyboard. There, in the bowels of the computer, was my permanent record. He swiveled the screen around so I could see the litany of offenses: broken tools, numerous returns, damaged goods.

I was about to stammer through some excuses when the Juans magically produced a plastic bag of bolts and fixed the sod cutter there on the spot. On the way back to the Dream House, one of the Juans piped up in broken English, “No worry. I fix it.” I wasn’t sure if he was referring to the sod cutter, the Dream House, or the way my life was spiraling out of control, but from that point on, I had a posse, a band of what I can only assume are illegal immigrants. There, I said it. I am directly responsible for America’s immigration crisis.

Our days started early. Our group rolled up on The Home Depot no later than 6:30 a.m., bought an amazing array of building supplies, then stuffed it all in a midsize. (This has always irritated my husband. “It’s an E350,” he likes to say of my formerly pristine luxury car, “not an F150.”)

After we unloaded, we toiled in the garden and tackled plumbing repairs. By 11, yet another list of needed supplies would emerge—little things like drywall screws or elastomeric caulk. So I headed back by the hardware store on the way to pick up lunch, which was no easy task. The Juans didn’t like mustard, mayo, pickles, or ketchup, so I abandoned complicated drive-through orders for taquerías.

Our clique dined under the canopy of trees on the lawn of the Dream House, serenaded by cicadas and listening to La Raza 93.7. We reconvened there at 4 p.m., hot, tired, and ready for cervezas. Yes, I’ve been known to enjoy beer—in a can. Chalk it up to peer pressure.

My Dream House began shaping up, enough so that we could move in as the hot summer melted into fall. Leaves speckled the breezeway, and in late October I paused for the first time to survey all that I—along with the Juans—had achieved.