Journeyman: A Tradesman’s Tale

by Dennis Brennan



A new book on Amazon!

The Vaill Hotel, painting by Gus Duffy

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How to re-build a house. And a life.

I’ve made a living as a carpenter and caretaker since 1977. Block Island, Jamestown, Martha’s Vineyard and Rockport Maine are the backdrop for this memoir/how-to book, a story of summer houses and the nuts who own them. Days of hard winter winds and soft summer breezes, of rich people who turn out nice and cheapskates who hover over you all day long.

Look at the islands below and imagine living offshore, within a small community, while sanctifying the edifices the trophy crowd expects when they arrive in May. Island life, laughter, lumber yards and 40,000 cups of coffee. Swing that hammer because the rug guys are on the ferry boat! “I’d have saved a lot of money had I read this first…” says one reviewer.

Block Island, Rhode Island (1979)


Excerpts from:     Journeyman: A Tradesman’s Tale

          The plan was to stay for the weekend, but I would live on Block Island seven years. Seven springs and seven winters. It had captured me. It was like entering another time zone. The landscape was compelling: the emptiness, the silence, the solitude, the stone walls and farmhouses from centuries long gone.

          By December every carpenter was wearing a zip up canvas wind suit and woolen cap. I wondered how they might have dressed leaving New Bedford on a whaler 150 years before, in winter. Oilskins and slickers. Rotten leather boots. When ready, the ship sails. Six months to even reach the Pacific whaling grounds and years to get home. There are no people like this anymore.

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ISBN 9781937303730
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Contact the author at playbackplease@hotmail.com

          Deep in a canyon off Nantucket a giant blue lobster, that rarest of crustaceans, repeats a slow journey millions of years old, without direction or distinction. An Osprey settles in its nest for the night. On a porch overlooking Nantucket Sound three sunbathers think, finally, of nothing. A paperback lies on the deck, its pages flapping in the intermittent breeze.

Chappaquiddick Island off Martha’s Vineyard (1990)

Martha’s Vineyard – photos by Ernie Dewing

          Young men have dreams floating through their heads like rubber ducks on a river. Some get hooked in the weeds, some deflate and sink. A few make it down river. But on islands, a dream remains intact because it is protected by timelessness and determination. And, everyone’s watching. Block Island was a place I had fallen for like a teenage boy falls for a pretty cheerleader he knows will remain forever out of his grasp. You are always reaching, replacing fiction with facts, dead air with sticks and stones. I was going to build that damn house, alone, come hell or high water.

          Maine is the last uninhabited place in New England. Seventeen million acres of old farms and forests of hardwood and pine. In Andrew Wyeth paintings, the lilac colors of evening and the rusted farm equipment lying in fields beckon to a part of us that still wants to run away. The elegant decay of Maine: everything slowly returns into the earth.

          Ever wonder why your remodeling job took so long, and cost so much? Wish you’d designed differently? Ever been taken to the cleaners by a contractor you trusted? Did you know those TV “preferred lists” are mostly frauds? Want the skinny on vinyl windows, fences and railings? You won’t hear it from the manufacturers. But you will find answers, and a treasure trove of information reading Journeyman. Visit the front lines with guys who do this for a living, and after 40 years, know a duck from a deer.
With perfect weather, on time materials, 5 crews working at once and an unlimited budget, sure, the projects you see on television appear seamless and easy. They’re not. Nobody (wearing a nice new tool belt) puts in French doors in 3 minutes. There’s a bit more to it.

Readers comment on… Journeyman: A Tradesman’s Tale

“This is a great read, a wonderful story superbly written. It’s populated with characters no fiction writer could dream up, and gives a deep look into East coast island life, sparkling summers and winter howlers. The detail is rich and the people come alive in all their idiosyncrasies and weirdness. The illustrations, by the author, are superb…”

“A gem of philosophy disguised as a how-to book. An easy read with compelling insights on life, love, loss and recovery. Island life and people are a unique breed and Brennan has captured their souls. The added remodeling info at the end is priceless…it would have saved me a lot of money.”

“A wonderful story of a skilled and insightful man and his work. The author takes you into a world of cold and wind, hanging on as a local on a summer island and a cold lonely winter place. Get your kids to read this book-so they can sort of, know how people think.”

“This humorous, charming and heartfelt book is as finely crafted as one of the Cape Cod houses the author sketched and built with his own hands. Highly recommended.”

authorAbout the author:

Dennis Brennan grew up in lower California and New York City. He received a B.A. in Communication Arts from the University Of Notre Dame in 1973, then worked briefly in publishing before becoming a residential designer/builder. He lived twenty-five years on New England’s offshore resort islands and later in Rockport, Maine. His stories have appeared in Yankee Magazine and other publications, and his poetry in three chapbooks. This is his first book. He lives on the Oregon coast.