Brick by Brick

Saturday morning I joined a crew of mostly women to help build an adobe house for Habitat for Humanity of Taos. Actually, we were building it for a single mom and her two children so they could have their own home.

The adobe home being built

The home’s exterior walls of adobe brick were up. The interior walls were framed. The crew, led by a supervisor, worked on the parapets and the roof for the porch, sanded and sealed boards, and made adobe bricks for the next house to be constructed. It was part of Habitat’s Women Build Week.

Habitat uses adobe brick in Taos rather than stick framing because the materials are cheap and the labor by volunteers is free.

Clay-rich dirt used for adobe


And so I was there with other women, using a hoe to mix the right proportion of materials in a wheelbarrow — water, clay-rich dirt, sand, and straw. I worked with the homeowner’s sister to get the right consistency, pushing and pulling the hoe together as the adobe began to thicken. Sometimes we had to add more dirt.

I decided quickly there was nothing romantic about making adobe bricks. It’s tough work and out loud I admired the people long ago who created homes and villages from the materials at hand.

Using gloved hands, we scooped the adobe into wooden frames on the ground. We pressed it down so there would be solid blocks

Adobe bricks in process

when the frames were eventually pulled and the bricks were allowed to dry in the sun.

When we used up the available frames, we found something else to do. I carried long pine boards to the women using electric sanders to smooth boards spread over saw horses. I stacked the boards in the center of the saw horses, so the women could pull them down for sanding.

In the midst of the hubbub of power tools and hammering, I was reminded of when we built our first house in Western Massachusetts. We already had a large family when we bought a piece of land and then used its equity to get a construction loan. (In all, we spent $60,000 for the land and home.)

The money went farther because Hank and I discovered people were either willing to give us a deal or work for free on the weekends because they wanted us to own a home. Hank is a skilled carpenter who worked alongside most of them.

My job was to bring coffee and pastries in the morning, and then lunch, and beer for after work. Some people confided they did it for the lunch.

On Saturday morning I admired the effort of my fellow volunteers to help a woman who wanted to own a home for her children. And as she worked alongside them, smiling, I knew how she felt.