An important lesson at Obici House

Published 10:25 pm Monday, April 25, 2011

I eagerly anticipated my tour through the old estate of Planters Peanuts founder and Suffolk benefactor Amedeo Obici last week.

Unless one works in construction, it’s pretty rare to see the interior of an old building mid-restoration, and it was my first time inside the 1920s-era house that provoked an emotional debate over how it should be saved last year.

Furthermore, my boss, Res Spears, came along as my photographer, and it’s pretty rare that writers at the Suffolk News-Herald get the luxury of not having to juggle a camera as well as a notebook and pen.

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Those were the initial reasons that I was excited about the interview, which otherwise was par for the course for my workday. But as it turns out, the house held an unexpected lesson for me that was far more important than learning the intricacies of historic restoration.

After its initial use as the home of the Obicis, who left a lasting contribution to the Suffolk community in the form of a hospital and a health care foundation, the waterfront home was used as a special events venue for some time. However, it fell into disrepair, and was not protected from the elements of weather and time as well as it should have been.

As a result, much of the house, both inside and out, was in poor condition before lessee Ronnie Rountree undertook a renovation, restoration and expansion project last year. As Mr. Rountree gave Res and me a tour Thursday, it was easy to see that much of the wood in the house is rotting.

The three of us initially stepped into the house through the front door and turned right to look at the large family room. Once we had finished there, we passed to the other side of the door and checked out the parlor, sunroom and dining room.

I should pause here to tell you that I am desperately afraid of heights. It’s a little-known but highly comedic fact about me, considering my 6-foot frame and general indifference toward potential danger.

That’s why I was so frightened when I saw that the next room had no floor — only thin sheets of plywood laid across what looked to me like half-rotted joists.

Mr. Rountree stepped confidently onto the plywood, with people working below in the home’s basement. Frightened, but not wanting to appear cowardly, I stepped gingerly onto the paper-thin plywood and tried my hardest not to panic.

With Res still behind me and one of my white-knuckled hands clutching the door frame, I looked down and was horrified to discover that the entire first floor was supported by nothing more than the same joists, only with a little more flooring between the basement and where I had been standing. I had only felt confident the rest of the time because I couldn’t see that I was in potential danger.

After a few seconds, I could bear it no longer. I stepped back into the dining room, where at least I could pretend I was on solid ground. I knew that Res could perceive my fear, but I was hoping Mr. Rountree would overlook my move.

When both gentlemen burst out laughing, I knew I had failed miserably, both at achieving a death-defying stunt and at maintaining a poker face throughout the whole thing.

Afterward, I felt a little ridiculous when the same pieces of wood managed to support both Res and Mr. Rountree. Scrawny men they are not.

Here’s what my visit to the Obici House taught me: No matter how self-confident I might be, I’m always in danger. My pride alone makes me think that the only potential harm is what I can see with my eyes.

But God, who always sees the big picture, is holding me in His hand as He promised in Hebrews 13:5 — “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”