Being a big fan of HGTV (Home and Garden Television), I understand it. Increasingly creatures of immediate gratification, we all want to groan at how ugly the old living room was; but only long enough to see the big reveal. After enduring the last round of bothersome commercials, we get our fix. Oooo, Ahhhh, It’s beautiful! And all that work, in less than 23-minutes! Very impressive indeed.
Life is filled with its own versions of ‘Before and After’. “Before I was married…”; “After I graduated…”; “Before I lost the weight” or “After I quit smoking”. In the past few weeks, I met new truth and it came in the form of Uncle Lee’s old house.
Uncle Lee (74) is now the ranking patriarch in the family I call my own. Many has been the weekend I’ve spent in Indiana ‘on the farm’ – working or just sitting with him on his porch. Surrounding his old house are the homes of his son and daughters (my cousins), their kids and now, their kids’ kids. Like Walton’s Mountain manically mashing with CNN, all of them come bounding through Uncle Lee’s front door with their latest news…”This just in…”.
Uncle Lee’s old house has seen a lot of life over the years. It has witnessed births and all manners of celebrations, each marking one occasion of passage or another. His old house has also held us in times of tragedy and death.
With Rick’s (my) 2nd cousin Danny’s sudden death a few weeks ago, I was struck at somehow, someway, Life goes on. I wonder if that old house has a lot to do with our ability to cope and prosper. Like the afternoon after Danny’s burial in the church cemetery across the road when the family gathered to eat and be together. It’s what we do ‘Before and After’.
Only hours after we’d been quietly standing at Danny’s funeral, a dozen little kids were now outside, running around, laughing and playing under ‘the big tree’ without a care in the world. Meanwhile, we grown-up kids were milling all around the house, catching up on each others lives, laughing, sharing pictures and speaking of getting together soon. One more time, the old house hosted it all. Before and After.
But like Uncle Lee, the house is old. Life has a way of leaving marks on us all with the passing of time. Her parts are tired and worn. It was amidst the fried chicken and casseroles, when Rick and I heard there were plans afoot for new floors. Being a win/win for everyone involved, we stepped up to be the muscle to do the install. We’d done this kind of work before. We’re good at it. Promises were made and plans laid to get the material to the old house in anticipation of our return.
So a few weeks later, Saturday morning arrived with the sun and we began the process of demolishing the ‘Before’. Unlike Interior Therapy (Jeff Lewis on Bravo), no one had the luxury of being dispatched to a nearby hotel to await the big reveal. The old house had to be able to house her inhabitants in the midst of the renovation so we had already planned to move one room at a time.
We began by clearing the living room and washing down the ceilings and walls in anticipation of their new paint. Cousin Sandy and her grand daughter pitched in as we rolled, brushed and trimmed surfaces that hadn’t seen such focused attention since Aunt Bunny had died.
Under the gaze of the walls and their newly colored faces, we moved into the next phase of pulling up all the old living room carpet, carrying the sliced up remnants to the burn pile for our version of a viking funeral.
Sub-floors were next. And as is often the case when getting rid of the ‘before’, what to our wondering eyes should appear but staples, glinting in the afternoon sun. Thousands of them.
In the space where you’d normally expect to see 10 or 12, there were 60 or 70 of those maddening little fasteners, none of them having read the memo that their purpose had passed. Cousin Barb joined us as we grabbed our pliers and began attacking the floor like a band of demented dentists working our grids at an archeological dig. At one point, Barb was laying prone on a foot stool to get close to the work. She looked like a rural version of Super Man flying over the Sea of Staple. Personally, I thought it was funny, but she was so tired I don’t think she appreciated my obtuse sense of humor…not the first time (Ha!). Point is hours later, we were able to sweep our hands across the toothless sub-floor and feel nothing but smooth. Living room de-fanged, we were ready for the new floor. Before and After.
With boxes of laminate floor stacked like bricks, we began the tedious process of laying out a square floating floor in a home that had long since ceased to be square. And wouldn’t you know it, despite all our care, we’d installed the first third of the living room in the wrong pattern. Are you kidding me? I knew we were tired, but come on, we’re the ones with skills, but yet, what could you do? It all had to come up and begun again. And just for the record, whoever said “snap and click…it’s easy” was lying. It’s like I said to my Cousin Mike (the source of every power tool known to man),“It’s not the mistake, it’s what you do after you make it that counts”. While wonderfully philosophical, it didn’t soothe my injured and raging pride as we pulled it all up and did it again – the right way. By the next day, it was done. It was beautiful. Before and After.
Next up on the agenda was the Dining Room. Furniture to move; more walls and ceilings to wash; paint to apply and more carpet to extract.
But this time, the evil twist was it having been glued to the floor during the Cold War. And we’re not talking about Elmer’s Glue…I seriously believe military scientists were involved in developing the adhesive to survive a missile attack. The glue refused to part with its’ covering carpet. But many hours later, each square foot eventually (and begrudgingly) yielded to our brute muscle and our unrelenting insistence that it must die. More carpet for the funeral pyre! Before and After.
Now schooled in the nuances of the floor product newly enshrined in the other room, we moved like a well oiled machine to put down the underlayment and proceed to installing the next chapter of floor. It was tedious knee scarring work. The house wasn’t square – anywhere. Some walls were weak. Old electrical outlets and switches who had long ago paid their rent needed to be replaced – new and gleaming.
The kitchen and her long hallway were next.
You get the idea…our simple promise had turned out to be a bruising, intense example of hand-to-hand combat. But nonetheless, we knocked the other rooms out with similar determination.
Then, there were baseboards to install and doors to trim out; window trim to paint and blinds and curtains to hang – but we did it. Working on the old house for 10 or 12 hours at a time, day after day, I was so tired that by the following Saturday night I don’t think one of us looked back to admire our work as we collapsed into bed. But it was basically done. We had finished what we had come to do. Before and After.
It’s early on Sunday morning (Easter) and no one is really up yet as I sit in ‘my chair’ at Uncle Lee’s table.
I’m dumbstruck at the way the rising sunlight is dancing across the new shining floors and bouncing off the newly minted walls. For all the backbreaking effort and short tempers (amidst groans of exhausted frustration), the whole project has come together beautifully.
A few minutes ago, Uncle Lee joined me at the table as I write. Chatting like we do, I commented about wishing we’d taken ‘before and after’ pictures of the house. He paused for a minute and said, “Yeah, that might have been nice, but you boys did the work. You did good. The house feels good again”.
In his quiet and unvarnished way, he and his old house taught me something valuable. It isn’t about “Before and After”. Life’s value comes out of what we choose to do with the time we’ve been given…the time in the middle.
We’re born and then, we die. Each of us have been given our own version of staples and glue. We can stay stuck or we can do something about it. I ask you to consider the possibilities of doing something this week that leaves someone better than they were when you found them.
Now after the before, we packed the car, made our good-byes and headed down the gravel driveway for the long ride home. As we turned onto the road, it may have been the breeze moving through Big Tree or maybe it was just the old house breathing again, but taking one last look, I swear I could hear her whisper “Thank you”.
Photo Credits: Home-Renovation: by Jason Munsterteiger, Big Tree: by Dan4Kent, Old Capenter: http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/19600/19642/carpenter_19642.htm, Staple-artwork by Baptiste Bombourg, Farm at Sunrise: by George Sled http://www.panoramio.com/user/1048223?with_photo_id=5794567, Country Road (in oil) by David Pasillas: http://iphonephotog.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/country-road/
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