While Dad has been in Southwind, and now that he’s in the hospital, I live in a construction zone. Lots of stuff has been thrown out, and more needs to be, yet the house is still piled with boxes and loose items — moving around in it is rather like navigating a maze. In some cases, as with so many other things, you can’t get to point B from point A. Sometimes you have to go outside to get inside, at least in another area of the house.
Yesterday, I returned to the house, exhausted and ready to sleep. That simply wasn’t possible — there were plumbers working under and around the house. Tim the contractor and his father, who works with him, were working on flooring. And wiring. An air compressor filled the air with near-eardrum-shattering noise, accompanied by the nail gun it was powering. Loudly powering. Nail guns aren’t exactly quiet either.
At that point, I’d been up for about 30 hours or more. Zombie time. I’m amazed at how one manages to function with such sleep deprivation and under such stress. So I sat at the computer; I tried to check on a few things. I was too brain-fried to write coherently. I could read only for short bursts of time.
In between those attempts to keep going, I talked to Tim as he discovered that wiring (probably the age of the house: 66) was crumbling in his hands as he attempted to wire a new motion light into the old wiring. I could hear the frustration in his voice; I wasn’t surprised at the state of the wiring, though.
One of the realities of growing up in the household of an electrician: he works on everyone else’s stuff, but not really on his own. I mean, for the first two years we lived in the house after we moved it and built on to it, a naked light bulb hung from the ceiling of the new half-bath. That’s not uncommon with some craftsman, as others have told me similar experiences.
And for years now, as long as things worked, Dad just didn’t care about improving or even repairing things. That’s typical, I think, with many people as they age. Things fall apart. But as long as they can still manage around those broken or damaged things, they do. In our house, as things fell apart or cracked, they were “fixed” with duct tape. The most recent example came when I pulled out the duct tape to take care of what had started with the linoleum between the kitchen and dining room: it was coming apart at the seams. Dad was tripping over the two curling pieces that should have been neatly glued into place. The duct tape would at least secure the pieces together and keep them flat. I too had succumbed to the duct-tape theory of construction.
Now, though, the new vinyl flooring will actually be glued properly onto the 1/2-inch plywood that covers the old linoleum. Proper thresholds will cover and protect the joins from one room to another.
Slowly, slowly, the house is finally being renovated and renewed, for the first time since the fall of 1966. My recent victories: convincing Dad that we really do need to spend the money on new carpeting in the kitchen. And we do need to rewire the house. Today my sister and I decided that we’d go one step further and put new floor covering in our bedrooms as well. In my case, I want the new vinyl flooring float-laid rather than glued (Tim told me this is an option). Kay wants the carpeting continued from the old living room/Dad’s new bedroom. Those three rooms have beautiful wood floors that one day we hope to have refinished and polyurethaned. They will be beautiful. Mother covered them up because for years she had to polish them with wax polish and a then a buffer. I remember how difficult and tedious that task was — because if she had to suffer, I did too, as young as I was. I was her helper, albeit a non-voluntary one.
The bones of the house are solid, and it’s the covering of the bones that we’re improving now. It’s fun, I’ll admit. I get to pick out new flooring coverings, consult with Dad and Kay. I am picking out carpet samples this afternoon and buying bathroom paint. I’ve decided that as long as my bedroom will be empty at some point for the new flooring, I might as well paint the walls. I’ve already got the paint, in fact, a lovely aqua.
If it seems selfish to make my bedroom nicer and to turn Dad’s old room into a sitting room/office/guest room, it’s because my new post-retirement life is being lived not in the house I own in Lake Charles, but in the one I spent my teenage years in. My Lake Charles home waits, mid-renovation, for its own time. I managed to get that house re-wired, finally, in January. It still had the original wiring in place and in use in its attic, and my house was built in the 1920s. Knob and tube wiring isn’t really up to code these days! Right after Hurricane Ike, I had major projects done — replaced the galvanized pipes with the modern PEX system. All the old/original windows (and there were lots of them, most of them long) were replaced with energy-efficient ones. The shiplap wood siding came off, actual insulation went up, and was covered by fiber-cement Hardie siding.
I still need to paint the new siding (which fortunately came primed). I still need to sheetrock the water-damaged walls of the living room, and replace some damaged sheetrock on the ceiling of my bedroom there. The bathroom ceiling needs to be replaced with bead-board paneling and a new ceiling light. The kitchen remains half-painted. The kitchen needs new flooring. Those projects in Lake Charles will get done, slowly, though after the Egan work is completed.
In finding Tim, I think I’ve found the contractor to help me complete those projects in Lake Charles, too, since it’s only a 45-minute drive away. He says he would be willing.
In the meantime, I get to indulge the inner decorator, the one who watches far too much HGTV. It’s fun, and I am, after all, spending Dad’s money (though frugally and wisely, I hope).
When he comes home from Southwind, it will be to a renewed, lovely (and safe) home that isn’t so totally different that he won’t recognize it. His trophy fish and the two deer heads will still decorate what was the living room and will be his bedroom. We need the Bambis, after all, to remind us of who we are and have been (my niece hates it when we call those heads “Bambi”). My brother and Dad had years of sharing a deer lease in West Texas, time they spent with cousins and each other. The two deer heads may appall some people, but not us. And by the way, I am a liberal who thinks hunting is necessary — we didn’t kill for the sake of killing. We eat venison. And fish. If Dad and Phil didn’t get any deer, in some ways that was okay, because they’d spent the time together. Phil sometimes just took his camera and photographed the area. The two deer heads even got decorated at Christmas, along with our Christmas tree. So those deer heads, and the fish, and the small antler collection in the room that was Phil’s, will remain. The many photographs of us kids as we grew up and of our family will still decorate walls and most flat surfaces.
Pluses for me: the satisfaction of overseeing the changes, of aiding the rebirth of this home. The fun of decorating. And the fun of living in the construction zone of a house that looks as though it’s the house of a hoarder. True, I get to indulge in making some room for myself to live in with an office space and some crafting space (in Phil’s old room, there is a huge old office desk he used to work on — perfect for my jewelry-making and for other crafts). Kay will have nice new carpeting in her bedroom and will get to enjoy real showers again, in either of two very nice showers and totally up-to-date bathrooms.
Most importantly, Kay and I get the satisfaction of having made the home safe and comfortable for Dad.
Only some superficial changes will be evident — not the bones of the house, not the home that still retains the memories we cherish. And the memories we’re creating now, in lives shared once more in the house that we once lived in together when all five of us were here.