Tamara Jorell

Writing life and the neighborhood

Writing life and the neighborhood

 

Improvements

Two weeks into our home ownership in 2002, curiosity nibbled at me like a mosquito at dusk in a Minnesota summer. What was underneath the beige carpeting in the bedroom? All the other rooms on the main level had nice wood floors—except for the kitchen, which was suffocated in a dated linoleum. But how could I rest if I didn’t know about the bedroom? And how could I know if I didn’t take a peek?

Bolstered by the expression “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission”, I waited for Husband to leave for work one day, and then I peeled up a corner of the bedroom’s carpeting, which flowed out into a tiny hallway. I knew it was all or nothing; if I started ripping up some of it, it would all have to go. So it all went, and then I stood back, assessing the scene.

The bedroom floor was paint-spattered, and the floor in the hallway was covered with old, brittle linoleum. I chipped away the linoleum to discover a wooden floor grate, gummed up with a black, sticky residue. But I was a visionary; it would be beautiful refinished! And I imagined it wouldn’t take too long. How hard could it be?

When Husband returned home from work, he was startled by the project I had unceremoniously taken on. And while he wasn’t happy, I had lit the proverbial fire under him, and it did get him moving. After lugging out the old carpeting—which I had left in the dining room in a pile instead of a roll—he borrowed a floor sander from my Uncle K. Suddenly, the floor project scaled up the mountain of priorities like a pro rock climber.

The refinishing job was more work than it appeared during my initial assessment. Before sanding, we needed to first remove, by hand, all the staples and nails that had secured the carpeting. Husband did the work in flip-flops, and when I mentioned his choice of footwear scared me, he brushed off my comment, saying I worried too much. Soon after, though, he swung the claw hammer to pry up a nail, but instead plunged it into his big toe. Once the bleeding stopped, the work continued right on course. He and I completed the sanding, applied three coats of polyurethane, and soon, the floors gleamed.

I sidled up to Husband with a coy smile. “Now aren’t you glad I gave you the nudge to do this?”

“Hm,” he said.

 

In 2008, after Larry Campbell kicked in our door, catapulting its lock mechanism across the living room, we decided we should probably replace it. And this time the door wouldn’t have a window in it to showcase the inside of our home to eager onlookers. Husband bought a new one—three times the weight of the previous one and inches bigger—from Siwek Lumber in northeast Minneapolis. He proudly showed me his choice, knocking on it to flaunt the strength of the solid oak, six-paneled beauty.  

I nodded. “Nice.” Then a thought hit me. “When you trim it down, you’re gonna cut the same amount off each side, right?”

Husband gave me that look. “Of course.”

Hanging a door seemed simple enough, but when one hangs a door in an almost century-old home, one quickly learns that nothing about that home is exact anymore—particularly the size and shape of the doorways.

In the garage, Husband made some adjustments to the door, then muscled it into the house to check the fit. Not quite right. He heaved it back out, made more adjustments, and then hauled it back in again. Still no. In and out. Out and in.

After about eight times of trying the door on for size, it slid perfectly into place. He attached the hinges, and then moved on to insert the door lock and handle. But the color drained from his face. He shot me a withering look, which I could tell was aimed at himself as much as at me.

I scrutinized the door. “Oh no…” I said, detecting the problem too.

Cutting evenly down both sides of the door had destroyed it. The door lock and handle plate didn't fit anymore. I cringed. Husband didn’t say a word. He humped the door back out to the garage, climbed into his truck, and drove off to Siwek’s for the second door purchase of the day.

 

Husband built the basement bathroom over the course of a few years. After the plumbing was roughed in, he plugged the hole—where the toilet would eventually sit—with an old rag. But one day, we discovered a putrid mess all over the bathroom floor. When the repairman came to assess the damage, he informed us that through the passage of time and build-up of gases, the rag had been sucked into our main drain sewer line, backing it up and causing the spill. We cleaned up the mess, and Husband stopped up the hole again with another rag. After the second Raw Sewage Fiasco of 2006, however, he learned a $2.00 rubber plug was all it would’ve taken to stanch the hole until he later installed the toilet.

Later, he hired a company to come in and do the mudding and taping—the bathroom’s project task he found the most daunting of all. In their broken English, the work crew teased Husband for not being brave enough to tackle it himself; it was easy, they said. He shrugged, smiled, and was happy to write them a check.

He completed the bathroom project in the spring of 2007 while I was away on a trip to London with Mom. When I returned home, Husband had me close my eyes. He led me down the stairs to his finished masterpiece. When I opened my eyes again, my hands flew to my mouth. It was my dream. Then he told me about the mistake.

“When I put in the heating mat under the tile, turns out I didn’t get it quite far enough that way.” He pointed out the problem area, shaking his head. “There, of all places.”

“It doesn’t matter.” I smiled, drinking in the details of the new room. He had installed the ceramic tile with precision and painted the walls the same color as the green bead in my favorite bracelet. Perfect. “The floor is toasty from where I’m standing.”

He frowned. “Well, it irritates me.”

“Who needs warm feet when they’re using the toilet?” I said. “And when people are done showering, they’re probably overheated anyway and don’t need to step out onto a warm floor.”

 

We’ve learned some home improvement lessons along the way, Husband and I. The mistakes have been funny or maddening, the process frustrating or exhilarating. Or sometimes the ordeal made my back ache. Like the time Husband, in a fit of paternal nesting, renovated the kitchen while I was pregnant, and every day for six weeks, my big belly and I had to bend over to wash the dishes in the bathtub.

But that’s a story for another time.

 

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

© 2014 Tamara Jorell. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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