(from my diary)
There’s This Old House on TV and then there’s this old house. Built in 1929 by an English Architect by the name of Spurgeon, it has more leaded glass windows than any other building in Victoria except Craigdarroch Castle. Two outer doors and four inner doors are leaded glass. Except, I’ve discovered, the lead in the doors isn’t lead but zinc.
There are fifteen other doors, all of which need to be stripped. The saving grace is that the previous owners used latex over varnish. When I scrape with a putty knife, the latex comes away in flakes and sheets, except, of course, in the rough spots. In the rough spots, it clings with fierce determination. My goal was to lift the paint while preserving the fine underlying finish. The result is that I now have piebald doors.
I’ve had better luck with the stairs to the second floor. Over the winter, on evenings when I was feeling bored or lonely, I’d sit and scrape away paint. I managed to get both the steps and the baseboard partly done. Who knows how long this job would have taken but for my son and his wife returning from four years in California. They’d gone to San Diego so he could get a Master’s degree in kinetic sculpture and since there are no ads in the Globe and Mail pleading for kinetic sculptors to make themselves known, his wife’s taken a job at the University and he’s fixing things around the house.
It’s amazing the skills you acquire building sculptures that move. The first thing he fixed was the microwave. It had taken on a life of its own, giving itself instructions. I’d punch the keys, it would whir into life, then abruptly shift to doing some unasked task. It had even wakened me at night with its beeping and I’ve rushed downstairs more than once to see it humming away. I’d taken to leaving a glass of water in it but finally, in desperation, unplugged it. It’s glowing eye faded to black.
I hate to admit it but I missed my microwave. When the kids went together and gave me this microwave one Christmas, I shook my head in disbelief. I’ve got a stove, I said, what would I use a microwave for?
Now, with this white box crouched cold and lifeless in the corner, I had to heat up soup in a pot. I’d forgotten what it was like to have to wash pots. I phoned the Bay and the repairman said it would cost so much to fix that I might as well throw the microwave out. Reluctantly, I put it on the washing machine at the back door, ready to toss it onto the garbage truck. When I got home my son had it dismantled and was checking the circuit board. I kept expecting something terrible to happen, like a nuclear explosion or our all becoming instant boiled eggs but when he reassembled it, it obediently obeyed our commands.
He then drilled a hole in the floor and moved the TV to the corner I’d been meaning to move it to for years. He replaced the faucet assembly on the kitchen sink. He dismantelled the downstairs toilet, taking it right down to the lead lining in the floor, then reassembled everything so it worked again.
It was after that that he tackled the stairs. He waited, of course, until I was off to Iceland. He knew I’d be gone long enough for the job to be completed. He ripped off the modern carpet I’d had put down six years ago (it has to be replaced by an Axminster style runner and brass rods) stripped the paint off the stairs and the baseboards, experimented with some stain until he was certain that oak color was right for the stairs and Jacobean was right for the baseboards. Then he sanded and stained and varathaned until the stairs have a fine luster to them.
We haven’t got to the doors yet. I was going to get them dipped but when you multiply the number of doors by the eighty dollars, the sum is substantial. Instead we’ll do it outside to protect ourselves from the fumes. We’ll lay the doors on sawhorses and gently strip away the paint. Then my son will take the job in hand, sanding and staining and shellacking until Spurgeon, wherever he is, will nod with approval of this younger generation who think there’s nothing wrong with being able to do a bit of everything.