Something there is that loves a wall

After a morning’s work of seeing patients in the office and several hours editing a manuscript previously accepted for publication, I decided I needed to take a break.

I reached for my heavy winter jacket and stocking cap and stepped outside into the cold. It was a short walk down the street to the old house that my daughter and son-in-law recently purchased.

I could hear muffled buzzing as I approached the front walk. It became appreciably louder when I opened the door to the kitchen and stepped inside.

Remnants of past snacks covered the table. Cleaned paint brushes lay in the dish drainer on the old cast iron sink. A cache of paint cans, scrapers and stirring sticks hovered in the corner by the refrigerator.

I pushed the door to the dining room open and stuck my head in to admire the freshly finished oak floors and maroon walls trimmed in white. Lace curtains hung at the windows. Newly painted cast iron radiators guarded the far corners.

I retraced my steps to the bottom of the stairs and ascended the chocolate-brown steps to the second floor landing. The door to the master bedroom stood open a crack. The buzzing sound rose to a deafening crescendo as I eased it open.

The room was fogged with grey dust. I could make out the forms of two young women—my grown up daughters—on step stools, masks in place over their noses and mouths, as they passed handheld sanders back and forth across freshly spackled walls. A thick coat of dust covered the floor.

Neither one heard me enter over the roar of the sanders. I stood still for a minute or two before my youngest daughter saw me. She turned off her sander and stepped down from the stool.

“Hey, Dad. What’s up?”

My married daughter turned off her sander and raised her mask. “We didn’t hear you come in.”

“I guess not. Those sanders make quite a racket. Looks like things are coming along.” I rubbed my hand over the smooth surface of the wall. “Have you decided what to do with the ceiling yet?”

“We bought some textured wallpaper for it. It should look nice when it’s done.”

“You’ll have to seal and size it beforehand. I can give you a hand when you’re ready.”

“Did you see the bathroom? It’s gutted. The plumber was here yesterday to replace the pipes.”

I walked across the dusty floor and stuck my head into the bathroom. You could see knob-and-tube wiring running between the bare studs above the bathtub. Strips of old lathe were visible where part of the plaster had been broken away during the demolition.

“It’s a shame you didn’t give Norm Abram a call before you started. He and his crew could have made a segment for ‘This Old House’.”

“You can see the new drainage pipes in the pantry downstairs.”

“I did. It looks like he did a good job. Well, I’ll let you get back to work. Let me know when you want to start in on the ceiling.”

“We will. Thanks, Dad.”

I turned to go, then stopped at the doorway. “You guys are doing a good job. Redoing an old house is a lot of work, but it makes you appreciate what you’ve got. You invest more than just your money and your time. You put some of your soul in it, too.”

I remember when they were little girls, sharing a bedroom in our old house. As they grew up, at some point each one of them decided to personalize the walls that I had worked so hard to restore. Some of the remnants of their redecorating were still visible. Now here they were, the two of them, working to beautify the walls of another old house.

Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” notwithstanding, something there is that loves a wall after all—particularly old plaster ones.


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