“You should have a relative come stay more often—look at all you’ve gotten done!” Allison grinned.
We were in the downstairs hallway of the house I am trying to get open as a bed and breakfast on Market Street. Like many big, long-term projects, it had hit a bit of malaise—and possibly mission creep. Then Aunt Betty announced she wanted to visit. So the panic of getting a house ready for a family visit—all-too familiar to most people—set in for us, but with a twist.
I still had to get a toilet and sink reinstalled so she could have a bathroom to use during her stay. My tile guru, Jon Stafford, needed to regrout the floor of the bathroom and tile the walls behind them. The sink is cast iron and it took two grown men to lift it. So it was a bit more than getting the den picked up and the front porch swept. Preparatory to all of this is an event I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined.
Picture a nice lunch at Folks Café. Jock is there with his volunteers, John Wolfe and I join them at the big table. Jock recounts for us a morning spent perfecting valves on water pumps.
“Well, John and I had a very special day today,” I finally offered.
“Oh? What did you do?”
“We bought four toilets.”
And so we recounted the moment of realization that purchasing four toilets should lead qualify for a bulk discount. There are three leaky toilets upstairs at the Market Street house that need to be replaced and one downstairs—which makes four. I finished with the line guaranteed to make Jock roll his eyes: “So we were going to need them anyway; it just makes sense to buy them now at a cheaper price.”
“So where are you storing four toilets?”
I pleaded the Fifth as my Constitutional right.
Last week the first of those toilets got installed (and moved out of the front hallway—it was immediately replaced by a desk from the library). I emailed Aunt Betty that we had a sink and a toilet for her to use and looked forward to her arrival.
But, also, there were the sweet good intentions of Aunt Betty to consider. She insisted she was coming to help with the renovation project. Now, I am experienced enough in the world to understand the real reason she wanted to visit with one of her two nieces would be to sit on the beach. However, if we didn’t do anything house-related while she is here, she would feel like I am not taking her kind offer seriously.
“I can’t let her on a ladder,” I noted to Rachel.
“No, absolutely not.” Rachel shook her head vigorously in agreement.
Through an incredibly odd twist of fate, Rachel, who now works at the bookstore, grew up in Kirksville, Missouri—the Hamlet, NC, of Northwestern Missouri where my Aunt Betty teaches. It is a small world. So Rachel understands the fragile world of the aging aunt with a big heart. We spent about 20 minutes brainstorming possible house projects Aunt Betty could work on with me in a “very non-injury potential and non-Gwenyfar heart-attack inducing” way. Finally, Rachel hit on it: the cleaning and reshelving process in the library.
About half of the books in my parents’ home library are in stacks around the house right now, in order to make it possible to address the leaky mess that hit the ceiling from the bathroom above (the previously mentioned bathroom Jon has been regrouting). Every single one of them must be cleaned inside and out, and re-shelved before the second half of the library is unloaded, the plaster repaired, shelves painted, and then the books cleaned and re-shelved. Then I can refinish the floors.
So I have been on a frantic tear to have a place for Aunt Betty to sleep, a bathroom for her to use and a project we can work on together that has legitimate meaning. I am two days away from having the plaster repair work in the library finished, the molding re-hung and the walls and shelves painted. I can barely put into words the sense of amazement we might actually have a room finished and reassembled by the beginning of June. (Don’t worry; there are still plenty of books, boxes and furniture pieces that will clunk up other parts of the house while we are working and waiting.)
In the meantime, it became apparent I needed one project to finish with the house—just one, for some semblance of accomplishment. I mean, really; I have three bathrooms going through different degrees of work and usability right now, the inside and outside paint in various stages scraped, and the entire house covered in an ever-increasing layer of construction dust (it doesn’t matter how often I clean, the stuff just shows up). I need something to mark off the list.
So, with a little help from Allison and John, I finally built the outside life-sized chess board I have been planning to install in the backyard for five years. A few weeks ago, I broached the subject of the actual chess pieces with Jock. I mean, I live with one of the most brilliant design minds of the age, so it would be foolish not to utilize him, right? We spent a couple of days putting together ideas and pricing materials. After reviewing the possibilities, Jock finally advised me, given the amount of time I had available and cost of materials, that honestly I should probably order a chess set rather than build one myself. It would be more cost-effective.
I have to admit: Initially, I checked his forehead for a fever. It is the antithesis of Jock Brandis’ philosophy. But I conceded, and earlier last week the boxes arrived, kicking off a fabulous day for John and I to build and assemble the pieces, and play our first game of life-sized chess.
It is a completely different game than looking down on the board. Really. It shifts perspective. And that’s what I needed. I needed the shift of feeling like I had one thing finished.
I marked it off the list.
It also meant Aunt Betty and I could play a game together. A little while ago I heard myself say aloud, “Do you have any idea how much time and effort I put into the Scrabble board, and I haven’t even played a game of Scrabble yet?” Well, I’m not going to make that mistake with the chess board—or with my family—failing to enjoy and appreciate them.