Rendered Fat Content


Jan Steen: Soo voer gesongen, soo na gepepen ["As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young"] (c.1668–1670)
"When I vacuum Fairy Dust, much of its magic remains."

Refurbishing a hundred plus year old home immerses me in The Great Mystery. We know bare details about who built this place and almost nothing about who remodeled it over time and why. Motive seems particularly unclear where original intent seems to have been circumvented with little apparent benefit. Why narrow doorways and trim? Why Georgian crown moulding in an Arts and Craft room? We think the less of whomever undertook these efforts and set about attempting to undo them, presuming that we somehow better understand the original owner's intentions, though we certainly have no clue what they thought they were doing. Building this home must have been an enormous undertaking. Certain shortcuts were most probably taken. We're taking a few ourselves.

One piece of one of the venerable double hung windows had gotten wet, swollen, and needs replacement.
The piece was designed for easy removal. It's just slipped into a gap in the jam, but the man at the hardware store points out that nobody makes stock pieces like that anymore. Mouldings are fabricated much narrower and nobody builds double hungs from scratch anymore. I'll have to fabricate a replacement. Kurt says that he has a friend who will probably jump at the chance to duplicate that piece. "He probably won't accept payment, either. That's just the way he is." Well, under those conditions, given that there's no millwork shop left in this valley, we'll just have to take advantage of Kurt's friend's weakness. Ten thousand similar stories frame this old place but most have been lost.

I think we need a homeowner genealogy website where one can reference who lived in a place during certain dates. We can place some of the prior remodeling in space and time by considering the materials involved. Certain colors were only used during a narrow set of dates. The electrocuted green which graces doors in the basement could not be original to the place, electricity not common then and psychedelic still a half century hence. Who must have wallpapered those stairs? Who narrowed the entry door's lapels? Who installed this carpet and when? Beneath the stuff, a thick layer of dust greets me as I tug away the layers of time above it. I've dubbed it Fairy Dust and consider it magic, though I work hard to avoid breathing it. I imagine that it might carry hibernating viruses and toxins, and I'm probably not wrong.

By the end of each work day, I'm covered with a fresh layer of history. It gets into my hair and seemingly beneath my skin. I hose myself off knowing that tomorrow will produce the same Haunting again. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust doesn't seem to consider that ashes and dust don't just go away. They stay, however much one might wish they'd just go away. It's evident that at some point a fire scorched this attic. Maybe one day, fire department records and old newspaper accounts will become searchable on the web and we'll be able to ascribe a date to that event, perhaps even the name of the homeowner at the time. The history happened but the haunting continues. It represents the great mystery which nobody ever very reliably resolves. I'm signing my name on the backs of boards and the bottoms of doors I've refinished because I want to leave explicit mention of this refurbishing and my humble role in it. When we redid the kitchen, I left stories in the walls and a copy of my book. When I vacuum Fairy Dust, much of its magic remains.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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