TheEllWord

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Before
Painting by D. Wilder Schmaltz, May 2001
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After
Photograph of the same place, October 2019
"True love doesn't guarantee a happy ending, but a more engaging life."

A friend asked me why I went to all the trouble of scraping and repainting the front of our house and I surprised myself a little bit by responding with, "Love," but I couldn't honestly explain my effort in any other way. I feel a devotion to that place, a deep sense of stewardship that might not make any sense to anyone else, but which makes perfect sense to me. Over the nearly twenty years that The Muse and I have owned the place, it's taken up a great deal of space in my heart. I might, by all rights, hate the place by now. It can be overwhelmingly needy. It's proved me the fool so many times that I by all rights should be reduced to drooling my dinner down my shirtfront. Worse, we've lived away from it longer than we've lived IN it. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

It keeps calling me back.
We've thrown money down our very own rat hole, citing our sense of stewardship. Shortly after we occupied the place, we had to replace the sewer line, which meant that we also had to replace a retaining wall and adjoining sidewalk pavement. We later repaved the front entry walk, replacing the concrete front steps which had been wrong since some prior owner had rebuilt the front porch a few inches higher than the original. I took on the responsibility for refinishing the outside a decade ago, a project that might never end, but which I'd blown the first phase of. Last week I corrected that earlier error. The house has been teaching me how to care for it. Toward that end, it's been a patient if insistent friend. It's allowed me to practice on it but has never conspired to present the results as anything other than what they were, blemishes, bungles, and all.

I've now scraped to bare wood almost every square inch of the exterior siding, replaced all the window framing boards, and removed and refurbished all but one of the original wooden double hung windows. I've spent weeks of my life sitting on scaffolding scraping away inherited sins accumulated from a now one hundred and ten year past, adding a few innocent trespasses myself. The south side of the place had silicon caulk smeared all over weathered siding boards. I teased out that mess with a hand-held heat gun then sanded back to solid wood while trying to avoid electrocuting myself with the wires snaking through the top of the scaffolding. Family helped, like a genuine old-fashioned barn raising, as I chased my little obsession. True love is indistinguishable from genuine obsession.

There was that black moldy back bathroom, stripped to studs and rebuilt. The kitchen and adjacent bath where even some of the studs needed replacing, utterly re-conceived. The teetering back deck, rebuilt for the ages now. The HVAC system redesigned, not to mention the gold-plated roof replacement, where four layers were removed, then new sheathing, fresh roofing, and gutters installed. The deck above the front porch lost its rotting railing and was sealed within a new waterproof covering. Most of that work we contracted for completion, necessary major surgeries. The place has been one demanding mistress, but I guess I still love her.

We still have windows to replace and floors to refinish and, and, and, … . I expect to never fully satisfy the expectations, as each resolution just seems to spark another fresh urgent need. The washing machine was on the fritz last week, or maybe it was the plumbing backing up into the washer. The plumber was out twice trying to resolve the mystery. Love is always filled with mystery, with strange attractors only partially explaining the physics of its presence. Like with love, though, this place holds the space where gravity just seems to work right, the epicenter of The Muse's and my life. Though we've been exiled from it for over a decade now, it still seems to recognize our presence hovering (always hovering) nearby. True love doesn't guarantee a happy ending, but a more engaging life.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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