" …shortcomings prominently displayed."

I started this project more than a decade ago. I might complete it this month. As old house projects go, this one's in no way exceptional. Every old house holds more than a single owner's lifetime of necessary maintenance and aspired after improvements. The queue of undone work remains essentially fixed, as new necessities and aspirations easily replace any completion. In our time in The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, I've removed (or had removed) all but two windows, repairing and reglazing the many double hungs. These, to my mind, are real windows. Supported by sash cord, openable both top and bottom, easily as old as the house and still in remarkably good shape.

Everyone who sees them says the same thing, that we really should replace them all with modern double-glazed and fit storm windows over the outside, like we should grow up and face the future unafraid of utterly defacing the place.
The Muse tells me it's a thousand buck a hole to upgrade to modern windows without the sash cord and fine brass fittings. We only have seventeen of them. The final three I have not yet completed after more than a decade of intermittent effort represent more than just a means of peeking out into the yard to me. They seem like portals into a curious part of myself.

When I tore out the first one, I probably did more damage than good. It had been fitted with aluminum tracks and I could not figure out how to remove the window without utterly destroying those tracks, so I utterly destroyed the tracks. This rendered that window leakier than it had been, but it fit securely back into the spaces provided. With fresh sash cord and painted outside face, it seemed perhaps better than new. I'd primed the inside, but the long-delayed kitchen refurbish had not yet selected an inside color. After stripping the frame to bare wood. I had no stomach for an interim internal coat, so that window's hung there painted prime white inside since. Likewise the window in the little bathroom. I'd torn off the exterior face panels, replacing them with finer hemlock, when I stripped and repainted the home's exterior. I stripped that window frame to bare wood, chiseled out the old grout, breaking one pane in the process. The frames were easier to refinish without the glass, anyway.

I'd either pop the glass when chiseling out old grout or inadvertently drop a tool through it while stripping off old paint. I became good friends with Jim The Glass Man as I left a succession of bare frames for him to reglaze. His putty work looks a lot better than mine.

With this current massive kitchen remodeling, I finally hold the opportunity to complete work on these final three windows. Yesterday, I finished painting the little bathroom window, it having been removed to facilitate moving materials without tromping through the newly refinished wood kitchen floor. I'd very nearly finished scraping before I started this time, having left the job almost completed the last time I'd removed the danged thing. The Muse slapped two new coats on the exterior while I fussed over a door. I was left to reprime and finish coat the sash insides. It amounted to little actual work, with more watching paint dry than actual painting. I finished the second coat about a half hour before a rain shower overtook me. I rushed those sashes into an already over-stuffed garage where they'll rest overnight. I'll stash 'em in the basement until after the little bathroom work's completed, creating yet another sub-queue of partially finished work. Nothing in the old place ever seems to get to a hundred percent done.

Two more windows await removal. Perhaps tomorrow. Of course, the internal trim also needs fabricating, painting, and installing, and those tasks fall rather further down the priority list than I'd prefer. What, I reflect, will it mean when these final three windows are "done." Will a clumsy teen break one of the panes, like someone managed to do on the impossibly inaccessible little window in the guest bathroom upstairs? Done won't prove to be an inviolable state but a transitory one, for everything in every old house seems eternally traveling between being done and needing attention again. A little putty and a secret squirt of Superglue® merely defers the next intrusion.

Do I dare feel proud of my impending accomplishment or should I hang my head in long-maintained shame? I'd envisioned a process where I popped out the windows, refinished them, then simply popped them back in again, but much interrupted that smooth progression. I could blame my own poor planning or mechanical ineptness, but I see little to be gained from any recrimination. Like the old house, I'm eternally somewhere between needing fixing and temporarily done. Completing anything hardly calls for resting upon any bed of laurel, though the laurel bush next to the driveway does seem to need pruning. I'll get to that another day.

The PBS series This Old House fundamentally misrepresents the experience of fixing up an old house. No army of skilled craftsmen ever show up to complete the job a hundred percent. Glaring shortcomings remain after any improvement. Every improvement leaves behind some mess some future owners will be called to undo, and in attempting to undo, will leave their own shortcomings prominently displayed. Thus is life.

Should the rain abate and my stamina somehow sustain itself, I'll see the end of my obligation to these last three windows before we return back to ordinary times. I know these sashes. I ordered a hank of real cotton cord to replace that hastily fabricated clothesline cord I'd substituted in a rush to reinstall that one kitchen window. Replacing it won't mean anything to anybody but me. It will mean that I'd fulfilled another in an infinite line of obligations I'd somehow sworn to satisfy as a condition of agreeing to steward this old place into the future.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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