As a young wife and new mother, I relished owning a home. Of course, it would take time for my husband to fix up the disabled house. So I cared for it and my daughter with patience. But, peering down through a basketball-size hole in our bathroom, through to the kitchen below and into our cellar, I wondered how long the repairs would take. When our baby began toddling, looking through floors lost its novelty.
After years of leading children tip toeing around and over projects in our second handyman's special, I stopped asking God to allow me to live in a home with no construction dust, and floors you didn't have to investigate before walking on. That's when the novelty returned, and with it grew humor.
My daughter drove me home after an autumn trip to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair. My son and his girlfriend were in the back seats. They all decided to come inside to say hello to Joe.
Joe was the fun parent, continuing to make all kinds of messes in the house that rivaled theirs when they were children. His projects didn't bother them as they grew up amongst the powdery layer of spackle dust and drywall residue. Sometimes it still unsettles their fastidious mother, though. To cope, I pretend I'm one of the Israelites on their forty year trek through dessert wilderness. After thirty-three years of marriage to Moses Joe, I only have seven more years to the promised dream home.
The four of us climbed the front steps to the house. We crowded in the doorway not going inside because of the familiar, heavy odor of fresh floor stain. A darker area of the floor where the welcome mat use to be was our second caution. We froze with the storm door half closed at our backs and the heavy wooden door swung open in front.
My daughter, the first in line, made a quick scan of the sun porch. Her attention stopped at a small area carpet on one side of the enclosed room. The rest of us followed her as she lunged into the dry section of porch. She steadied me as we all stood, huddled together, not knowing where else to step.
Joe yelled through the inside window, as he hugged a wall. "Would you mind going back outside and coming through the basement door?"
Our grown kids nodded with smiles of remembrance, along with my son's laughing girlfriend. As we vaulted back out the front door, I picked up on my children's nostalgia. They still didn't mind adjusting to inconveniences in their childhood home that changed with each new project. We trotted around to the side entrance of the house to greet Joe. He was taking a breather in the kitchen and asked about our day at the fair.
Access to the bathroom was cut off by drying stain, so our need for a restroom after the long ride encouraged us to perform another feat. We had become very good at balancing while taking care of functional necessities on the basement commode. It perched on a narrow, elevated slab like a true throne, three feet below the rafters. Joe installed this when he had worked on the floor in our upstairs, and only, bathroom.
At the fair, tightrope walkers and trapeze artists caused me to bite my nails as I had watched in horror, worried for their safety. Coming home to our private antics proved more entertaining because we weren't spectators.
As Joe prepares to ceramic tile the kitchen floor, I'm bracing myself to wash dishes in our bathtub. Rotation of rooms will include the kitchen moved into the dining room. The dining room will shift to the living room, among the few pieces of furniture we can own with the lengthy and constant changes to our living areas.
I'm trying to figure out how I'll cook in the dining room on a gas range that needs a hook up from the kitchen. Our last house had the gas stove in an attached shed that I accessed from outside. This is where I had cooked while the rest of the room aged into a finished space, just in time for us to pack up and move our growing family here.
That first house was where I experienced dish washing in a second floor bathtub. I was thinner then. Maybe Joe's present project plan will shed pounds from this middle-aged frame. With extra trips up and down stairs to wash dirty dishes and bring them back down clean, I should burn oodles of calories.
These discomforts have tripped fun creativity in my traditional thinking. The daily circus Joe involved our children and myself in united us as a family. We have become the Synchronized Flying Von Byrne Family that swings with difficulties and remain flexible when life throws us for a loop.
Our three-year-old granddaughter is quick to point to and comment on work "Pop" has done when she visits. She typically walks in, scouting rooms for changes. This is the child of my child whom I had feared falling through a multi-floor opening into the cellar of our first home. Hovering over my granddaughter as she travels from room to room, I try to prevent splinter, falls through flimsy window screens and fingers from exploring exposed outlets.
Then it hit me: not one of us were ever hurt living in our work-in-progress homes. I've heard that one eats a pound of dirt in a lifetime. With our family, it's probably powdered spackle mixed with saw dust. My daughter told me she doesn't remember much sickness in our large family while growing up. It's bizarre, but she's right. And we never had to made a trip to the emergency room.
Another generation traipses our dusty house of humor, learning to walk and where not to wander without falling through holes in our imperfect life.