Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

It’s How You Push the Rock That Matters

I’ve been remodeling a bedroom in our house. It’s in a turret on the second floor. It’s my son’s bedroom, and was my other son’s bedroom before that. It makes an excellent defilade position for covering any invasions from up or down the street. The topic doesn’t come up all that often, though.

The ceiling was spangled with brown blobby spots from the ghost of roof leaks past. There was an abandoned light fixture in the middle of the ceiling, formerly serviced by the original knob and tube wiring, which has long since gone the way of congressional probity. The walls are still wallpapered from a century ago. They’ve been painted over numerous times, so I left it in place. The floor is all marked up from a million kid feets, but it’s plenty solid. The windows and doors had a spartan head casing made from two plain, square blocks in the corners, with a flat casing in between. I yanked them off and fabricated a four-piece head casing out of lumber yard pine.

The walls were dirty off-white and spidered with cracks from the house settling. I beefed them all up with quick-setting drywall compound and paper reinforcing tape. The ceiling cracks got the same, and it looks vaguely flat and smooth again. I had to hit the brown spots with two coats of shellac primer, and one of Kilz oil-base primer, to get the stains to finally shut up. Water filtered through a hundred-and ten-year-old attic gets evil indeed.

The ceiling is now spanking white. The walls are — well, I don’t know what they are. I mixed all the odds and ends of paint in the basement together to make a sickly blue and then squirted in some raw umber and raw sienna and got that green. The doors and the floors are orange-y colored and complement it nicely.

We’ll touch up the scrapes in the floor with some yellowish dye I made for some tables a decade or so ago, and put a coat or two of clear gloss varnish over the floor, because I’ve been looking at the can on the shelf for twenty-five years and I’m getting tired of it.

I made that dresser about twenty five years ago for my older son, and now his little brother stows his rags and bones and feathers in it. It’s made of curly birch, a wood that’s as hard as Chinese arithmetic. I don’t really remember making it, exactly, but I remember distinctly that after I ran a drawer front through a shaper that the edge of the board was so sharp that it cut my hand like a razor. I used to make six of those shelves at a time about thirty years ago, and still have a few of them kicking around. They were probably the first woodworking projects I ever tried.

While I was working in the room, I was in a dreamlike state. I went back in time, like paddling up a stream, past the hundreds and hundreds of rooms just like it I’ve painted or banged nails in or whatever. It was all so familiar that it started to feel strange to do it again. The restoration of rooms like this one feels ephemeral at this point, and nearly useless to anyone but me. People do not value what is in my head or hand or heart the way I do.

Sisyphus is cursed to push a rock up a hill every day, and every night it rolls back to the bottom. But no one much understands Sisyphus. We’re all cursed to push the rock of life up a hill we can never surmount. It’s how you push the rock that matters.

4 Responses

  1. As to the floor varnish: It’s always a treat to say “I’m finally going to use this up!” and then realize you’ve got enough to do about 80% of the job. That’s when you end up with those little Minwax cans and paint thinner. The thing about floors is you’ve got to have too much when you start so you can have some to throw away when you’re done.

  2. Would you and your son like to come to MT to help stabilize a 1960 homemade cabin? It’s a great vacation spot!

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