And the walls came tumbling down

  • Tuesday, September 25, 2012

And the walls came tumbling down
Let’s recap. A couple of weeks ago I leapt screaming from the tub as the house crashed down around our ears. Only it wasn’t the whole house, just one load-bearing wall. A heavy family portrait fell when the wall it was attached to suddenly bulged outward. The portrait ricocheted off a bookcase, cut a flip and hit the floor. I was sobbing and shards of glass glittered everywhere. Widdle looked at the wall, stepped back and said the curse: “More renovations.”
The cracked wall stayed in that condition for approximately two months. That’s right, the one wall everyone who enters the house is sure to see, and it was an eyesore for nine weeks. Now you know why we seldom entertain.
Finally, Widdle’s workmen were ready to start. They laid down plastic tarps, tore the wall out and said, “Wow. What do you want us to do with this chimney flue?” I flew to see the flue, made of antique brick. “Tear it out and save the bricks,” Widdle said, and they did.
For three days, I could not enter my bedroom or bathroom without stepping over two men, tarps, dust and piles of brick. I don’t know about you, but I hit the loo about 20 times a day to brush my teeth, moisturize, put in contacts, replace soap and TP, bathe, clip my toenails, etc. etc. I go in my bedroom more often than that. The whole situation chafed my nerves, and I’m sure my constant, tip-toeing presence chafed theirs as well.
Finally the bricks were out and the wall was done, with a charming alcove where the flue used to be. I was thrilled. Then Widdle said, “The painter can’t come for another week,” and I was not as thrilled. But I hate empty space, so I went ahead and filled the alcove shelves with books, art and candles. The next night Widdle said, “Good news! The painter can start tomorrow.” I removed the books, art and candles.
Then came Clem, the Dalai Lama of painters. He was a wiry guy in his 60s. His task: Paint the alcove, the bathroom and the hallway walls. (He’d previously painted the exterior of the river shack for Widdle.)
Clem worked alone, arriving quietly by 8 a.m. and departing at 3:30 p.m. He did not stop for lunch, play a radio, or talk on his cell phone. He declined all offers of food and drink.
What he did, was paint. Hour after hour, calmly, with great precision and care, he painted. I never saw him use a roller. He didn’t use painters’ tape. “Never needed it,” he said softly.
Clem covered the massive breakfront that couldn’t be moved, laid down tarps and, when his day was done, swept and cleaned until we could have eaten off the floor.
His presence was so calming, I relaxed when he was around. Most people know that “relaxed” is not my normal state, which tells you how mellow Clem was. He was so quiet I started talking to him, and I don’t talk to strangers who happen to be up in my house.
I learned that his son was a chef in California, and his wife is a practicing herbalist. He showed me a photo of his beloved Chihuahua. We talked about global warming and living in the boondocks.
Then, after three-and-a-half days, he was done. He folded up his tarps, cleaned up one last time and vanished.
Now I actually miss the calmness that was Clem. Don’t tell Widdle, but I think the den needs painting, too.
Julie R. Smith, who savors serenity anywhere she can find it, can be reached at widdleswife@aol.com.

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