I came to know Wendell Berry at the wrong time in my life. My husband and I, with three children in tow, had just barely ... Read More
I’ve had three weeks of much needed time off the road – eating my own food, sleeping in my own bed, working a normal 9 hour work day and wrapping up at the end of it to play with my kids, watch a movie, and even read a book together on our back porch–it’s been restorative.
And speaking of restoration, I’ve also spent any spare time resuming projects around the house that Taya has been patiently waiting for me to get to for the last three years, including restoring the 100 year old crown molding – the strips of wood that line the edges of our ceiling. The previous owners had carelessly painted over it’s amber beauty with the same lime green as they used on the plaster of the walls throughout the house, but after repainting the walls we committed ourselves to stripping the paint – and whatever else lay beneath it–in an attempt to restore the 100 year old maple to its original beauty.
As with all projects of this kind, there’s always more involved than you bargain for, and many, many hours (and dollars) later, you start to wonder if it’s all worth it. But today, as I put on the last coat of varnish, I was filled with a quiet sense of gratitude and satisfaction.
Yes, I know it may have been easier to just go and buy new, cheap moulding to stain and tack up along the upper edge of our ceilings, but it was gratifying to stay true to the creational integrity of this old house. And more than that, it was so rewarding to redeem these beautiful lengths of maple that bore the marks of careless marring over it’s lifetime–scuffs, impressions left by poorly aimed hammer strikes, and finally its distinctive beauty erased by a garish lime green paint. There was still beauty and life in the wood – it just needed someone to see through the scars and abuse to call it out. We hope for no less than this for ourselves. But restoration is never easy, and costs the restorer at least as much as the restoree.
The process goes like this: it begins with a chemical that not only melts the paint, but would melt your eyelashes if you get too close, not to mention burn your skin. After loosening the paint (and leaving red welts wherever it made contact with our skin), we scrape it all off with a special contoured scraper, only it doesn’t all come off in the first round and actually combines with the old varnish to stick to the wood with an even fiercer vengeance. I can’t sufficiently describe how unpleasant this process is. But several coats of this chemical and many days later, we get it to a place where we can sand the last remnants of varnish out of the wood, encouraged as hints emerge of what this piece of maple was like when it was first shaped a hundred years ago. Underneath all the muck, you find it’s quite a fresh looking and beautiful piece of wood even after all this time. I could never hope to look so good when I’m 100.
The damage finally undone, you set about to finding the right color stain that will match it to the rest of the woodwork in the house. After several misguided attempts, you find a combination of stains that approximates whatever they used a century ago that no longer exists, and you lovingly stain, resand, stain a second time, lightly sand again, and finally put the last coat on over the course of three or more days. The new stain and varnish calls the grains to rise to the surface, the lighter spots to deepen, as the maple shimmers and comes to life, looking like it carries deep within it a mysterious fire. And when you’re finished, it’s such a little piece of wood, but the way it frames a room is always surprisingly beautiful. The room wouldn’t be complete without it.
Oh little piece of maple, did you ever dream that you could be so beautiful again? As your skin burned and my hand was heavy upon you, scraping and sanding the damage away, did you ever fear that I meant you harm? After the years of scuffs and scrapes and the layers of lime green muck that others contrived to put on you in careless reinventions that caused you to doubt and nearly lose your very identity, did you ever think you could be so new once more? If all this can happen for such as your kind, is it possible that I might yet be restored, too?