Carlos finished the new baseboards after seven Thursday evening: the finishing touch. We felt as exhausted as he must have been by then. Done. Our six-week project was done. We could leave the house without worry about workmen arriving or leaving or having questions we had to answer. We wouldn’t have to rush through breakfast before they arrived. We wouldn’t have to cancel appointments while waiting for them to show up two hours late without calling. (I’m looking at you, floor finishers.)
For the next few days I gazed at this pristine space, so open and airy, freshly painted new walls and ceilings, new light fixtures, the smell of polyurethane fading—a new room in our old house. It was perfect. No furniture allowed on the floors for ten days and our movers were coming Sunday, ten days after the last coat. Friday and Saturday, I cleaned, began dismantling our temporary abode downstairs, scraped paint off the floors. Is there a better way to get paint specks off newly finished wood floors than with thumbnails?
The bathroom we were moving back into was a disaster. Demolition crew, drywallers and painters used that bathroom sink and tub. Floor sanders stored their equipment there. Twelve sheets of drywall came in through that bathroom window. The ancient window was more or less fit back into its rotting frame afterwards.
Carlos wasn’t worried about it: he knew we were getting new windows. He didn’t know how backlogged custom windows like ours would be. Still, I wouldn’t have missed that sight, tiptoeing through plaster dust and debris to see Carlos crouched within the second-story window frame, half in, half out of the house, waiting for the guy on the ladder to hoist the next sheet of drywall.
I spent most of Friday and Saturday cleaning that bathroom, scooping sawdust and plaster and paint out of the sink and tub, running liquid plumber repeatedly down the drain, washing walls and floors, setting sink and tub to soak in bleach water, tattering a pair of rubber gloves. Twelve sheets of drywall came in through the bathroom window.
We counted three more nights in our downstairs camp; two more; one more. Sunday morning I began moving into the shiny clean bathroom upstairs. We stripped the loveseat that converts to a double bed, folded it up at last. Double beds are not wide enough for two people. We are to be congratulated for surviving six weeks on one without getting a divorce. All that was done and breakfast too, when our movers called to cancel.
Here’s another thing about being old: you can no longer carry a bed or a chest of drawers upstairs or down the hall or anywhere for that matter. And it was Super Bowl Sunday. Fat chance of finding replacements. We’ll manage somehow, Phil said. Not one more night down there. Not one more night, I repeated, a rousing battle cry.
We did what we could, then prevailed shamelessly on our strong young neighbors, who schlepped the bed and nightstands for us, so we indeed had our first night back in our otherwise unfurnished old/new bedroom.
The room was strange, still sounded hollow. The bed felt enormous, the window light different. Getting up in the night, I headed east, for the downstairs bath, before remembering where I was. Transitions are upsetting. People say transitions are difficult for babies, but I tell you, they are not easy for old folks either.
Moving in is harder than moving out. Two young men moved all the furniture in less than two hours. We threw clothes and toiletries into boxes and lived mostly out of boxes for six weeks. Returning, we have questions: why are we keeping this? What is this thing? While bare for once in their lives, shelves have to be cleaned before anything can be put back on them. Some items are mysteriously missing and may never be found.
Everything is no longer perfect. We’ve seen the crooked light switch cover, the doorframe we should have told them to paint but did not, the one drywall seam that was insufficiently sanded, the section of floor with a crack at the corner that should have been filled.
We also discovered the attic storeroom. They used it to keep equipment, which was fine, but left the door open while sanding, which was not. Paintings, bags of linens, suitcases, holiday wrapping paper and supplies for Phil’s book jacket work—all covered in dense layers of yellow sawdust. Unable to face that yet, we closed the door.
We do love our new bedroom and hall—ceilings and walls without cracks—our 125-year-old hardwood floors. It’ll be months before we finish redecorating. That one heavy dresser is still down the hall. Anyone available to move that for us? And a final bit of advice: don’t live in a house you’re remodeling.