The Handy Man: Part Deux

When my husband and I were first married we lived on the first floor of a 3-family house. We lived on a street filled with houses on postage stamp sized yards. We walked our dog at the neighborhood school and drove a short distance into the nice downtown area for lazy lunches or dinners. We were close to everything. But it was an old house with wonky floors and so many layers of paint on the trim it looked like you could just start peeling and peel all the way back to 1910 and you still wouldn’t have come to the bare mahogany that most likely sat majestically beneath the various shades of white. The rug was thin and worn and there wasn’t anything really comfortable about the place. We started house hunting immediately after we said “I do”.

We found our home about 6 months after we got married. It was a sweet little cape. It had a corner toilet in the half bath and a large open living room with a fireplace in the middle. The room was spacious and light filled. It had charm and a story. According to our neighbors it was built in the late 60’s by an “older couple” because being married in your 30’s was “old” in the 60’s. The house had been empty for several years after the wife became ill early in the marriage and the husband moved out after she passed away. Another couple bought the home before us but they worked retail and according to our neighbor were never home. It only endeared the house to us. We went to work cutting down old bushes and my husband painted the outside and landscaped. Soon we, and by “we” I mean my husband, were tackling the big bathroom with its floor to ceiling pale yellow tile. It took five years but we over hauled the bathroom and kitchen and when I say “we” I mean my husband. He painted the cabinets in the kitchen a beautiful white which immediately brightened and updated the out dated pine. And he designed an island with a dishwasher. He smashed the tile in the bathroom and learned how to put down a tile floor. He painted and scrubbed and it was the perfect little house.

And then we sold it.

It was heartbreaking really. We still talk about that little house with such reverence you would think we gave birth to it. But we decided when our first child was nearly three and another child was on the way it was time to move to a house with more than two bedrooms and a better school system. We wanted more land and fewer neighbors. I no longer felt the need to have a neighbor who seemed to know everyone’s comings and goings.

We settled on a colonial that had neither charm nor character but a spacious yard with few neighbors. The house was bland and had linoleum floors and hardly a speck of character but I now knew my husband’s potential. It seemed like the perfect project. Over the last 11 years we have worked to turn this house into a home that shares our personalities. My husband taught himself how to install crown molding and molded the entire downstairs. We pulled off ugly wallpaper borders. We set new tile floors in all three bathrooms and put in new vanities. Eventually we had two walls removed to open the downstairs to create a better flow and more light. Slowly the house has become more of what we have wanted all along.

But through it all there was still a thorn in my paw.

The kitchen.

The hub of the house. The heart of the home and the ugliest room. The part of the house I was just convinced my husband would jump in and improve for me remained untouched. The cabinets were stock oak that had neither charm nor appeal, and they were beginning to fall apart. The hinges coming unhinged no matter how many times we tightened them. The counter top was slowly peeling away at the edges. We tried to up the ante by adding new pulls and we tiled the backsplash a couple years ago but it was still a bland and dark kitchen. I approached the subject once, not long after we had moved in, about my husband working his magic and painting the kitchen cabinets a gleaming white and his head started to spin and his voice had this unearthly deep echo to it when he said, “No! Did that once not doing that again.”

So, the kitchen remained as it was when we first moved in and my vision for a bright, cheerful kitchen took a back seat to other home improvements, boats and vacations. But the kitchen is the most used room in just about any home. A bright and cheerful space lightens your mood and fosters a sense of energy, which you need when you have three kids and a husband who enjoys eating three meals a day. So, when, after many years of dangling the kitchen remodel in front of me like a banana before a starved monkey, my husband pulled out his laptop and began designing an IKEA kitchen online. I wasted no time in finding photos and leaving them around the house in places sure to be seen. I started emailing pictures from home design web sites of beautiful kitchens and the happy people standing around with cups of coffee enjoying them.

By November my husband had logged about 200 hours trying to make the online kitchen come together. On a Sunday afternoon he tossed the laptop aside in frustration and we drove to IKEA and spent an entire afternoon with someone who finally told us we needed a professional. Which I could have told them about 200 hours earlier but I have learned that sometimes I just need to keep quiet.

A young man came to our home a week later and spent a couple hours redesigning most of my husband’s design. We picked out cabinets and a counter top and explained what we wanted. We weren’t changing the footprint, I just wanted a brighter, happier space. He explained how we were to go about getting the cabinets and once we had everything we could call and get them installed.

Back to IKEA we went. Moving through the cavernous store to the kitchen section I thought this would be a quick trip. We had a list. They would fill our list and we would go home and await the arrival of our kitchen. We spent four hours standing in IKEA, going over the list and reviewing the list and picking out the under counter lights and pulls and counter top. My eyes grew weary, my legs ached but I kept quiet. My bright kitchen was within reach! Maybe it would be in by Christmas!

When at long last the list was complete we left the store. Excited that our kitchen would be delivered by week’s end and that perhaps things would be moving by the following week.

We were wrong.

When we called for installation set up the company was two months out. Bringing us to January at the earliest. Now I had 120 boxes sitting in my home office and they would be there for two months. We also realized we had to coordinate our demo with their installation. We are not very good at coordinating. I started to panic. I honestly thought the whole process would take about a week. But when my husband started to lay out exactly what we needed to do to be ready for cabinet installation I realized I had dramatically under estimated our undertaking.

Two weeks before they were to come and install the cabinets, I came home from walking the dog early on a Saturday morning to find my husband, sledge hammer in hand, taking apart our cabinets. No fore warning just “this is the day”. As I came into our home through the garage which opens into our kitchen I was nearly taken out by a falling upper cabinet. Then the microwave nearly gave me a concussion as that too came unhinged. My husband, smiling the whole time. “Well that was easier than I imagined!” He grinned as I tried to refocused my concussed vision. I was beginning to regret my campaign for a new kitchen. I may not be around to enjoy it if we kept up like this.

Once demo was complete we spent a month without a microwave, sink, or counters. My tub became my sink and dishwasher. I would carry dishes and pots and pans upstairs into our bathroom and scrub, kneeling down over the tub. The following morning, I would shower and look down to see peas or bits of meatloaf getting stuck between my toes. We ate frozen dinners and take out. My children actually began to ask if we could stop having pizza for dinner. A certain malaise set in as we feasted on fast food. We also didn’t realize how long it would take for the counter to be made and the sink couldn’t go in until the counter went in. So, we showered with peas and carrots and had pots and pans and dishes everywhere. And I logged many steps carrying dirty dishes upstairs and clean dishes downstairs. It not only gave me some nice calf muscles it gave me a revelation.

When we moved I suggested my husband set to work on painting those kitchen cabinets simply so I could have my first house back. That first house that meant so much to us both. The house where my mother came for dinner and we brought our first two children home from the hospital. That first house where our first child took his first steps and hid in the pantry eating cat food while I ran out the front door frantically calling for him, thinking he had run away. That first home with its corner toilet and bright kitchen so filled with love.

My husband seemed to know something I did not. You cannot really go home again. You need to bloom where you are planted. New memories sprout and take root. The surroundings don’t matter quite as much as you think. I love that it is bright and cheerful but it doesn’t make the memories we are creating any sweeter. It is our family and our friends, the people who love us, who put up with us, who come to our home and eat and drink and laugh with us who make our kitchen bright and fill our home with memories.

Yes, I love my new kitchen but I love the people who fill it even more.

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