The first weekend of work on the floors of our old farmhouse began with out much discussion or thought. We just started massively ripping out the layers of paper and vinyl, plastic and wool, all components of wall to wall carpeting and kitchen flooring that had been applied over decades. It seemed the only course of action. We started in the garden bedroom (you have to come see that one, it will be Mother’s), and as layers of carpet and soiled pads were ripped, sending their fastening tacks flying, unpleasant smells filled the air. Evidences of rot, of lives lived where plumbing flooded rooms and secret leaks spilled into crevices, showed there were opportunities for decay. Room after room we stripped, piling the refuse high in a heap outside on the drive. Each layer spoke of times good and bad, but also were comments on the style and fad for flooring for each era this old house has been through. We had similar applications and solutions in the old home I grew up in.
(You know what our hope was of course; that there would be beautiful floors of wood, hidden underneath all those applications.)
We moved through the house, ripping and carting, most of the work dispatched relatively easy. I say relatively, because with sweat dripping and arms aching, we made it the first weekend all the way through the house until we reached the kitchen. Standing in crooked, but straightening doorways, we decided on the large bladed putty knives as the tool of choice to ply up the linoleum. The next weekend we tried rented jack hammers. Whoever had applied this linoleum meant for it to remain. Every square inch of the undersurface had adhesive. Even the thin and worn areas that spoke of eighty odd years of feet shuffling and standing and working at the old kitchen sink were recalcitrant. The stuff wasn’t coming up. We were disheartened. We locked the house and spent the next week trying to figure out what to do. Unbeknownst to us, in our absence of that week of thinking, a new leak would form under the kitchen sink, probably due to our ministrations on the plumbing and when we returned five days later, water flooded the kitchen. The water pooled on the lineoleum, the dank smell more pronounced then when we started, and now a new problem. In the places where we had created cracks and holes in the linoleum, the water had clearly seeped in. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to dry sodden wood under linoleum, but I got on my knees. Four hours later, we had the linoleum cleared. The glue, resistant to mechanical force was water based; the linoleum had rolled up in sheets, when bucket after bucket of water had been applied. If the bad luck hadn’t happened, I guess we would still be trying to figure out what to do.
And what did we find after all that labor? Yes, there it was, the old flooring, pine, from trees that had to have lived at least 100 years ago. Tongue and grooved, dust, dirt, and grime covered now, milled in a pre-war mill into 2 inch slats, most of it showing still dense wood. But, where there was damage, where water had been left to stand from old pipes that couldn’t hold the pressure or the passage of time, the wooden boards were rotted, wood flaking away and soft, down almost to the base flooring. It was to be expected.
We sanded and sanded, with ever finer grit, and as we did, the mold and years of hidden abuse and ancient varnish revealed a fine wood grain. We each took our turn behind the rented sander, and for me, there was great pleasure in the simple, repetitive work. All over the house, floors that had supported 80+ years of life were exposed to the light of days in 2008. The last sanding eventually brought the sweet smell of new wood. In a few places the stains remained, the damage too severe. As much as I would like to have the creaseless face of my twenties, these lines of age in my face say something about who I am and where I have been and it’s my opinion that is the same thing with that floor. There really is no good reason to wipe away all that has happened in that house. It is what it is. There have been Christmases shared where children tripped across that floor to gather present from under a decorated tree. There have been tears shed over doubts or fears or dreams undone. Baths have been taken and mirrors peered into, as fine lines and some deeper ones have etched their way into the faces of other inhabitants of this home. Mothers and Dads have stood at the kitchen sink, and peered out even older pine trees, as wind singing through their needles provided the backdrop for the racket and song of pileated woodpeckers and Carolina wrens. I hope a few times grace was said in this house, I bet it was. I hope that the fear and joys held in the hearts of at least three generations of families that called this old house home, supported by this old pine floor, will see a reunion in Heaven one day.
But right now, the biggest blessing I can imagine this old house had provided is to me. For all the chores we have done, the jobs we have set for ourselves here, the goals we have wanted to achieve, the labor that we have given, that floor is a symbol for me. I am glad that God has seen to it that yet one more generation, gifted through time spent at labor, even on an old pine floor will support at least one more generation of a family’s hopes, dreams, and joy. A few more meals will be cooked and a few more dishes will be washed, a lot of prayers and grace will be said, and the wind will still be singing in the old pine trees as new caretakers stand at the kitchen sink and take stock of another day.
For we are just passing through on our way to Heaven and just as this old house’s floors will return to dust and I will too, its clear to me that our bodies were made to labor while we are here. We work best when we balance our lives with thought and brawn. Surely the beauty of the human soul is revealed in the labors it endures and accomplishes here on earth. Christ covers our sins here and heavenward, but I bet just like that old pine floor, the flaws and dents and injuries are the beauty that God sees in us, the souls He knows us to be.
I wish for you this Monday and this week, the gift of labor well done and accomplished, whether it be battling an illness, making a garden, or tucking a child in for rest, whatever race God has you running I pray that you are letting Him go with you.
Quote for the day: Your body needs a healthy mind and your mind needs a healthy body. Take care of them both. Jack Huddle
Bible verse of the day:
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 1Thessalonians 4:11