The last few weeks my family and I have been doing little more than working on our house. We have been unusually united in our objectives, and the house is quickly turning into a beautiful, clean and unfamiliar place.
I usually wake up at 7 am, put on my paint-splattered sweat pants, an old white t-shirt and plan the next task while sipping a cup of coffee. I get the brushes ready, check on the painting supplies, and spread out the floor coverings.
I fill in the scratches, and smooth over the bumps and irregularities in the walls, including the gash that Mike made in the breakfast room. When he was a senior in high school I was scolding him for skipping a class and in a fit of anger he threw the phone at the wall. That hole has been staring us in the face for years now. But no more.
The walls in the breakfast room, as well as the kitchen, are smooth and silky and painted a soothing shade of gray, the color called Tea Stain. A contractor has been working on the kitchen cabinets, paining them white, almost pure white, the color of freshly fallen snow. I bought new knobs, pulls and hinges cut in a modernly spartan design, the patina of brushed silver.
As soon as the cabinet doors are hung back up, we will line the shelves with plates, bowls, cups and glasses. Only the beautiful, white dishes will be displayed, not the colorful, chipped array of mismatched favorites. I have already warned Jeff not to expect his enormous ugly coffee cup (we call it the boat) on the shelves until we move into our new house.
Branka and Joe have painted all the bedrooms upstairs, including Jeff’s office and the long hallway. The bedrooms are of different neutral tones, the office white, and the hallway a buttery cast of cream. The living room and the dining room are the same cream color. Nena painted the trim throughout the house eggshell white, polished the windows and washed the screens, and then we rehung the lace curtains on the large living room window.
I have been spending a lot of time clearing the bookshelves. Our bookshelves were tightly packed with volumes collected over decades, books from Jeff’s and my years both separate and together. Our children have been ardently adding to this collection ever since they could read.
I try to decide which books to place in a box that says – To Give Away. At first it’s very hard and I can’t bear to part with any of my old, familiar friends. But it seems to get easier the longer I work at it. Still, I change the wording on the box and now I know what I’ll do. I can’t just give these books away. I will go through the collection once again when we move into our new place, and ask the children if they want to keep any of the volumes.
Next to the books were family photographs: Sam and Nicky dressed formally (she in a velvety red dress, he in a white shirt, white sweater and a bow tie) in a nursery school portrait; Sasha and Nena looking happy but sunburned in their bathing suits during a summer vacation at the lake; ten year old Mike hugging Silver when she was an awkward, long eared puppy; and many more.
I wrap the pictures in sheets of newspaper and place them in a different box. Everything must go, all the personal objects that tie us to this particular place. The bookshelves need to look clean, uncluttered and anonymous.
Much more needs to be done to ready the house for its debutante presentation. The bathrooms need work. The family room must be painted and is crying for a new carpet. And don’t even let me start about the garage and the basement.
The garden area and the outdoor plants need to be cleared, weeded, planted, pruned and beautified, but that is an activity I am actually looking forward to. We plan to invite a group of friends to come and help, and then, we’ll have a barbecue, eat, drink and celebrate.
And that’s the state of things at the Holtzman household in this month of May, 2012.