The peeling brown paint on the railing of our back deck wasn’t the only problem with it. It was small, unshaded and poorly-built. Its 2 x 8 top rail became a large eye-level obstruction to the view of our backyard whenever we sat at the dining room table indoors. But back in 2001 our budget wouldn’t allow a rebuild of it for another two years.
The classic architecture book, A Pattern Language, says balconies and decks should extend at least six feet, but preferably eight feet out or no one will be inclined to sit on them. Ours was barely that. Which is why it had become a repository for outdoor toys, garden hoses, tools, dead plants, frog carcasses (unsold stock from our sons’ tadpole sales business — true story) and a more-than-aromatic compost bucket.
But Jeremiah Burroughs has taught us that it’s OK to make efforts to change our circumstances by legitimate means. So if all else fails — Clean it! Away with death and decay! To their proper places went tools and toys! All that remained were four plastic deck chairs. I scrubbed them clean and tied together the arms of three of them with wide bows made from strips of a green garbage bag. Voila! A loveseat.
I borrowed the astro-turf rug from our camping gear to cover the bare deck boards. I glued dark green fabric onto a plastic bucket and trimmed it with white rope for a planter. Done. $0. It wasn’t Pinterest-worthy, but then, there was no Pinterest in those days.
What surprised me was what happened next. We barbequed more often. Monsieur would take his morning coffee out there to sit in the sun and I would join him for a little chat. The kids began to play out there. I kept the dining room blinds open, not having to hide the mess anymore. And I learned that people, even men and boys, respond to surroundings that are orderly and made inviting by some simple fixin’ up ‘n prettifyin’.
* * *
I kept that memory in mind a few years later when we moved to the hinterland and our current model.
We’d been advised to lighten the house as much as possible in anticipation of lifting it to build a basement underneath. (We learned later that was unnecessary, but we’d planned to drastically change the floor plan anyway.) So we did some tearing out.
My older sons were good at demolition. They did the bulk of the job of pulling those boards off the walls and ceiling. It was disgusting work because of the thick dust and mouse dirt that sifted down from above. They were fast. And they thought they were done. But a few splintered boards remained, there were nails to pull and the floor was strewn with boards, nails and a thick layer of decades worth of dirt.
I decided to spare them and clear the rest of it myself…
Now, mouse droppings falling on the hair and in the eyes of a grown woman should not make her cry. The thought of the neighbourhood ladies’ spring tea she was invited to that afternoon should have cheered her. Health and strength to do such work, a loving husband and (fairly) willing children to do the worst of the work, a home in the country with no mortgage — all of these should have flooded her with gratefulness.
Instead, tears of self-pity and frustration and discontent flooded my eyes. There was no “sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition” as Jeremiah Burroughs defines contentment.
But at last the evil mess got scrubbed and scoured and a blessedly refreshing shower restored my attitude of gratitude. (Also, my skin colour.) I was especially grateful for lovely soft water and good water pressure, something not always possible in the country.
A couple of pictures hung, a tablecloth and candle on the table and a lace curtain transformed Early Hideous into Rustic Cozy where the kids wanted to have their supper. One of our neighbours commented that it looked like a cabin from Little House on the Prairie.
Even as a temporary measure, it was worth the effort to fix up ‘n prettify. Of course, we’ve come a long way since then. But as Seneca said, “Things hard to endure are sweet in memory.”
I’d love to know what measures you’ve taken to “change our circumstances by legitimate means”.