The Colonel’s Plan – Birth of a News Addict

October 17th, 2017

Dear Daddy—

Yesterday I was talking about the accumulation of junk mail in the house, and I got off on the subject of your photocopying habits. Let’s return to where the house was in November, 2015. You had stopped throwing away junk mail. Also newspapers. You had copies of the Washington Post dating back to 1989. Not every issue. We had had a purge in 2004, when Susan moved home after her divorce, and we had to eke out enough space for her to at least turn around. Mother and I shifted a lot of things, but couldn’t throw away much. You wouldn’t allow it. You did consent, however, to having newspapers recycled if they didn’t have “keep” written on the masthead in red ballpoint pen. That was your signal that you either had not fully read that issue, or that it contained an article you wanted to save.

It had all begun gradually, after you retired from the Air Force in 1982. Ostensibly, you were retiring to go into private contracting. You started a company, Research Applications Lab, Inc., for which we all worked. Mother was the Financial and Security officer, Charles and I were the manual labor, you were the talent. While you went to a lot of meetings and I know you did perform some research, being the talent also seemed to involve a lot of time spent scanning the newspaper. You clipped out articles and saved them, making 50 copies of the good ones, and saving them all in labeled envelopes.

Continue reading

The Colonel’s Plan – Cleanup Time

October 16th, 2017

Dear Daddy –

The kitchen c. 2015. The lens flare is courtesy of a droplight being used in place of the permanent fixture, which had bad ballast. Photo by Gordon Wilson

And the same angle of the kitchen as it looks today. Premature to share it, but it will make my mother feel better for everyone to know there was a happier ending. Photo by Renee Wilson.











I’m tired today. Didn’t get enough sleep last night. I went to bed after 1 AM, because I stayed up reading. I stayed up so late reading because Sundays tend to be very full these days. We’ve decided that Sundays need to be, as the Bible declared somewhere, a day of rest. We decided that after this past Saturday, when Renee fell on the steps for the second time during our recent adventures in your house. She didn’t break anything, but she wrenched her back, banged her face against a chair, and her nose bled on and off for two hours. We were afraid we were going to have to go to the emergency room to have her checked for internal bleeding.

But she saw the dentist today, two days later, and was told she just has bruising. She feels the whole incident was a result of her just being too tired from overwork, and we have been working hard. So I declared no more work on Sundays.

Continue reading

The Colonel’s Plan – The New Furnace

October 13, 2017

Dear Daddy—

I was telling you about the new furnace. Dave, our Comfort Care Specialist, was very upfront about everything. He looked at our 50-year-old oil tanks and said, “You might want to replace those. They have copper pipes, and a spillover fill system that we no longer use. The solder in the pipes can burst under pressure, and we spray that oil in at about 300 gallons per minute.” He quoted us a price for new tanks, but said, “You can wait and see how they do.”

He quoted us a price for getting the old furnace going. He was very patient about it. We reviewed everything that could go wrong with the old furnace. The burner motor (the “squirrel cage”) could have seized from years of disuse. The fire box could be corroded inside (though Dave thought that very unlikely). If we had to put in a replacement burner, the fire box might not be rated for the much higher heat generated by modern burners. (Not an issue with the dinosaur in my own basement, I guess.) Finally, even if all went well, both American Standard, who made the furnace, and the company who made the burner were now out of business. There were no parts available to order, so anything that went wrong would not be covered by a service contract.) If they hooked up the old one and it didn’t run, we could not recover any of the money we had spent so far. Continue reading

The Colonel’s Plan – Never Cry Over a Flipped Sink

October 11th, 2017

Dear Daddy –

I’m sure you’ll agree that a sink is a silly thing to cry over, much less two sinks. Nevertheless, when I had mounted the two regency blue sinks into the mosaic tile countertop this afternoon, and flipped it over to ensure that they had a chance of staying mounted when gravity was applied, I found myself in tears. I literally burst into tears. It was the sense of relief, I guess, and gratification that the job was almost finished. 45 years ago it must have been that you described to me a bathroom with dual sinks on a long counter, gracing that upstairs bathroom. I envisioned something grand and luxurious, something classy and swank. Two sinks, on a long countertop. It was the sort of thing you would see in the restroom at a high class restaurant, the kind where, my sister assured me, one did not order a hamburger. Where one ordered steak and had a beer on the rocks. Continue reading

The Colonel’s Plan – Going Gray

October 3, 2017

Dear Daddy —

I’m going gray.

I just walked into the office, and, Rick, one of my co-workers grabbed my arm and asked, “Are you all right?”

I asked, “Don’t I look all right?”

My Deputy, Tom, said, “You look dead on your feet.”

Continue reading

The Colonel’s Plan – All Work and No Play

October 2, 2017

Dear Daddy—

The new grout worked a lot better. The shower is almost finished as of tonight. I expect to finish the sink base this week and be ready for the plumber to come back. Coincidentally, the kitchen, which I have not been talking about thus far, should also be ready for the plumbers next week. The countertops are supposed to be in on Wednesday.

The kitchen, prior to the installation of all cabinets and a floor. Note the sink upside down on the counter. The installers decided to remove the disposal, and thus destroyed it and had to buy us a new one. This is a cleaned-up version of what the kitchen looked like for 50 years.

But I’m growing weary of talking about the bathroom, as I grow weary of working sometimes. My days, of late, feel endless, and, contrarily, fly by so fast that I hardly notice them. There’s just so much to do. I guess I’ve become a lot like you—always working, coming home from my job with a long list of things I need to get done and diving into them. Those things I need to get done include writing these letters, which I’m doing now even as I sit watching Marvel’s Inhumans with Renee, Ethan and Jessica. I also just invoiced a client and paid bills.

Continue reading

The Colonel’s Plan – Grout

September 28, 2017

Dear Daddy—

I hate GROUT!!!!!!!

Well, I hate the grout I bought last week. I was going to use the grout you left me. It’s been sitting, under a table in Susan’s general purpose room, for almost 50 years now. But when I looked at all those bags, with the pretty pictures of Medusa on them, labeled “GROUT” in big letters, it turned out they weren’t actually grout. Not sure what that’s about, but, when you read the fine print, it says they’re thinset mortar for laying tile. So, while it’s clever and all that you would name a product that turns to stone “Medusa,” it’s not very useful.

The stuff I bought said it was ideal for tile up to 8″ x 8″, and for any applications where the spacing is between 1/8″ and 1/2″. And it said it was ideal for wet areas like shower walls, although not for saunas. Okay, my tiles are 4″ x 4″, my spacing is 1/8″ and they’re shower walls, not saunas.

But this stuff is awful!

Continue reading

The Colonel’s Plan – The Blue Bathroom – Part 7

September 26, 2017

Dear Daddy–

The shower stall is now almost completely tiled. Shopping for waterproofing compound, I found this amazing product called SimpleMat. It’s basically a giant roll of double-sided tape. You stick it on the surface to be tiled, peel off the backing paper, and press the tile into it. No mixing adhesive, no glue all over your fingers, shoes, floor and tile, no cleanup, and no waiting for the mortar to cure before you grout.

Of course, with my work-time largely cut up into chunks of a few hours here and there, the odds of me laying tile and grouting it the same day are very, very slim. Still, the savings in cleanup alone were worth the cost of the product.

Continue reading

The Colonel’s Plan – The Blue Bathroom, Part 6

September 26, 2017

Dear Daddy—

Now that I had found all the tile I needed, it was time to lay it out. I didn’t want to screw up, so I wanted to sketch it all out. I started by marking and measuring the pieces that were going to go up the wall on the edge of the shower.

What were you planning for the corner at the base, since the baseboard tiles don’t have corner pieces and don’t corner together well? In the one bathroom you finished, corners are formed with special corner pieces, but I don’t have any in blue. And no, I don’t think there are any stragglers left hiding. Big as this house is, I think I have the inventory under control now.

Continue reading

The Colonel’s Plan – The Blue Bathroom – Part 5

September 22, 2017

Dear Daddy –

The bathroom is a big project. Its floor is down. Its outlets are partially wired. I furred out (is that the right spelling?) the opening above the now-installed shower walls, so that backing board for the tile would both fasten to the studs and slip down over the lip at the top of the fiberglass walls. How does one make furring strips—pieces of wood that are used to fill what would otherwise be a gap between a finished surface and the rough wall? You had obviously made a bunch of them. I wound up making more out of scraps of paneling you’d saved for years, left over from finishing your library and our family room. Continue reading