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.
I hung backing board, waterproofed it with a product called Red Guard, which looks like Klingon Blood (which means it looks like very thick Pepto Bismoll) in the can, but dries a pretty dark red. An unbroken section of red apparently means that area is now waterproof and ready to receive tile.
But, before all that was done, there was drama. You had bought all the tile for all the bathrooms, decades ago. You used to show it to me, and explain what it was for. There was wall tile and floor tile, fancy corner pieces, border pieces, pieces that lapped over the edge of the backing board to meet exposed drywall, baseboard pieces for where the wall met the floor. There were supports for towel racks, soap dishes, toothbrush holders—all in colors matching the bathrooms. The guest bathroom (the finished one) had beige accents and the tile was white with gold specks. The “boys” bathroom was Regency Blue. Susan’s bathroom was Venetian Pink, and yours and Mother’s was bayberry green.
As long as I could remember, the tile for each bathroom had been in those bathrooms. The blue tile was all piled in the blue shower. For some reason, you had unpacked all the of fancy border pieces from whatever packaging they came in and placed them in other boxes—like those damn bottoms of Coke cases that you were so fond of using for storage. Not sure why you did that, but I was sure that every single piece of tile was there.
Or I was sure of it until the afternoon I was ready to lay out the blue tile, and those fancy edge pieces were just gone. Now, granted, I had moved the whole kit and kaboodle from its half-century resting place in just the past few weeks. I had to, because the plumber was coming, and couldn’t actually get any plumbing done with all the building supplies (and electronics, and wheelchairs) in the way. When we’d moved it, though, I was sure I had seen those missing pieces. Ethan was there with me, and he was sure too. He had held those tiles in his hand.
I searched everywhere. Twice. From about two in the afternoon until about eight o’clock, when I gave up in disgust after tearing stuff out of every nook and cranny in the house. And there are a lot of nooks and crannies! I unpacked Mother’s general purpose room, I went through all the boxes of tile in my general purpose room.
(Note to anyone outside the family who’s reading this—the house has two rooms labeled on the plans as “general purpose” rooms. As indicated, they were meant for a variety of uses, as they’re long, narrow and have sloping ceilings, making them too odd-shaped to be sleeping rooms. At some point during the planning phase, two very large upstairs rooms on the East and West ends of the house were declared (by some authority) to be unfit for sleeping because they had only one, small window each. So they also became general purpose rooms.” My brother and sister claimed the big ones for their storage and amusement. My Mother and I got the small ones. In the end, you took them all over anyway.)
I moved two file cabinets out of the music room closet, because I saw boxes of tile back there. But it was the green tile for the master bathroom.
And the slate! I knew we had the slate. You had shown me the slate. I had found the receipt before you died, acknowledging the purchase of 140 square feet of Vermont slate, intended for the entryway. That would be the entryway with the water-damaged ceiling, mildewed and with a six-foot strip of join tape hanging down, because it took us ten years to convince you that you weren’t going to be able to finish replacing the roof by yourself.
But we won’t talk about that right now.
In the midst of this, guess what I found? The blue mosaic tile you had bought for the bathroom floor. That would be the bathroom floor I just… finished… grouting.
Oh well. I’ll use it when I finish the basement bathroom!
I gave up. I grabbed something to drink, went upstairs and flung myself on Ethan and Jess’s couch to watch Galaxyquest with them. Ethan and Jess’s couch is one you built yourself, back in the late 1950s. It’s solid and well-built, although the glittery, black upholstery you put on it all those years ago is worn through in spots.
It’s a shame, because that upholstery still fits in with modern decor, as opposed to the roll of teal and grey and orange, um, stuff, that you bought back in the 70s to use for re-upholstery. Just one of many, many things you bought for later use. Sometimes it makes me sad, thinking of all the things you meant to do, and didn’t have time to. But I remember you saying that dying with things undone only means that you never stopped thinking of things that you could do. But you did finish the couch, and it’s worth keeping, holes in the upholstery and all.
When the movie was over, my cussedness kicked in. Dammit, I was going to find those pieces of tile! Mother thought she had seen them under the steamer trunk in her general purpose room. So I went back in, with a flashlight, and tore into all the boxes that we under that. No tile. Then, in motion again, I decided to go back through the boxes in my general purpose room one more time. Maybe I missed something. There were more than a dozen of them, after all.
Well, that was about seven hours lost. I picked up work the next day.