The Colonel’s Plan – One Clean Table

November 6, 2017

Dear Daddy —

Charles and Dawson are in North Carolina today, staying at the Chocolate House, our vacation home in the mountains that you built over 60 years ago. Like your house here, it’s unfinished, but less so. It’s smaller, so there was less to finish. Dawson sent pictures of your military marker. Your headstone is not yet in place because, ironically, the supplier for the stone itself was killed this past week.

Thanksgiving is coming up, and we’re making plans. Mother wants a Christmas tree in the music room. We’ve never had a tree there before. We’ve never had much of anything in there before, except junk. Although I do dimly remember, when I was in high school, that the piano in the corner was open and available to play, if badly out of tune even then.

So back to Thanksgiving, 2014, when I began cleanup operations. I started in the dining room. I believe, before the holiday itself, I only cleared a walkway around the table. You had so much loose paper piled up, and loose video tapes stacked everywhere. And beneath the loose stuff was box after box of more stuff. As I recall, I carried 12 boxes just of papers to the West hallway upstairs. (One of the boys recently pointed out to me that it’s actually the northwest hallway, as the house intersects parallel on about a 30-degree angle. But “Northwest Hallway” sounds a bit silly to me. It’s the hallway on the side where the sun sets.

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The Colonel’s Plan – Where Are the Damned Hinges?

November 1, 2017

Dear Daddy —

I’ve made window sills for the kitchen and Ethan and Jess’s room. I don’t know if there’s enough sill stock left to do them all. Not counting the basement, there are 29 windows in this house. In 50 years, you had put sills and facings on four of them: two in the room that is now Mother’s bedroom (formerly her office, before that my bedroom, and before that just “the other room”), the laundry room and the only finished bathroom. You had added sills alone on four more windows upstairs, only because people slept in them and wanted to use window air conditioners. We’ve talked about what happened to the central AC unit, at least in part. (Appropriate, because it’s in pieces.)

I’m moving slowly since the big push to get the bathroom upstairs usable. Wait, I didn’t even tell you that, did I? Gary, one of our plumbers, came on October 18th, and installed the kitchen sink, ran the water to the dishwasher, and installed the blue toilet, as well as water and drains to the sinks I had mounted.

About the toilet, may I just ask…

What the hell????!!!!

Why would you take the seat apart? It was new in its box! A matching, regency blue seat for the toilet you had bought. It doesn’t use standard hinges. The seat and lid are held together by a rod which runs through the back, and the hinges hooked on that. I know, because I still have the identical pink one for the other bathroom.

And—dammit!—it is not designed to be taken apart! Nevertheless, when Gary went to install the toilet, he came to me and said, “The hinges are missing from the box.” They weren’t just missing, they were surgically removed! I told him I’d deal with the seat. I looked through a lot of likely places with no luck. It’s possible they went out when the eCyclers took their last round of junk, because they cleaned out a storage cabinet. So I just put the pink seat on the blue toilet for now, so we can have a bathroom. It looks like it belongs in 2001: A Space Odyssey. You wouldn’t understand that reference, even though we watched the movie together way back when on NBC’s The Big Event.

I have not installed your fancy, glass shower doors yet, but they will fit, and I will install them. We’ve hung Jess’s dorm room shower curtain for now. I did hang the door to the hallway, for privacy. No knob yet. I have a long list of things to do, and I’m getting tired. I hope I’m not just going through what you did, back in the 70s, before you just gave up. I don’t want to give up. I want to finish your house.

Anyway, I’ve searched online for that particular model of Church Toilet Seat for the American Standard toilet, circa 1969. There are no hinges for sale. I may have to buy a replacement seat. They still make them in the old colors. Retro bathrooms are in. It’s funny that my bathrooms are only retro because we waited so damn long to install them. You paid $9.00 each for those seats. I know because I have the receipt sitting right in front of me on your desk, dated 8/13/69. I had just turned four.

(That’s not coincidence, by the way. I have many of the papers concerning the house here on your desk and your drafting table, including your complete plans, dated September 3, 1966. I need to have them scanned!)

I have notes below to tell you about the state of the dining room that Thanksgiving three years gone, but I think I’ll wrap this up for tonight. I still have cleanup to do upstairs, and I don’t have the energy to finish the story right now.

I’ll just say, the hinges, Daddy! Where are the damn hinges?

Love, Steven


The Colonel’s Plan: Anniversary

One year ago tonight, my father left us. No more words this evening, except rest in peace, Daddy. It’s not the same world without you.

The Colonel’s Plan – A Hoarder’s Kitchen in Autumn

October 30th, 2017

Dear Daddy —

It’s been almost two weeks since I wrote. I’m trying to balance my desire to keep up this project with my desire to stay healthy. Every day I put 20 things on my list of things to do today, and I get about 15 done, if I’m lucky. I’m trying not to beat myself up about those five or so undone things, but they do pile up.

The week of the 16th, I had four doctor’s appointments (not all mine—one for Christian, one for the cat) and twelve scheduled meetings. Fitting all that in was exhausting and left me very little quiet time during which I was still conscious. So no writing was happening.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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