Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jim Kacian: CRAFT

One of the first projects in the new house is to change the kitchen. Perhaps the kitchen more than any other room in a house echoes fashions of living in our culture: colors, use of space, paint or wallpaper. There are hundreds of choices to be made, and each one is a signature not just of the owner and chooser, but of the generation and the era as well.

The current floor is not horrible ― tan and ivory linoleum with a hint of rust, probably circa 1985 ― but it will not do for our color scheme of blue and white, which is chosen to feature the tiled landscape behind the splashplate of the sink. Though not elaborate, there is a pleasing liveliness and variety to these tiles, and it is not a difficult decision to make them the focus of the room. Of course, it is probably that these tiles were here when this basically brown linoleum was chosen, too, so it is apparent that not everyone has felt that the birds should be the centerpiece.

We want a ceramic floor, a bright white to match the ceiling and trim, a sunny white to match spirits with our choice of Mediterranean blue for the walls. It's my task to take up the floor, so we have a solid foundation for the new ceramic floor. I begin.

I know that beneath this brown, geometric vinyl there is another floor, something probably laid in the 1960s. It is the color of good mustard gone bad by overlong exposure to refrigerated air, and is stained by water in the one place where it is exposed, beneath the refrigerator. But as I begin leveraging away the top layer and its luaun plywood base, I come to another unexpected level, a brown and white geometric pattern which makes sense of the brown marble countertops which we have yet to change. This was laid directly over the mustard color, perhaps in the early 1970s. It must have been very sedate after the wildness of yellow. None of these, however, explains the wallpaper we've already stripped.

Another surprise lays in store for me: yet another layer of linoleum, this time the hue of vomit with colorful orts, comes up last, and is cemented to the subflooring. It was probably state of the art in 1954, when this house was built, but it is nauseating now, and checks my enthusiasm for the white ceramic we have in mind: what will people think about our choice half a century from now? At least it will be ceramic, and they'll have a hell of a time getting rid of it.

I finally rid the subflooring of all this detritus, and am pulling nails that haven't come up with the plywood. In the farthest corner, near the door, I am surprised to find a couple signatures, done in pencil in the finest Palmer penmanship, and dated May 1954. Thinking about it, it is conceivable that this is the last floor laid in the house, and that these craftsmen would have moved on to another job after the final few nails here. They had taken enough pride in their work that they felt they ought to sign it, and I must agree with them ― the house is well built, 12 inch joists of solid wood, not twin sixes with anchor plates; inch and a half subfloors; etc. When these men signed their floor, it must have seemed unlikely anyone would have found their signature, since the work they did was done once, and for good. Not the shoddy work of the subsequent suppliers who piled layer upon layer. No signatures there. It was only the decision to get back to ground zero, to the good work, that made me discover this at all.

Faith is belief in the absence of reason. I believe mine was the greater act of faith.

beside the names
of master craftsmen
I write my own

by Jim Kacian
Winchester, Virginia

first published Buffalo Haibun Journal

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