Our 1886 farmhouse likes to talk to us in winter. I guess its old bones are as disquieted by the plunging temperatures as ours are. When the humidity seeps out of the air our floors begin a running dialog as we traverse the house. Actually, the older floors in the original section of the house are fine. The wide pine boards with their dark amber patina seem older and wiser and resigned to the cold, dry season. It is the whiny younger maple boards in the addition that don’t allow any quiet tiptoeing. They feel some compulsion to speak up when I creep downstairs for a piece of toast in the night. I know enough now to thwart them by using the second staircase, the narrow original one that requires careful attention to my feet as I descend and a reverential bow of my head to avoid hitting it on the ceiling. It is worth the extra effort to silence those high pitched adolescent voices.
In the evening as we watch TV in the den we often mute the sound and listen to the siding on the outside of the house as it adjusts to sudden changes in the temperature. It snaps and pops as it expands and contracts. My husband hates the siding and wants to replace it with cedar boards like those on the addition. They are more silent and would be more in line with the original farmhouse. It seems a kind thing to do actually, to put those aged strips out of their misery though they have been painted and restored to a pristine white to contrast against the green shutters.
Recently with a prolonged subzero cold snap the entire house has gotten into the conversation with the beams and joists groaning and creaking as if they are being forced to move after months of comfortable hibernation. After a 20 year lapse from visiting a bowling alley, my hand, elbow and back made similar complaints when we bowled a few strings last week. So I sympathize and gently pat the walls of my house, try to comfort it by saying that spring will arrive soon. It knows I am lying, that there are still months of this frigid business ahead but it stops its protests at least for the moment.
The maple floors drive my husband crazy each fall when they begin their chatter. He goes to the basement armed with shims and a hammer. The house is filled with pounding, then silence for the journey upstairs to test the floor. It is a repetitive, all day affair and I think the floor rejoices when it continues its squeaky voice. In a final act of desperation a wireless screw driver makes an appearance but that too fails. The floors don’t bother me that much. Perhaps it is my years of having kids in the house that has allowed me to selectively tune it out. Being at work all day prevented my husband from refining this quality.
We had workmen in the house last week to replace the shower in our bathroom. It had leaked and we were worried about mold in the walls. When the carpenters arrived to demolish the old shower and prepare the walls for the new one my husband asked them about the floors. He had told me the night before that he was considering asking them to rip up the most traveled part of the floor to be replaced.
“Just a three foot wide section that runs the length of the great room. You can come up with a stain to match the rest of the floor, right? You did a great job in the kitchen when we had to piece in some new boards.”
Memories of sitting on the floor with scraps of maple surrounded by various colored stains, stir sticks and empty mixing containers were resurrected and I groaned.
“Are you serious?” but what I really meant was, “Are you nuts?”
Why couldn’t he just learn to ignore it like I do? Realize it is a temporary thing that comes in fall, leaves in spring…annoying like an unwanted house guest but leaving you with few options.
Thank you carpenters! They did not leap at ripping up the floor. They suggested talcum powder. We actually tried this solution before to no avail but now my husband is excited about a second try. We are to sprinkle the floor generously with talcum powder and then cover it with rugs and walk on it…again and again … to force the talc deep into the cracks. We had gently sprinkled powder the last time but had skipped the rug part. Perhaps the talc will silence the floor’s complaints just as it did with our babies when they had diaper rash.
Of course we have a large bottle of talcum powder that was in the cabinet that we removed to facilitate the new shower installation. I have no idea how old it is but I doubt it has an expiration date like milk. It is after all simply powdered stone. How can stone after taking centuries to form go bad in a matter of months in the house? My husband has his doubts and perhaps just to rule out any further possibility of failure insists on going to Walgreens and buying fresh powder. Hopefully, not some exotic brand as it all seems to come from the same place in France.
I smile and say, “Great idea, Hon!” but again I really am thinking, “Are you nuts?”
However, I have given him many more occasions over the years to have this same thought about me and he has been very generous at those times. So the thought evaporates quickly from my mind and I gently pat his arm and say I am sure it will work. I look forward to the essence of baby powder wafting in the air evoking images of smooth soft bottoms, pudgy arms, squirming legs. I never minded their squealing and chatter then and I don’t mind the floor’s now.