Fixing A Hole by
200
(244 Stories)

Prompted By Home Repair

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1960s GE Wonder Kitchen – not ours, but the best image I could find online

In early June of this year, we had a plumbing disaster. It started when a new housecleaner came to do a “deep clean,” used too much water on the bathroom floor upstairs, and caused a flood in the kitchen below it. This led to numerous visits from the plumbers (first to diagnose the problem and ultimately to replace the pipes), many holes in the walls and ceiling to get access to said pipes, and weeks of patching up all the holes after the plumbers were gone. The plumbers warned us there would be lots of holes, and they weren’t going to fix them, because that’s not what plumbers do. So we had to find someone else to fix the holes – not to stop our minds from wandering, but to make the house look normal again. It was a nightmare that lasted a full two months. But here’s the worst part: it never occurred to me to take any pictures, even though we had already decided to do a Home Repair prompt, so I should have been preparing for it. I guess my mind was wandering.

Someone had to fix the holes the plumbers made, not to stop our minds from wandering, but to make the house look normal again.

That’s not the home repair I want to write about anyway. It’s still too painful. And it wouldn’t be thinking back very far. Here’s a story from my childhood.

The house I grew up in had an L-shaped kitchen, with a back porch behind it. (Actually, calling it a porch makes it sound grander than it was. It was more like a vestibule. We kept umbrellas there, and snow boots in the winter and folding lounge chairs in the summer, but it wasn’t big enough to do anything there except pass through. Oh, and the milkbox was there, where the milkman left us full bottles of milk and we left him the empties.) In 1960, my parents decided to push out the interior of the L to make it a rectangle, decreasing the size of the back vestibule. Along with moving the walls, they would upgrade all the appliances, which were probably original from when the house was built in the 1930s, and add that most wonderful new appliance, a dishwasher. Dishwashers were fairly unusual at that time – the internet tells me that they did not become commonplace until about 1970 – but my parents were always early adopters of new technology.

This is what our old stove looked like, except it was yellow. Gas, of course. It was replaced with an ultra-modern electric cooktop and two ovens, one above the other, built in to cabinets to the right of the cooktop. All-electric kitchens were the wave of the future in 1960, probably thanks to a concerted campaign by General Electric. Now, apparently, stoves like this one are a collector’s item.

 

 

Our old, small blue refrigerator was replaced with a much larger white refrigerator that had a huge separate freezer compartment instead of the tiny one inside the old fridge. Here’s what the interior of the old refrigerator looked like. In the old freezer there was room for one carton of ice cream, a few cans of frozen orange juice, and maybe a couple of steaks or chops. The new freezer had enough room for anything you could imagine, including those newfangled frozen vegetables from Birdseye or Green Giant.

We also got a new sink with a garbage disposal. It must have been a GE brand, because it was called a Disposall (emphasis on ALL), and to this day that is what I call them, no matter what brand they are.

However, the best new appliance was the dishwasher. Before that, there were always so many dishes to be washed by hand, with seven of us eating there, since my maternal grandparents lived with us. I was young enough to be spared dishwashing duty, but it would have come to me eventually. Once we had the dishwasher, I was excited to get the job of turning it on when it was ready to run. I think it had a dial, like a telephone dial, and you turned it to the cycle you wanted.

As to the actual construction project, I don’t remember much about the process of knocking down the walls and building the new ones. My sisters and I all recall that we were still able to have meals in the kitchen while the work was going on, so it wasn’t too disruptive. (You might have thought we would eat in the dining room instead. But we never ate in the dining room except on Thanksgiving. That was a rule that could not be violated!) The best part of the whole project was that once the new walls went up, they remained bare sheetrock for a while because painting or papering them was going to be the last step in the process. And during that period of perhaps a few weeks, my sisters and I were allowed to write and draw on the wall as much as we liked. Writing on the wall felt deliciously like doing something forbidden, and yet we wouldn’t get in trouble for it. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world.

Fast forward almost 35 years, and my daughter Sabrina singlehandedly peeled all the ugly plaid wallpaper off the walls in her bedroom. At first I was annoyed with her, since she hadn’t gotten permission, but I had to agree that it was ugly. So I told her she could go ahead and write on the one big wall behind her dresser, because we were going to paper over it anyway. Then it turned out she liked having a graffiti wall so much, that we never did paper over it until many years later when Molly moved into that room. For Sabrina’s 9th birthday party in 1994 (before Molly was even born), one of the activities was for everyone to draw pictures or write messages on the wall.

Here are just a few of the girls, intent on their artwork. Sabrina is the one turned sideways, examining some pens. She is wearing fairy wings because, why not? She was the birthday girl!

And here is a portion of the mural they created. I wish I had taken a panoramic photo of the whole wall, but instead I have lots of pictures of small segments.

Prior to the party, both Sabrina and Ben stood with their backs against the wall and we traced them, then they colored themselves in. Somebody at the party wrote on the drawing of Sabrina’s face, but I don’t think she minded.

Sabrina (age 9)

Ben (age 5 1/2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wonder if the things my sisters and I drew on our kitchen wall in 1960 were anywhere near as creative as these.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    First, as usual, thanks for the great old earworm from your title song. By the end of the day, I suspect I’ll be humming all of Sgt. Pepper. (That will indeed be A Day in the Life.)

    Second, I love your focus on the wall art, both then and now, during your construction projects. I am not sure why I never felt compelled to do so — not even a random “Kilroy Was Here.” As you so well note, the very forbiddenness of such drawing at most times makes it that much more exciting.

    And what a great idea to turn the wall art into a birthday party activity for Sabrina and her friends. I’m so glad you took pictures of it, as well as kept the wall intact for many years. Presumably, archaeologists will re-discover it sometime in the next millenium. And come to the conclusion that late 20th century Californians were all four feet tall and had wonderful, childlike imaginations.

    • Suzy says:

      I was happy to think of that song for my story title, and have been humming it for days. My favorite lyric: “And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong I’m right.” Love your idea about what archeologists will think – I had always just speculated on what the next homeowners would think when they uncovered the wall.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Having to do repair work after any type of water damage is a devastating and unrewarding project. We’ve been there too often (as you will read).

    Your NJ kitchen project sounds like much more fun! And how wonderful for you that you got a dishwasher and therefore didn’t have to be one yourself! I love that your kids got to draw on their walls before they were painted. What fun that was for them. Glad you recorded their artwork for all to see now.

    We built our house in Huntington Woods in 1963, so it had all the modern appliances – dishwasher, electric stove, fridge with freezer, disposal, everything you’ve described in your renovated kitchen. I guess I never thought how new all those appliances were at the time, because they were ensconced in the new house. I learned from this prompt that we were leading edge in our design at the time. Thanks for teaching me about this.

    • Suzy says:

      Interesting that your family built a new house, which of course had all new appliances, so you didn’t realize how advanced you were. I was surprised to read that dishwashers only became common in the 1970s, but not surprised that my parents were early adopters. Yes, water damage is the worst! We had an earlier water disaster too, when the pool pump malfunctioned and flooded the garage. That one was even worse!

  3. Marian says:

    Suzy, this is great, and those appliances are really a kick. We finally got a dishwasher in the last house I lived in in New Jersey but somehow never had that 1960s kitchen in the photo. As young kids, my brother and I ate in the kitchen and my parents ate later in the dining room because my father was old school and didn’t think children should be at the dinner table until we were at least 8 or 9. Sorry about all the holes from your plumbing disaster. Plumbers are particular about what they will do!

    • Suzy says:

      I had fun looking at photos of appliances online, but it was frustrating not to find a kitchen that looked more like ours. I could see it so clearly in my mind. Amazing that you kids ate in the kitchen and your parents in the dining room – I thought that only happened in wealthy families with governesses. As I said in my story, our dining room was only used once a year. When my sisters cleaned out my mother’s house, they noticed that the dining room chairs looked brand new, even though they were more than 60 years old.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    I LOVED the story about the wall art–what a great idea! And the pictures to go with it. Also the perfect title song. The old appliances were familiar to me, mostly from rentals over the years, especially the charming old gas stoves. The story of gas vs electricity continues as the utilities compete–now “clean gas” is just greenwashing for burning fossil fuels, and induction cooking with electricity is more eco-friendly if you have a reasonably renewable electricity source.

    • Suzy says:

      I was lucky to find the pictures, since I have 20 years of photos still in the envelopes, waiting to be put in albums. I was going to do that when I retired, hah! And yes, everyone trendy went back to gas stoves many years ago, but now electric seems to be the better choice again.

  5. What fun Suzy to be able to write on the walls, and that you let your daughter do the same, and that she wanted to keep it that way and not paint or wallpaper over it!

    I remember a young cousin whose family was having their house painted , and she approached the painters and said, Paint my room purple, which was not her parents’ plan. But being good parents, they gave the painters the nod!

  6. Jeff Gerken says:

    When I saw the prompt, and then saw your title, my first reaction was “Dagnabbit, you already got the best song for this prompt. Then I thought of “This Old House”, but several other authors had included that one. (By the way, “This Old House” was at one point a “religious” song of a sort – it was one of the few 45 rpm records my grandparents owned. Many years later, I bought a much more spirited version on a CD by the Brian Setzer Orchestra.) And then in the middle of the night I woke with the thought that “Handyman”, in a literal sense, fit me perfectly.

    • Suzy says:

      Jeff, I’m not crazy about the idea of having to compete for song titles. But I guess as long as I always get my story published first, I’ll be okay. Keep in mind that I’ve been doing this song title schtick for 5 ½ years and you are the new guy.

      P.S. Dagnabbit???

  7. Mister Ed says:

    Nice story, Suzy! I particularly liked the reference to inviolable rules of your growing-up household– no eating in the dining room! That’s one way to keep it clean, certainly.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks! As I said to Marian, my mother’s dining room chairs looked brand new even after 60 years, because we only used them once a year. Anyone who knew my mother would understand.

  8. Laurie Levy says:

    I love the way you weave the song titles into your narrative, Suzy. We were also dismayed to learn in our broken pipe disaster that plumbers like to make holes (lots of them), but you have to find a different workman to fix them. I love the pictures of the old appliances, which I remember so well from my childhood. My parents never did get a dishwasher. That was my job. And the part about only using the dining room for very special occasions was true in my house growing up. The part about your kids drawing on the graffiti wall and the accompanying photos was great. Thanks for sharing that (and for letting them do it).

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comment, Laurie. Glad to know you didn’t use your dining room very often either. And that we share experiences with holes made by plumbers, and also those old appliances. Retrospect is so great at reminding us what we have in common.

  9. Love your story, Suzy…especially the part about first you and your sisters being allowed to draw on the walls and then you allowing your kids to do the same. A family tradition! Hey, I wonder if that’s how Basquiat got started!?!

    By the way, I still cook on one of those old gas stoves…mine is a Wedgewood, and I absolutely cherish it! And, I don’t have a dishwasher (other than Garth). Growing up in a large family (there were eight of us), it was a necessity, but for just the two of us, not so much. So when we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago, we opted to use the space for trash and recycling bins instead.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for reading, Barb. Glad to know you have one of those old gas stoves – and no dishwasher. But I’m sure your kitchen doesn’t look like a ’50s kitchen. I just looked up Basquiat because I wasn’t familiar with him, and was sad to discover that he succumbed to the curse of dying at age 27, as so many artists have.

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