My photo of the white stool, Berkeley Springs, 28 July 2014
Now that I’m not working at a proper day job, I’m spending more time doing manual work, time-consuming, sometimes smelly or otherwise untoward, usually in some way creative – baking bread, pulling weeds, sorting books; the mind has time to wander more deeply. I’m not looking around horizontally — not looking about to see who else is around, wondering why I’m doing the pointless thing at a desk in a cubicle, knowing that it doesn’t matter to me at all, nor much to anyone else either. Instead the thoughts go vertical.
I’m now in the wake of refinishing a piece of furniture, an old stool once owned by partner William’s grandparents, that has been somewhere for all these years, I think with his mother, Sally, who took it up to our Berkeley Springs house when she did some of the initial furnishing there. It has been sitting in the kitchen or the bathroom there, or traveling between them. I’ve been painting other things here and in Berkeley Springs, and maybe it’s bewitching, because I tend to look around for the next project, so far two chairs on our DC porch (similarly vintage, never upgraded), a canvas ‘rug,’ the kitchen floor. There’s always a little paint left over — or I see where to get more. I have invested in my own paint can, brushes, roller, so that I don’t have to share with William or suffer through his complaints about my improper cleaning. (I’ve improved at that.)
So I have this odd bench with a strange, u-shaped top shelf. For sitting? So that you can set a tall object on the second step, like the vase here? Was it like a potty chair? It has clearly been painted a few times, so surely it needs to be painted again. First you strip the old paint layers. For that, I bought that product I knew existed, helpfully called “paint stripper.” The words on the can suggest that after applying the thick pasty stuff to the surface and waiting a few minutes to an hour, multiple layers of paint, applied even way back when the family had household servants, will just want to jump off the furniture and head out somewhere, job done, leaving bare wood, exposing the tree it once was.
It doesn’t happen that way. The first application probably cleans the old paint a little, and scraping does little to remove it. A second application and second scraping reveal that the white stool was once green. A third application and scraping show some wood.
You see what I mean about the slowness of time and ability to think and ponder. Once you have made such a smelly mess, you cannot stop whenever you feel like it – not like just putting the book down or the knitting aside — because that would mean cleaning it all up and admitting defeat. So you start to observe and wonder, deeper, below the first layers, going vertical instead of horizontal. What is this thing now and what will it be? Who sat here? Who fell off? Why green? Then why white? It’s not pretty, but sturdy; it wobbles not at all. Was this made by a true craftsperson? Do the screws tell its origin? Why do I care about it?
When will all this paint be gone, if ever?