Last week the polar vortex plunged us to a wind chill of 35 degrees below zero. The day before it hit, I helped Sam stack extra firewood in the house. Four days later, the temperature soared to 60 degrees in Indianapolis, the snow melted off the roof, and the living room ceiling dripped in four places. Two days later we bundled up against more frigid winds. Crazy is the new normal.
Between the storms, I went again to visit Miss Ellie and her husband who have a new kitchen in their 1850s two-story brick home. [See Two Good Women] Down the hall from the front door and through the living room, I stepped into a work of art. The old summer kitchen now had a built-on dining room with a bay window looking out over the farm. Custom-made walnut cabinets designed to their specifications graced both rooms. I did a double-take at the tall standing cupboards. At first glance, they blended in with her grandmother’s antique corner cupboards. The cabinetmaker had done a superb job. Walnut dining table and chairs completed the harmony.
Miss Ellie now makes pies, and preps for canning at an over-sized island. Light and airy, and clean as a pin, the room is delightful. She said, “For decades, I had to clear away whatever I was working on to lay the supper table each evening. It’s nice to have the extra space.”
After admiring every inch and nook and cranny, we stepped back into the old living room and chatted beside the handsome wood-burning stove. I looked at the outdated room. She must have noticed my glances, and said matter-of-factly, “The carpet has a tear and the plaster ceiling’s cracked, but we stay warm.”
From my seat, I looked back into the attractive kitchen, and then turned again toward her. I felt whiplash between the two – one part of her home new and the other worn. How could her artistic nature design rooms that belong in magazines, and still be comfortable in the old? I had a glimpse of true contentment. Her living room is long familiar, which can bring a safe feeling. She doesn’t need everything perfect to live in peace.
After the snow melted from our roof, the insurance adjustor came. We stared at the old living room ceiling – water-stained and poorly hung knotty pine tongue and groove, with unsightly cracks at every joint. As a rule, I try not to look up. A few years back, we had to replace the south wall of windows that look out into the woods. Sam and I designed them to complement the roof-line of the vaulted ceiling, and carefully selected hickory trim boards from a nearby lumber mill. We also trimmed the west windows, baseboard, and door casings. I sanded and varnished forty boards, a week-long labor of love, and then Sam finished everything in his wonderful, meticulous way. The spacious room is inviting, and the view to the woods soothing. The ceiling is not. And it may stay that way.
I hadn’t realized how much I have in common with Miss Ellie – farming and the love of the land, and I’m learning to not only “not look,” but be content with the good part. Don’t get me wrong. I like to be comfortable: warm, dry, fed. Sam calls me part cat. But maybe being a little cold/hungry/dissatisfied allows me room to grow. And when a storm hits my personal life, faith brings a stillness in the midst. The beautiful and the needy live side by side. Doesn’t one consecrate the other?