The Wood Beneath Our Feet

“Why don’t we go back to wood racquets?  Then we would see the best tennis played.”  – John McEnroe

by Maida Korte

          Stepping with bare feet onto an old wood floor feels natural, as though it is something our feet have been looking for all their life.  Smooth not for the sanding, but for the many years of walking scuffing trotting stumbling living.  Much like old stone steps worn smooth and center swayed, nothing can quite mimic this polished feel, and our feet know.  Just like I know that the worn-out elements of my frenetic soul are smoothing into something better than when they started, softer, gentler, nicer, less reactionary.

          I come from a long line of reactionaries.  We people who expand easily into laughter or sobs, frightful yelps, and tight embraces. Rarely, do we consider first what we are feeling, we just go.  I haven’t seen you for a long time?  Watch out for the full arm hug wrap.  A funny scene in a movie?  Only a belly laugh will do.  The last chapter of Les Misérables?  Crumpled in my place.  Easily frightened by my husband walking up behind me innocently, I scream, to which Andy asks, “Who did you think it was?”  For every over-reaction on my part, Andy is a point of calm consideration and gentle in his approach to life which combined with my hysterics, makes for every emotion covered in a twenty-four-hour period. Is it exhausting to have my emotions so raw and exposed all the time.  It is as though all the events in a day pile up and land on my reflexes and ultimately my nerves.  Learning to calm down, though elusive enough to cause me to search in the brambles of daily living, has been a life-long effort. The simple act of stepping out of bed onto an old knotty pine wood floor, warm and silky smooth from over 100 years of use, and I take a small soulful sigh of comfort. 

          I did not walk on wood floors when I was a little girl.  My parent’s first home was a house built on a slab of concrete and the floors were covered in eight-by-eight-inch brittle tiles that most certainly were installed with an adhesive containing asbestos.  When my mother decided she was tired of this floor, covering the original was easier, and ultimately safer, though safety was definitely not considered at the time.   My mom was a young woman determined to have a continual project in the works, never quite completed with skill, but if energy were bottled, her cap would have flown off due to the pressure of grit and desire inside. 

          Peel and stick tiles were purchased wherever it would have been the cheapest and the method of installation was zip zip get it done and if something did not line up, oh well.  This resulted in many years of tiles coming up or sliding around, or chipped and missing, but my mother, an eternal optimist when it came to home renovations, was happy with the results.  I was happy too because her happiness invaded me at a molecular level.  So, I ran from the kitchen to the living room with bare feet hop-scotching my way across the pattern the tiles made for me, leading me through space, but also giving me boundary to my happiness.  I like emotions in neat and tidy groupings since I had so many of them outrageously displayed. 

          I thought that everyone who lived in houses with wood floors were rich.  My mother cleaned a few near-by homes for extra cash, and several times I went with her to help in a somewhat haphazard manner, shuffling a dusting cloth across furniture I had never seen before.  Fancy dining rooms, high ceilings, opulent draperies, all memorable to my young eyes, but it was the floors that grabbed my attention.  Wood floors in badious colors of reddish and rich brown and since we had taken off our shoes to clean, I could stand and let my bare feet take in the warmth. This background for all the furniture to sit on was perfect to my youthful eyes.  Sounds were different too. The clatter of every toy, chair or shoe at our home reverberated into other rooms, but these wood floors, in muted colors of the earth, softened even the sounds of living.   Ever since, it is wood floors that call to me to calm down, to let out a sigh, to gentle my soul, to be home.  Varied, complicated, evident in raw form for all to see with branches running amok to the sky, yet fabricated into a beautiful warmth that is useful, long-lasting, full of irregularities, I had a kindred connection to what was below my feet. 

          There are varying species of wood floors in our lovely old house, and I appreciate them all.  From walnut to red oak to knotty pine, to v-cut maple, they all speak to the care and planning of the original home-stead owner.  There is a patterned border of inlaid walnut around the living room floor where the center and edges are thin cut red oak that has been worn to a natural sheen.  Smack dab at the bottom of the stairs is a large old iron grate that you must step on every time you go up or down.  This floor grill covered the only warm air supply in the large living room.  Coupled with the complete lack of insulation, this system was inefficient at best and freezing at worst.  Since we were changing the heat from an old and terrifyingly large and inefficient furnace, to a new system of heating and cooling, this grate would no longer be necessary.  The grate cut directly into the lovely border of walnut carvings at the floors border and would require an artisan to fill in the pattern once the grate was removed. 

          Kevin came in our front door and when I showed him what needed to be done, he got down on one knee and ran large hands over the floor lovingly.  He scuffled around peering at corner cuts and I left him to his examination.  When he was done, he found me in the kitchen and said, “Well, she is old but I think I can patch her up perfectly and no one will know what she went through.”  For a moment I thought he was talking about me and I almost burst into tears. 

          Now, every time I step off the bottom tread of our stairs and my foot rests on the intricate border of multiple wood species, fitted together like a puzzle of warmth, I am grateful for trees planted and growing to the sky, for workmen who still care deeply about their craft, and for a very old house I call home.

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