Hiding Places

by Maida Korte

“I sat in a box
With walls on each side.
Not too tall.
Not too wide.
To think.
To ponder.
To pray.
To hide.
I sat in a box and cried.”
Richelle E. Goodrich

          Lurking behind the walls of our ‘getting older by the minute’ home were multiple hard to get at problems.  In the basement there was mildew growing on old foundation stone that required scraping and some sort of acid concoction that involved impenetrable gloves and a facemask that my husband donned every time he ventured into the labyrinth.  On the second floor the leak from the hall bath was yet to be discovered as the pipes had not quite exploded but we did see the faint glimmer of a stain on the kitchen ceiling – is that a spot?  Are you sure?  The deluge was yet to come. 

Bats hung from rafters in our third-floor walk-up attic and upon occasion flew down through pathways in the walls, entering through pocket doors openings which terrified me and most of our girls.  Our youngest daughter, Miranda, calm in the face of an emergency, would quietly grab a tennis racquet whenever this happened, smack the bat ‘upside the head’ and put a bowl over it when it fell to the floor dazed.  The rest of us exited the front door screaming onto the front lawn, waiting for her to tell us it was safe to come back inside.  Ultimately finding a bat-master, who called himself the ‘Critter Ridder,’ ended the trauma of flying vermin.  We did have to endure live-traps and who knew that brown bats were an endangered species?

          But it was the dining room that caught our immediate attention.  Just beyond the dining room’s large, heavy, and thick converging pocket doors was a room we dubbed the family room.  This lovely space had large windows of sand glass that looked out on the covered porch beyond.  In the evenings we would sit in here and watch television or just talk about our days in the wild blue yonder.  We were getting comfortable living in the country and would make mental lists of what to do on the weekend and which project to tackle first when I gazed thoughtfully into the large and spacious dining room.  Our first purchase for our rambling country Victorian was a refectory table that could easily seat twelve or eight or twenty, depending on which end was expanded by pulling out a plank on dowels.  We could not afford matching chairs so we put plastic folding chairs around the table. We could envision family sitting here for hours, just doing life together. 

          On one particular evening, as I looked across into the dining room, I noticed something strange about the ceiling – it just appeared lower than the other rooms, even though it was drywalled, taped and plastered.  The ceiling had a lot of cracks in the old plaster, but this has seemed normal to us in a house of a certain age.  And so, the exploration began.  At first making only a small hole, then a larger chunk of plaster and before you knew it, there was a cavernous hole showing us the problem hiding above.  From what we could see initially, the entire dining room ceiling was sagging. The original wood-lath and plaster was heavy, was falling off in chunks, and the solution for one of the ‘long time ago’ previous owners was to put a false ceiling over this, hiding the problem and zip zip it was done.  Of course, this would ultimately return in the form of more sagging, numerous cracks and still we didn’t know why.  Andy said the only thing to do was remove the whole ceiling from this twenty-foot by sixteen-foot-wide dining room.   This was difficult and messy enough, but revealed the real cause of the problem which would take a lot more grit and stamina to correct.   

          Discovering that the large master bedroom above never had the correct sized floor joists installed for such a long twenty-foot span, meant that over the course of decades the floor sagged, creaked, moaned, and argued with the occupants of the master suite.  Ultimately showing up in a cracked and falling plaster shower into the dining room below, a cheap fix would never do for my thorough husband and partner in remodeling.  Building a support wall in three locations and then removing the ‘too small’ sized joists with the proper sized and larger joists, it was a project of momentous proportions. 

The finished product was a beautifully proportioned ceiling with carved two-layer crown molding, custom made to match the other rooms of the house, a polished and glowing venetian plaster on the walls, with sheer silk roman blinds gracing the large three-windowed bay. This dining room has become our favorite place in the house when family arrives.  Here we sit and make announcements, tell stories, commiserate, and love on one another.  Musical chairs take place constantly as the up down cadence of grown-up girls and grown-up boys bring babies and toddlers and small children to sit and dine and learn how to talk about airplanes and gardens and coloring contests and what’s for dessert and nothing is better than this. 

Dining rooms are sacred places to me.  In my grammar school days, my siblings and I would bring home papers that would be sacredly placed at the right of my father’s dinner plate on our dining room table.  For a moment, during the hub-bub that comes with music lessons, sports activities, and homework, we stopped and ate our evening meal together every day.  We were a ramshackle bunch of six kids who wanted our parents to be proud of us and so we drank in their praise as dad picked up each piece of accomplishment with a simple remark of ‘good work General’ to my brothers, or ‘beautiful and well done’ to me or my sisters.  My mom oohed and aahed her way through the pile as my dad handed it to her when his examinations were complete.  We glowed both in the praise of our parents and in the comfort to our souls that we had been seen for the individuals we knew we were in this unit called family.  My boisterous nature had me trying not to talk while bouncing my legs in a drummed and frenetic pace where I sat.  My mom’s gentle touch under the table reminded me that I could will myself to calm down.  Where was my mom’s touch when I needed it most as a middle-aged woman bouncing too hard at life?

When my mom died, I was thirty-three years old and had four little girls of my own.  Now I was orphaned among the angels and there was no one to replace the kindness, the goodness, the brilliance of my mother.  In my efforts to recreate her, to be her, I was losing myself in the process.   I had moved to the country, partnering with an old house that needed fixing, and all I could think about were the hidden repairs lurking below the surface of my own personality, ready to seep out one character flaw at a time.  Defining myself without having my mom to moor me to myself made me feel untethered – a sort of floating through life but never touching down. 

My mother had taught me to accept the two different sides of my personality.  The one I thought everyone saw, where I could be inappropriate, loud, and boisterous, and the other that was contemplative, serious, but hidden and insecure. It is here where I needed books and music to steer my soul into the dock and rest.  Moving at break-neck speed was my comfort zone to bearing up under the weight of the responsibilities I faced each day.  When my mom was alive, it is not that I talked continuously to her about the fast-paced narrative of my life, it is just that I found a respite in her voice, her being, her sensibilities.  I yearned to find a new way to work out the fearful elements taking over my thought patterns that were translating into life patterns.

I didn’t know how to slow down and was beginning to head into each day as a problem instead of a glorious possibility.  Tackling the hidden remodeling issues in our home was a demolition project for myself and I was determined to figure out how to reconnect with the parts of my personality that resembled my mom but would be entirely me. 

2 Responses to “Hiding Places

  • Allan James
    4 weeks ago

    Wow….. what a great and vulnerable reflection, Maida.

    You excel at putting thoughts onto paper……

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