Winter Welcome

Then, comes the snow in its beauty.
Each flake a pattern of lace
That floats in the air, so gently;
Then, finds its own, special place.
~ Gertrude Tooley Buckingham

We put out the “Winter Welcome” sign as dusk fell Saturday night, just as the first few snowflakes sifted down from a lowering sky. Most of the homes in our neighborhood have had their Christmas lights glowing for a while now. We were a little late this year, but with good reason. The house was being worked on and we didn’t think it was fair to ask the contractors to hammer around garlands and wreaths and step over our quirky collection of lighted woodland animals. 

The first time we looked at this house, with its towering oak tree and old-fashioned gambrel roof, and despite some obvious problems, we felt an immediate connection. Before making an offer, we asked our favorite contractor if he – and we – were up for the challenge. It would take lots of thinking and planning, plus immeasurable sweat and labor whether it was hot, raining, or freezing.

Thursday, after a long season of projects that began right after Easter, our contractor and his partner, who are also a hilarious standup team, spent from dark to dark finishing up a variety of tasks to bring this year’s work to a close. Despite a bitter, eye-watering cold day, they braved the cutting wind, and balancing on ladders and a catwalk, got it all done. And not only is the work completed and done right, it’s beautiful. It has been a big job, this journey of bringing the house up to its full potential. 

We have wood shakes on our house, some located on the second story. They all needed painting, but painting contractors were crazy busy finishing up big outside jobs and didn’t have time for such a, for them, little project. Teetering on a ladder, accompanied by my occasional vertigo and a fair amount of swearing, I managed to get the first floor shakes painted. But, the task wasn’t finished. And we were running out of time. It was difficult to believe that a drastic change in the weather was forecast for the next day on a balmy, sunny morning toward the end of November. We had a beautiful autumn, but it was undeniable that at last the globe was turning us toward winter. And there they were: unpainted shakes that no longer matched the rest of the house, running all the way up to the top peak of the roof. The contractor, who, after two major remodeling jobs, feels like a member of the family, suggested, with the nonchalance of a person who clambers over houses for a living, that, if we rented a cherry picker, I could paint them. 

“Oh-no-no-no-no!” I stuttered. “Sure a normal person could, not one who is afraid of heights!” 

“Aw, you can do it!” He said with cheerful gusto as I stood rooted to the good ol’ solid Earth, staring up, while my obsessive-compulsive need to “get things done” battled it out with my innate fear of plummeting to the ground. He had such faith in me, and I can understand that, because I was the designated “cleaner upper” during all our projects. After years of mucking out stalls of various barn dwellers, I’m not afraid to wade in and get my hands dirty. Therefore, during the demolition phase of the kitchen remodel, I was the one who shoveled up the bucketful of mummified mice discovered in a hidden tomb between the walls. I even stopped long enough to snap a photo of the long-deceased pile with the express intention of sending it to our daughters simply to horrify them. 

I patiently explained to him that it would be difficult to get much painting done if I was cowering on the floor of the bucket with my hands clutched over my eyes. Long story shortened: I did it. 

It wasn’t exactly uneventful, however. Operating the bucket was a challenge and I needed frequent “driving” instructions from the guys to keep from crashing it through the upstairs windows. I’d finally begun to relax a little, and feeling like Mary Poppins in the chimney sweep number, was enjoying the gorgeous autumn vista from my seat up among the tree limbs and rooftops. Suddenly, there was a commotion, and a squirrel, chittering wildly, sped around the corner of the house and up the big oak tree beside me. In hot pursuit was a large hawk. Hawks look pretty small when seen at a distance. When they are about to land on your head, their proportions loom quite large. Frantically waving my paint roller around, I managed to sputter out “Hey, hawk!” While the squirrel dove to safety, the startled bird hovered awkwardly for a moment, and if a bird can have facial expressions, this one registered shock and disbelief. It flew off while I checked my hair for droppings.

So, all in one afternoon I faced down a lifelong fear, saved a squirrel’s life, and got ‘er done, finishing just as it grew too dark to see without an official contractor headlamp. 

Now, after a year that included weeks without a kitchen, alarming homeowner discoveries, and gallons of paint, the garland is hung from the eaves and we are snug and comfy as the first winter storm of the season wraps our world in a magical quilt of December snow.