Home improvement projects

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

It was the beginning of summer in 2008. My wife and I had been living in our 1920s era house for about 15 years.

We had worked on a few rooms but the time had come to work on the big one – the kitchen. We knew that it would be time-consuming, expensive and exhausting.

My wife and I were both working as teachers. She was a special education teacher, I was teaching English and writing at a local technical college.

Our kitchen had not been updated since the early 1980s and the plumbing and wiring was original – knob and tube for the wiring, lathe and plaster in the walls and cast-iron pipes for the plumbing.

Our floor was the original, and very worn VG fir with cracks, splinters and many nails poking up.

This would be a huge job, one that would take months.

The workmen came and tore out the old walls, floors, wiring and plumbing.

We had previously removed all cabinets, food and appliances form the kitchen.

We had also gone shopping for replacement cabinets, a new refrigerator and stove.

Everything that was moved had been piled into our living room.

Making even the most basic snack was a major ordeal.

The project went as smoothly as projects of that size usually do – which is to say that there were glitches and minor accidents on a near daily basis.

This was one of those projects that seemed to get bigger and more complicated as it went on.

If you know old houses, you know how this works.

But this project took an unexpected turn.

Our personal lives, at least when it came to eating, food storage and socializing were in chaos.

Our work continued, and, at least as far as we knew at the time, life outside of our kitchen was relatively stable.

We were wrong.

By the time our kitchen was completed, the world had become a very different place.

As we were working, or while we were home scavenging our next meal from the boxes and bins stacked up in our living room, the larger economy, especially the housing market, was in a state of collapse.

Foreclosures, bankruptcies and evictions were at record levels.

Several of the businesses where we bought appliances closed their doors, permanently, shortly thereafter.

Our neighborhood, like every neighborhood across America, had abandoned and foreclosed homes on every block.

It took years for our economy to recover.

We had our new kitchen, and we scraped by for the next several years and the economy, all too slowly, regained strength.

Fast forward about 12 years and in January of 2020 we began a project of remodeling our single bathroom.

We rented a portable toilet and parked it in the alley.

We made arrangements with the neighbors to take occasional showers and I started going to my local YMCA to work out and take showers.

As the workers gutted our bathroom, our home life became chaotic, but not as chaotic as the world outside.

Many national, if not international, leading economic indicators were steering toward weakness and the emerging COVID-19 was gaining traction across Asia and much of Europe.

As our bathroom project is tying up, cities, and even several countries are enforcing curfews and shelter-in-place orders.

Schools, restaurants and businesses are closing – some permanently.

Self-isolating has become commonplace, normally busy urban centers are abandoned and major modes of transportation are shuttered.

The word “recession” is again in our headlines and everyday conversations.

Stock market drops of over a thousand have become an almost daily occurrence.

I understand the concepts of causality and correlation.

My home projects did not “cause” any of any of these, in fact I don’t seen any connection except the accidental sequence.

All I can tell you for certain is that I won’t be embarking on any serious home projects for a long, long time.

As I write this, toward the end of March, our “one month” project has stretched long over two.

Our bathroom still needs to be painted, woodwork needs to be installed and our bathroom does not have a door.

The stock market continues to plummet, unemployment claims reach record highs and every public event from parades to weddings have been canceled.

Crisis, both public and individual, is well-known for bringing out our truest selves.

Some drift into panic and fear, and their actions, like hoarding and scalping reflect that, others make productive use of their time and resources and some even choose a challenging time to be even more creative, helpful and generous.

We need to learn how to get to a point of relearning from the enduring, near eternal knowledge that humans have always held in times of famine, storm and persecution, that we have lost due to our being so busy and distracted. We will need to relearn how to sit still and how to gently work with the land, appreciate each other, not take more than we need and share the gifts we have.

We can come out of this as better people, a stronger community and a more solid and equitable economy.

The Golden Rule, the one about treating others the way we would like to be treated, still prevails. In business, in your neighborhood, in your grocery store or in your home, it is the one “investment” that always pays off.

It only seems revolutionary because we have moved so far away from it.

The opportunists among us shame us all, and those who step up, from medical workers to grocery delivery workers inspire us all.

The irony though, is that this time of crisis that drives us into isolation and “social distancing” just might be the one thing that brings us together.