Posts Tagged ‘Chicken Wire’

“Surprise”

March 8, 2012

The problem with giving my husband too much credit for a job well done is that he takes over my project. After I found this sad little kitchen cabinet on the porch of a local antique shop and Bruce talked the owner down a hundred dollars from the asking price, I guess he felt like his bartering skills gave him special privileges.

We stopped off at the hardware store on our way home with the cupboard to pick up some sandpaper blocks and a putty knife I wanted. I planned to scrape the curling peels of paint and sand down the finish to a “distressed” look. I saw the end result in my imagination. Sometimes I don’t have the words to describe what I want. It takes action to reveal my intention.

“You want to do what?” Bruce asked.

“I want to feather out the bare spots, elongate them, flatten the edges of the paint so they don’t look chipped.”

“Why don’t we just refinish it?” Bruce asked.

“I don’t think I want to do that,” I said. “Do you have any idea how many coats of paint are on this cupboard?”  From what I could see of the layers, there were at least four different colors and probably some varnish to boot. “It would take weeks to scrape all that paint off and you don’t even know what’s under all that mess. It could be some ugly-grained wood. Besides, if I don’t like the way it turns out, I can always slather it with a fresh coat of white paint.” 

Bruce and I have refinished our share of furniture. It’s hard work, scraping, sanding, applying chemicals that burn your hands and your nose, that ruin your favorite knock-around clothes.  I have a love for primitive pieces though, and we have rebuilt jelly cupboards, lingerie chests, dressers, wardrobes, and farm tables.  My favorites are the pine pieces we’ve refinished with their warm tiger stripe grain glowing a soft golden brown when rubbed with tung or linseed oil.  With this project, I didn’t feel up to the intensive labor involved in stripping it. Besides, this was the cabinet I fell in love with, not some undressed version in Bruce’s imagination.

He bent down and looked under one of the shelves. “Might be pine,” he said, plying me with possibility, but I was trying to stand firm in my conviction. I really liked the distressed look of the kitchen cabinet, and that weary façade enhanced the chicken wire covering the areas where there was once glass.

I ran my hand across the cupboard door. I turned the wooden spool knob. I wondered about the family who first owned this piece and how proud they must have been to have it standing in their kitchen. “Look at it,” I said. “It’s charming just like it is. All it needs is a little TLC, just some touch-ups, a little scraping and sanding, that’s all.”

“It needs a whole lot more than that,” Bruce mumbled under his breath. Louder, he argued, “I don’t think it would be so hard to strip it,” as he scraped at the peeling paint with his chisel, sending little chips flying toward me and raining down on my head. He wiped away the paint dust with his hand. “See,” he said, “not hard at all.”

Once the man gets an idea into his head, it’s there. He doesn’t listen.  I tried again. “Do you see how the front of the cabinet looks?” I asked, pointing to the areas of worn paint with wood grain showing through. “That’s how I want the whole thing to look.”

“Let’s see what the wood looks like underneath,” Bruce pushed. “Here, I’ll turn it over and scrape a section that’s not so noticeable.”

“No, that’s alright. I’m going to work on scraping and sanding. You go ahead and work on that lawnmower carburetor over there.” Bruce shrugged his shoulders and turned to his workbench, picked up the carburetor, his screwdriver, and began working on the hunk of metal in his hand.

I took up my putty knife and began scraping the curls of paint. When all the loose paint was chipped off, I took the coarse sandpaper block and started the back and forth rubbing that softens the edges of chipped paint. The emerging hints of wood beneath shone gray under the paint. A fine white dust powdered the floor under my ministrations.

After three hours of sanding, the bottom of the cabinet was looking like I wanted it. I stood back, pushed my hair off my forehead with the back of my hand, rolled the tension out of my shoulders, and wiped my dusty hands down the front of my jeans. I turned to Bruce who was putting the carburetor back on the lawnmower. “What do you think?” I asked.

“Can’t see a whole lot of difference from here,” he said, getting up and walking over.  He reached out and ran his hand over the sanded areas. “Ok, I see what you’re doing. And you like the way this looks?” He asked with a frown.

“I think so, but I’m not finished yet.  I won’t really know until I get more of it done. I’m a little worried about the shelf here though,” I said, running my fingers over the work surface of the cabinet. It had suffered the most damage from years of being used as a cutting board or chopping block. “It has some places that are really gouged out.”

Bruce bent down and lifted his glasses to peer under them. “Look, the paint’s a lot thicker on this part. I don’t think it’s going to feather like you want it to,” he said, chipping at a small crater with the putty knife.

“We’ll see,” I said. “Anyway, I think I’m done with it for today. I have the funeral to go to in South Hill tomorrow. I’ll work on it again Monday.” My best friend Trisha’s mother had died and the service was three hours away.

I left for the funeral the next morning and didn’t think much about my little cabinet in the garage until I pulled back into the driveway late that evening. The light was on in the garage, and the door was open. I smelled the high-inducing fumes of lacquer thinner. I felt my stomach drop as the realization and dread filled me.  I took a deep breath and looked through the door.

There was my cabinet, turned on its side with my husband bent over it, covered in paint dust. He looked up at me and grinned with his excitement.  I stood there stunned, absolutely stunned. It was like coming home to a room whose walls had been a familiar white to find them painted purple. I couldn’t speak. All I could do was stare.

Bruce called out a hearty, “Surprise!”

Yep, I was surprised.

“ I’d have gotten more done, but I thought you were going to be gone longer,” he said.

“Oh,” I said with a weak smile. “You’ve been busy.”

“Worked on it all day long for you. What do you think?”

What could I tell him? That I wanted to cry? That I wanted to ask him what in the heck he thought he was doing? That I wished he’d stuck to repairing his lawnmowers and left my cabinet alone? That I wanted to turn back time and give his free day back to him again? That I hated what he’d done?

Half of the cabinet was down to its natural wood.  All the chicken wire had been pulled loose and was in a tangle on the garage floor, and Bruce had worked the whole day on the cabinet…for me. He was happy. He thought I’d be happy. “I’ve been thinking,” Bruce said.

From the looks of it, he’d been doing more than thinking. “Yeah?” I asked.

“Are you OK?” he asked, looking at me and frowning.

“I’m OK, just tired. It was a long trip and just such a sad day,” I said.

“Oh shoot, I didn’t think,” he said, straightening up and coming over to put an arm around me. “How was the funeral and your trip?”

“Lots of people there,” I said, hugging him and staring over his shoulder at my half naked cabinet. “She was loved. Trisha did alright. I didn’t stay for the meal afterward. I wanted to get home before dark, thought I might work on the cabinet a little before I went to bed.”

Bruce isn’t one for funerals or emotion. He doesn’t talk about his feelings or ask me about mine much. He does tangible things to show his love and support, like refinishing a piece of furniture.

“So, what I was thinking,” he went on after his brief assessment of my emotional state. “We could put glass back into the top where that god-awful chicken wire was, or do you remember the tin my Daddy put in the pie safe he made? He got a pattern from a book and punched the tin himself with a hammer and nail. We could do that.”

“I really hadn’t thought beyond sanding it,” I said.

“Well, let’s sleep on it,” Bruce offered. “We’ll figure it out tomorrow.”

Yep, tomorrow, I thought. We’ll have to figure this mess out tomorrow.

The Lure of Chicken Wire

February 29, 2012

Have you ever fallen in love with a piece of furniture? Out of the blue, just looked at it and said, “Oh my gosh, I have to have that dresser,” or “that’s the prettiest blanket chest I’ve ever laid eyes on,”  or “I can’t imagine sleeping under any other headboard but that one?”  Well it happened to me again on Saturday. I was driving past the Greenwood Country Store, and there it sat on the front porch, pretty as you please, a kitchen cabinet.  It called to me. I could hear it through the closed windows of the car, and as I got closer, I realized this was the exact same piece of furniture I had missed out on five years before.

It looked at me and said, “I need a home.”

And it did.  I felt just as sorry for that piece of furniture as I would a stray dog. It almost looked the same as it had five years before, but was now a bit worse for wear.  When I parked the car in front of the store, I was also in front of the cabinet. It was like a hoosier cabinet, but a poor man’s version. It stood about five feet tall, three feet wide, and two feet deep. The bottom half had closed doors with a wooden spool knob. The top was what grabbed my heart though. At one time, I think the cabinet doors had four panes of glass, but something must have happened to break them, because in their place, was chicken wire.

The last time I saw this piece of furniture was at the antique sale at the park in town. The cupboard had a three hundred fifty dollar price tag then, and I didn’t have the funds to buy it. Bruce said he wasn’t putting three hundred fifty dollars into anything that had chicken wire stapled to the front of it.

“Oh I’ve found you,” I said to the little cabinet, knowing this was a match that was meant to be. I got out of the car and stepped up beside the piece of furniture. I pushed on it to see how sturdy it was. It stood solidly, didn’t even groan under my weight.  I opened the cabinet doors to find four holes drilled into the back, and a shelf missing. There were layers and layers of peeling white paint on the outside and someone had painted the upper inside of the cabinet turquoise. Still, it made my heart happy to find it even in the shape it was in.

The bell jangled when I walked into the store.  “Come on in,” the owner said. “How are you today?”

“Doing fine,” I said. “How much you want for the white cabinet on the porch?”

“Two-fifty,” she said.

Well that was better than its original price of three-fifty, but with all the wear, the holes and peeling paint. I still didn’t like it two-fifty worth.  I called Bruce.

“What kind of shape is it in?” He asked.

I explained.

“Where are you gonna put it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But I really like it. Remember we saw it a few years ago? Beverly showed it to us at the antique show and I wanted it then.  I still want it.”

I could hear Bruce scrubbing his face with his hand, trying to remember something that he hadn’t liked to begin with, and not having luck.

“I know you remember the chicken wire,” I said, trying to make him remember.

“No, I don’t,” he mumbled, and then said something about wanting a Mercedes Benz himself, but not needing one.

“You ought to see it though,” I said. “At least come look at it.”

“The trailer’s hooked to the truck. I’m not going to drag all the lawn mowers up to Greenwood. Offer her one-fifty and see what she says.”

I walked around the store. I hate haggling. My mother’s an antique dealer and my husband wheels and deals all day long with equipment. I was not born with the haggle gene.  I looked at china plates, antique school desks, framed prints of horses and children, silver plated tea sets, and tin biscuit cutters. I wasn’t interested in any of those items. I was gathering courage.

“Would you take less for the cabinet?” I asked.

“How much less?” the owner asked, looking out the window at my little kitchen cabinet.

“One fifty?” I asked.  I know I flinched when I said it. That offer seemed like a slap in the face to me.

“I can’t take less than two hundred,” she said. “The couple next door bought it from me for three-fifty, used it as an entertainment center until they found something better. They’d like to at least get two hundred for it, no less.”

Now I knew why there were holes in the back, and it made me mad. Why do people want to ruin something perfectly wonderful?  “I’m just not sure I can afford two hundred, and they drilled holes in the back,” I complained, hoping she’d see my side. When she didn’t come around, I said, “Let me call my husband.”

I went back out to the car and called Bruce back. “Come and get me,” he said. “I’ll ride with you to take a look at it.”

As I drove home, I thought about someone happening upon the store and my cabinet, whisking it out from under me before I got back. I drove like a mad woman, taking all those crooked back roads like something big and bad was chasing me. I kept hearing that cabinet call my name.

When we arrived back at the store, Bruce got out and stood in front of the cupboard.  He frowned and I just smiled big, so excited to find it again, to have the opportunity to actually own it, hoping my enthusiasm would rub off on my husband.  “You realize its been sitting out here in the weather for awhile don’t you?” He asked me. “The paint’s peeling. Who drilled holes in the back?  There’s a shelf missing.”

My little cabinet sagged under Bruce’s scrutiny and insults. Leave it to Bruce to point out everything about that beautiful piece of furniture that needed fixing.  I countered with every good point I could think of. “It’s a perfect small size for the house. It has good storage space. It’s quaint and original.”

“Original is the word alright. Whoever saw chicken wire on the front of a kitchen cabinet? The only thing chicken wire will keep out of a kitchen cabinet is chickens and they don’t roam around inside the house.”

“The chicken wire was what drew me to it in the first place,” I said. “It’s my favorite part of the piece. Don’t you remember it now?”

He didn’t.

We walked into the store and Bruce scanned the shelves, picking up old tools, looking for a brass belt buckle. He showed the owner a picture of the vintage candy machine he has in the garage. He wants to sell it and hoped she’d put it on consignment.  He stalled, not saying a thing about my cabinet, making me squirm.

Finally, he asked the owner about the piece of furniture. She repeated her story to him. “I can’t take less than two hundred. The couple is already losing money on it.”

“They didn’t do it any favors by drilling holes in the back, adding that turquoise paint or letting it sit outside for the paint to peel.  I can’t see putting more than one-fifty into it,” Bruce said, turning back to a cross cut saw on the shelf closest to me.

I had my checkbook with me. I had two hundred dollars. I was willing to write the check, hand it to her. The little white piece of furniture was out there on the front porch, begging. I inhaled, starting to say something, but Bruce shot a look at me.  I kept quiet, but the owner didn’t budge.

“You open tomorrow?” Bruce asked.

I had a funeral to go to the next day. I couldn’t come back the next day. Someone might buy it before the next day. What was my husband thinking?

“Twelve to five,” the owner said.

“We might be back,” Bruce said, taking my hand and leading me out the door.

My hang-dog look didn’t stop him. Bruce didn’t turn back, didn’t even look back, didn’t slow his stride. He walked out the door and past my cupboard. It whined behind me. I followed Bruce, planning to give him a piece of my mind once we were in the car. I’d stomp back into that store and buy my cabinet, support or no support from my husband.  We stepped off the porch, Bruce opened the car door for me, and I sat down heavily into the seat, crossing my arms over my chest. Before he could close the car door though, the owner came out with a cell phone pressed to her ear. She held up a hand, beckoning us to wait.

“They said they’ll take one seventy-five,” she said.

“Tell them we’ve got one-fifty,” Bruce said.

I held my breath, and so did the cabinet.

I beamed as we placed my little kitchen cabinet gently into the back of the Honda.  “Come on little cabinet, we’re going home where you belong,” I said, hearing the piece of furniture sigh contentedly as I closed the hatch.

We got in the car and left the store behind. “Thank you,” I said to Bruce, leaning over to give him a peck on the cheek.

“Chicken wire,” Bruce said with disdain as he shook his head.