The Truth, Mainly - 07/15/1991

Remodeling paradise, a piece at a time
by Leon Satterfield

OK, so there has been a little trouble this summer out here in Paradise Regained, the prettiest cabin site in the American Rockies. We boogered up a $230 piece of kitchen floor vinyl by slicing open the air bubble and poking in more adhesive with a putty knife instead of injecting it with a hypodermic needle the way we know now you're supposed to. The water from our well sometimes smells like rotten eggs. We can't find the doorknobs for the bathroom door, and Ned, the one-eyed, headstrong beagle with the mismatched jaws, just rolled in the stinkbait that some outdoor sportsman left by the crystalline stream that runs through our place.

But those are minor annoyances. The "Hallelujah Chorus" is for the news that after four summers of trying to improve on perfection, we're about to finish the job. Our place is like Thoreau's cabin at Walden in at least one respect: We have not hurried our work but rather taken our time and made the most of it. We might have had it all done the first summer had we gone far enough in hock, but instead we've convinced ourselves of the pleasures of doing it piecemeal.

The first flush of our new flush toilet last summer remains one of the half-dozen epiphanies of my life, right up there with my discharge from the Army, the births of our children and Richard Nixon's resignation. But the magic of that flush grew out of three and a half summers of using a composting toilet that didn't flush.

And if we hadn't spent three and a half summers carrying water in 5-gallon jugs from the neighbors down the road, we wouldn't still be clasping our hands and shrieking in ecstasy every time water comes right out of a tap just because we turn the little handle.

Our most recent wonder is the way lights go on when we flip a little switch on the wall. No more losing the flashlight in the dark or pumping up a Coleman lantern or tripping over the spaghetti of extension cords to turn on a trouble light hanging from the rafters.

Last week it was wall cabinets we screwed into the kitchen studs. We break into the "Ode to Joy" every time we open the doors because we can get things out even as we're standing up — rather than getting down on our hands and knees the way we did to dig the salt and pepper out of the old wooden toolbox.

Coming up in the next couple of weeks is a kitchen sink with a drain that we will pour water right down without getting our feet wet; and after that, a rug on the bedroom floor that will let us walk around barefoot without getting plywood splinters.

And someday before we die, we have a desperate faith that we'll see the Second Coming of the Bulldozer Man. Sounding like those two hopeful boobs in "Waiting for Godot," we tell each other that when he gets here, he'll do something with those piles of dirt and rock to restore the landscape to the divine order that was here before we began our debauchery of it four years ago.

But the greatest pleasure of all from doing this place piecemeal is the store of tedious sermons we're laying in for our children and the cache of heroic tales we're ratholing for our grandchildren yet unborn.

How delicious it is even now to tell our kids about deferred gratification.

"Oh, yes, we've got a nice place here," we sermonize tediously over the telephone (after we've talked a while about their temperature and humidity compared to ours), "but it was a long by golly time coming and we scrimped and saved and worked hard and practiced sound frugality so that you'll be able to enjoy it. It's like the Capitol Building in Lincoln — paid for as it was built And someday, because of our sacrifice, it'll all be yours."

Even over long-distance telephone we hear them rolling their eyes.

Just as, I imagine, our grandchildren will roll their eyes years hence while we go on interminably about the hardships we suffered.

"See that tree down there?" I'll croak to the little kids wearing sailor suits and pulling toy ducks in a circle around my rocker on our deck. "That was the first shower your grandmother and I had out here. Hung a black bag full of water in that tree and let it run all over our bodies. Nekkid as jaybirds we were, right out in the open too." Then I'll cackle.

"Leapin' lizards, Grandpa," they'll say, rolling their little eyes at each other, "tell us again how you had to wee-wee in the bushes when you first got here. And then go on interminably about how the composting toilet didn't flush and how you waited a millennium for the Second Coming of the Bulldozer Man."

It'll be really glorious then. It's pretty glorious now — except for that ugly cut in the $230 piece of kitchen vinyl and the smell of that stinkbait befouling the flowery fragrance of this new and improved Eden.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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