Home improvement | Journal Scene

The best part of renovating a 1955 brick ranch? One hardly knows where to begin.

One could start by smacking oneself in the head with a ball-peen hammer until one faints, thereby being exempt from everything that follows, such as: ripping up ancient shag carpet; ripping out bathrooms that were current when “Pal Joey” was a hit, and ripping off faux-pine paneling GLUED TO brick walls.

(The last item involved weeks of applying solvent, using heat guns to soften the glue and chisels to pry it off inch by agonizing inch. We should have just painted the paneling.)

By smiting oneself into a blackout, one also avoids calling dozens of tradesmen and waiting in vain for a response. Finding a unicorn in your garage is more likely than finding a plumber who can see you before, say, 2025.

We’ve been working on that house — Widdle Baby’s boyhood home — for five years now. That’s how long it takes when you do everything you can yourself — and then wait on the painter guy, bricklayer guy, carpenter guy, granite-and-tile guy, electric guy, roof guy, plumber guy and floor guy. (*Widdle has installed ceiling fans, storm doors, blinds, cabinet pulls and doorknobs; stripped wallpaper; built thresholds; spackled holes; replaced trim; and torn out linoleum and subflooring — plus the aforementioned demo of carpet and paneling.)

I do what I can, which is mostly providing snacks and being a cheerleader. I designed the bookshelves and fireplace, picked out paint and wallpaper and chose the drawer pulls — nothing too taxing.

My most interesting (read: maddening) contribution was lining 38 kitchen drawers with shelf paper. This involved seven rolls of self-adhesive Con-Tact paper in green and blue paisley, two X-Acto knives, one yardstick, a marking pen and, afterwards, one insanely aching back.

I have new respect for anyone who can hang wallpaper. This shelf paper stuck to my hands, clothes and eyebrows. I measured twice and cut once, like everyone says, and still had two-inch gaps. (Some drawers are lined with four strips of paper instead of one smooth sheet.) At first I cared, and then didn’t care, about air bubbles. I used a library card to flatten them, which just rippled the paper and bent my library card.

I yanked my hair up, put my head down and lined all 38 drawers in five hours. I was very proud of myself. This feeling lasted until the next day, when I tried to get out of bed. My back and thighs throbbed like I’d been beaten with a baseball bat. Apparently exercising six days a week (cardio and free weights) is no match for … smoothing shelf paper in drawers. Seriously.

Why are we doing all this again? Because Widdle’s history is in this house. He learned to walk there, and toddled with his father across the fields. His mother taught him to respect women in those rooms, and his dad showed him what hard work could accomplish. (Cute story: As a tot, Widdle liked to gnaw on his brother Bill in that house, until his mother busted him in mid-bite and he caught a smack-down.) He and I attended many Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas and birthday celebrations there.

There’s a lot going for it: It’s brick (no painting!), comes with 20 acres and two outbuildings, plus a massive oak tree. It’s only a half-mile from our current home, so no sticker shock on the property taxes.

The old home place means a lot to Widdle. And if it matters to him, it matters to me. But I’m done with shelf paper.

Julie R. Smith, who doesn’t know a conduit from ductwork, can be reached at [email protected].

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