Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Memory of a Farmhouse

I was not armed with the correct implements of excavation, but I didn’t know that.

So I began anyway.

In a corner. Where I could experiment.

I pulled the couch away from the wall. It slid easily along the wide, highly polished floor boards.

The first layer was securely attached. I slid my paint scraper under the edge of gaudiness and nothing happened.

I worked my palette knife between the woodwork and the wallpaper.

Nothing happened.

Rocking back on my heels, I surveyed the expanse of the wall. It was huge. And tall. The ceilings were almost ten feet high which meant there was a daunting expanse of hideously printed wallpaper to remove.

I’m sure someone hadn’t thought it hideous when they hung it so many years ago.

I’m sure someone thought huge cabbage roses in the colors of citrus would look great on a dining room wall.

Unfortunately, that someone wasn’t me.

I shuddered to think how bright the colors would have been originally, when the wallpaper was first hung. Oh my.

I wondered if the farmwife had sought to bring sunshine into the gray and dreary Ohio winters…if she had clapped her hands in delight when the job was completed and twirled in a happy dance in the middle of the room.

I did not feel like clapping my hands in delight OR twirling when I looked at the wallpaper so I attempted its removal again. Perhaps if I started removing the wallpaper from a loose spot the job would be easier. After carefully surveying all the edges up to the molding and finding no bubbles or pieced pulled away, I discarded that idea. Someone really hung that wallpaper to stay forever.

I was stumped. So I did what many of us do in these situations…I called my Dad.

“Wellll…” he said thoughtfully, “Try wetting a section of the wall down with a wet rag and letting it set a few minutes. That might loosen up that wallpaper paste some. Are you sure you want to take that off? That’s a big job.”

Sure? Of course I was sure. It was unsightly. It was dreadful.

Besides, I had found the perfect color of green paint for the dining room walls…darker than the shade of the asparagus spears in the large garden to the east of the house, lighter than the shade of unfurling lillie-of-the-valley spears hidden on the west side of the house…I was sure. With the white painted woodwork and the shiny maple floors, I was positive that particular shade of green would look amazing in the large high-ceilinged room.

I got a rag.

I soaked the wall.

My Dad was right. The layer of wallpaper started pulling away easily. I dampened and carefully scraped and dampened and carefully scraped and ended up with 12” free of the orange and lemon roses.


The next layer of wallpaper was even worse. Pink and purple peony-like flowers with a narrow yellow line grid came into view.

I dampened and carefully scraped and dampened and carefully scraped, coming next to a wide striped pattern in dismal browns, grey’s and flesh-tones.

I shuddered. I could not imagine a housewife spinning around in delight when that particular transformation was completed.

I couldn’t imagine a woman with sight even picking that pattern at all.

Three more layers of faded and ugly wallapers peeled away, finally exposing a 12” square of pitted horse-hair plaster wall. The surface felt crumbly and brittle.

I felt my plan for fresh green paint slipping away. I suspected that it was all those layers of wallpaper that had kept the fragile plaster from disintegrating in the long years since it was first applied.

Shoving the couch back into place, I cleaned up the mess of the paper and headed to the wallpaper store.

I looked at pattern after pattern…waiting for the ‘a-ha’ moment that was surely felt by the other farmwives as they discovered citrus cabbage roses and strange, fanciful peonies.

It took awhile.

But then I found it.

The perfect, perfect wallpaper.

When it was delivered a few weeks later, I took it home with me and over the next month hung it carefully, strip by strip.

When my layer of wallpaper in the old dining room was complete, I twirled in the center of the room in delight. How perfect it was! How happy! How me!

I clapped my hands in delight…

…and I swear to you, I think the ghosts of all the past farmwives spun in joy with me…celebrating their own layers of perceived loveliness.

Even the farmwife who picked the brown, gray and flesh-tone stripes.

Perhaps, she was the most joyous of all.

I will never know how a future farmwife will look at my layer of wallpaper when she undertakes her own wallpaper excavation.

Perhaps she will start in another corner and carefully scrape away layer after layer of history…finally coming to mine.

Will she softly breathe, “Oh my…I hope I can find new wallpaper JUST like this” or will she shudder and move on through the layers?

I hope she finds my layer worth twirling over.

But even if she doesn’t…I did.

And it makes me smile to have been part of a long line of farmwives trying to layer our nests with grace and beauty for our families.

This little memory is written in honor of the letter “L” for Alphabe-Thursday. L is for Layers!

To read other 'L' offerings, just click here.

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Melinda Cornish said...

ok I want to see the wall paper.........!!!!!!

Rocky Mountain Woman said...

Ahh..Jenny. Lovely as always!

Can't wait for the rest...

Gattina said...

OMG ! I would never have tried to remove the wallpaper ! anyway I have never done anything, not even painting a wall, it's difficult to say what I would have done. I never had to do such work. Calling my father ? He would have said, "call a painter" ! lol !

PⒿ @ $ € € ₦$ ₣®0₥... said...

This long, lovely, eloquent "L" puts the rest of us to shame. You've got the gift,Matlock!

ellen b. said...

I really enjoyed your story telling about the layers of wallpaper. I'm glad you found a good solution for the walls!

Jo said...

this was so beautifully written Jenny ... i was experiencing your story ... wonderful "L"

upinthecosmos said...

I'm so Lazy I would have just painted over it! LOL!!

Kara said...

I have done the same thing myself. I can never help but feel for the woman who hung each layer and how happy she must have been when it was finished and she served a dinner to her family in the "new" dining room.

Lola said...

There are as many multi-facted layers underlying the story as there are of wallpaper!

Great L post!

PS My A-Thursday logo is missing from my post this week - Blogger deleted it unfortunately!

KellyMellyBoBellyBananaFanna said...

i agree... i want to see the wallpaper!

Nezzy said...

Oh those layers of wallpaper are so indicative of the old farm houses.

I'm glad ya offered up your perfect design to live with.

A most wonderful 'L' story sweetie.

Please pray...Farm Boy is on the way to the hospital with his Mama right now. Elevated BP...dizzy and some other issues. I know I can count of ya!!!

God bless your day my friend! :o)

anitamombanita said...

what?! not memories of a farmhouse near a jail while in lockdown waiting for some lousy lawyer to speak legalese on my behalf? oh Jenny, it's so hard to be waiting for wallpaper glue to dissolve... you know....

OK, I admit it. This was very lovely and lyrical (cuz your writing always is)....nonetheless....I want to know what happened!!!

beckyp said...

im so lazy I would have left the wallpaper

It's All Connected said...

I stripped 8 layers of wallpaper off the walls in my bedrooms. The corners were actually rounded! I find stripping paper as calming as doing a jigsaw puzzle and love imagining the women who were here before me. Great post! ~ Maureen

Sue said...

I so loved this story, which had every bit as many layers as the wallpaper.

You have a gift, Jenny!


Karen S. said...

The best advice and trick we ever learned (I think) was soaking! Oh how it is a remedy for so many things! I think that farmwoman's cousin lived in my house before we moved in. My kitchen was a shade of glowing yellow that even a rainy day couldn't match....and I'm serious now the floor had a plaid pattern yes plaid!!! and it was mostly best friend neighbor in the beginning (until now moved away) always raved about that kitchen glow......but I changed it anyway!

Emille said...

Our COLOR wall paper was olive greenwhen we moved in 2 y. ago, which made it really dark for a tiny living room, because tall trees all around us - let alone prints on wall paper! Mr. Perfection immediately called the painter, so he didn't have to deal with it himself:):)

☆☆Mumsy said...

I used to live in an old house with layers and layers of wallpaper too. I resorted to just paint over it since the job of removal was so huge!

Great story, Jenny!

taylorsoutback said...

Painting over lavender walls with white paint in our first house was a walk in the park compared to your wallpapered layers of memories...your Farmhouse Memories are so super - they could go into a beautiful book.

Annesphamily said...

Oh sweet Jenny! You are one brave soul! We wallpapered our first home but my hubbys cousin was a pro at it, did it for a living so it was a snap! I like paint. You can change it nicely. It is cheaper too I think! I must find a photo of my kitchen on Durango Street. It had bright yellow wallpaper with huge orange poppy like flowers everywhere! The walls were so damaged we repapered with a cute blue and white check pattern and did the cabients bight white!It was a sweet kitchen! Ah memories....Hugs Anne

EG Wow said...

I live in an old farmhouse built before the turn of the twentieth century. It truly is "interesting" to find layers revealing other owners' tastes!

Linda @ A La Carte said...

Jenny you are such a great story teller! I too lived in an old farmhouse once and the layers of paper in the kitchen was amazing. Great L post! hugs, Linda

Ames said...

Accck! That is some ugly wall paper. I tried to remove some wall paper in the bathroom of my last house only to find the wall behind it was not painted. Some idiot in 1962 wallpapered right over the unpainted drywall. Talk about a mess.
Loving this story. Do continue on...~Ames

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

My Mom did that--she would layer wallpaper on top of wallpaper and sometimes paint ontop of the wallpaper! Lovely post, Ms Jenny!

Stef said...

What a treasure. Okay, so maybe not really a treasure. But it is the history of your house. Awesome!

Ames said...

Yo Jenneeeeeeeeeeeeee!
I have awarded you the Versatile Blogger award. Stop by my blog for instructions on how to get your award.
Love ya!~Ames

Ms. A said...

"Legal" would have been a good "L" word, AND you could have given me more of the jail, bail and court saga... not that I don't like layers.

JDaniel4's Mom said...

What does the wallpaper look like?

Judie said...

My, my, my! You certainly were industrious! I think I would have just hired that Holmes fellow.


Betty (picture circa 1951) said...

Oh dear, that was a lot of layers. I wonder how many more have been added since? You mentioned Lillie of the Valley growing there. I guess it's too hot here because the couple of times I bought some at Walmart it didn't come up. We always had it in NJ and now I miss it.

Farmer's Wyfe said...

I love coming over here especially for your farmhouse stories!! Except, where's the wallpaper. Of course, maybe that's the point, for us all to dream what it will be? :) This sounded like my stairway. I quite when I got to the turquiose paisley paper and saw pink and black paper underneath. I should have repapered it, too, but I paint a mural on it instead. Love old farmhouses for the stories they hold, just like this one that you brought to life! :)

Andy said...

Hello Jenny,
I'm a talent is in writing. I am not in the slightest bit handy. I don't even know how to use a paintbrush. The most I can do is change a lightbulb!

I have to say the layers of wallpaper are hideous, but I guess each layer must have been loved by someone during the many different owners of the house. This story of yours has so many layers...each one more intriguing than the next.
I think I'll be somewhat sad when it comes to an end.
Beautifully penned, Jenny.
Thanks for sharing.

Love Has Seeped Into My Heart