Before I go another step, and before things really start popping out in the yard, I want to tell you about the furniture my husband has made for us.
Floyd, as you know, is a welder. He is also a pretty excellent pipe-fitter, which isn’t too relevant to this story. But it was highly relevant to me in our old Hyde Park home, “the little house” as we called it, since it was in fact quite small. It was a four-room ’30s bungalow – just over 900 square feet – and when you said something was “in the closet,” there was only one closet in which that object might be found.
I had the bathroom gutted when I first moved in, because I had a little money and the bathroom was frightening, with tiles in various shades of tan and blue, linen storage in a few cabinets left over from the kitchen remodel, and a tiled-in window beside the bathtub. Tub, sink, and toilet were crammed at one end of the relatively long space; and while I think it can sometimes be convenient to be able to employ a commode and a sink simultaneously, I am not generally given to intestinal upsets of that magnitude. So I designed a better-arranged bathroom suitable to a thirties house, with black and white tiles and white wainscoting. The new space was beautiful, with a deep soaking tub and a pedestal sink that could have come straight out of a Fred Astaire movie.
Although a few new lengths of pipe were put in place to serve the new oasis, the rest of the house was served by the originals – which, after nearly eighty years of Austin water, were as calcified and clogged as a terminal cardiac patient’s arteries. One day, Floyd traveled on his back into the creepy underside of that house with paper, pencil, and tape measure. Before too long he returned to that dusty shadowy realm with lengths of copper pipe and equipment that makes things spark. All the pipes fit where they were supposed to go. The little house had new plumbing.
The house we occupy now in the southwest suburbs doesn’t need any plumbing help, thankfully, although while I’m on the subject I will say my dear spouse installed a pump under the kitchen sink which, at the press of a button, sends cold water back to the hot water heater and hot water over to the kitchen. The process takes just under a minute and saves us from pouring hundreds of gallons of cold water down the drain waiting for the hot water to arrive. The kitchen has a little button on the front of the sink, and the guest bathroom has what looks like a doorbell on a shelf above the commode. It is amusing to discover which guests ask why we have a doorbell in the bathroom and which ones let the entire enterprise glide right by without a mention.
It’s fortunate this house is relatively new, as it is built on a slab rather than the old pier-and-beam structure. I imagine plumbing jobs would require jackhammers and lots of money. What Floyd has brought to this house, apart from his general wonderfulness and relief that his home plumbing days are over, is furniture.
I didn’t always believe in his furniture-making, I am sorry to confess. I’d seen some of the lawn chairs he had made way back in his Appleby days, and all I could think was how heavy and unwieldy they seemed. Most of the things welders make are heavy, as you would imagine.
But in a headboard and bed platform, heavy is a good thing. It is very annoying to sleep in a rickety structure that threatens to collapse at any moment. Some of us have a hard time sleeping as it is. When it came time to envision a headboard for us, I pictured one-inch steel tubing and a platform that was high enough to create the illusion of the whole thing floating. It’s a very good bed.
The frame has five legs and a platform of three-quarter-inch plywood framed in steel. The legs are set well underneath, so that illusion of floating exists. At the little house we needed all that space for storage, but no more! I probably shouldn’t admit this, but Travis and I are known to play certain hiding games under that bed, and to hunker down under there when a thunderstorm is raging. I keep hoping he’ll learn to take comfort there himself when scary noises threaten – like when the washing machine is rumbling like a rocket about to take off – but so far he seeks his comfort with us.
Our suburban haven has a little entryway with a long blank wall that would be hung with family photographs if I were the type to hang family photographs. Although we have a small coat closet right there, I wanted a place to hang a jacket or purse on a hook. Who has time to fiddle with hangers?
In the house where I grew up, the front hall had a built-in nook where an old-fashioned “hall tree” – complete with mirror – stood. In front of it was my father’s small drop-front desk, where he paid bills and did other efficient things. I wanted something like that old hall tree, and scoured sources all over town for one that would have some presence but also be shallow enough for the relatively narrow entryway. I had no luck.
Draw me what you want, said Floyd, as usual. So I did. The end result represents a real collaboration.
That’s not really a door in the upper left corner; it’s a reflection of the coat closet door in a beveled mirror I picked up at Bed Bath & Beyond for cheap. Can’t open the front door without checking to see if you have spinach in your teeth. Because the piece is so shallow, I had Floyd anchor it to the wall so no one (like a wild grandchild) would pull it down on top of themselves. I’ll tell you the story of the wood in a minute. First, another view:
The third excellent thing Floyd made for our home is the dining room table. For years we’d made do with a 1930’s table with those leaves you pull out from the sides. Nowhere near enough for us, the kids, and the grands. I asked Floyd if he could please make me a farmhouse table with a plywood top. We’d used top-grade plywood in the little house to make some terrific shelves in the laundry room. With sandpaper, elbow grease, and polyurethane, those shelves looked fabulous.
I wanted a dining room table that needed no placemats or coasters for wet glasses; one that would serve for Legos, dominoes, and art projects; one that six or eight adults could gather at comfortably. I figured we’s drive up to the Nordstrom of plywood here in town and pick a suitable top. We measured the space and then I more or less forgot about the whole enterprise.
It turns out that near Floyd’s shop there lives an interesting man who loves wood. He loves wood a lot. It took many, many weeks, but in the end Floyd came home with a table-top made of old pine. Really old pine, cut from columns removed from a sawmill in the Carolinas that dated back to the Civil War. Not what I’d envisioned, and not within anyone’s reasonable budget, but pretty amazing. The same pine cut thinner would be used for the shelves of the hall tree.
For a couple of weeks our garage was blanketed in wood dust, then draped in plastic as Floyd sanded and oiled that tabletop over and over. After a time I became a bit whiny, wanting my table in the dining room. All I wanted was a table I wouldn’t have to worry about, I said.
I just want it to be perfect once, answered Floyd. That night a mosquito managed to park itself in the tacky finish and set the project back another couple of days. But at long last it was ready to be installed. Its base is of a “knock-kneed” design so that no one seated at the table has to fight too hard with a table leg.
As you can see, it sits just over a Border Collie high, specially suited not just to Travis but also to the six chairs I scored at the City-Wide Garage Sale for a mere twenty bucks each. They are larger and heavier than most of the rush-seat chairs you encounter. I can tell you one thing, if you’re looking for a career in the furniture industry: learn how to replace rush seats. I haven’t found anyone within a two-hundred mile radius who does it, and the process is impressively expensive. When I ran a Google on how weave a rush seat yourself, I understood why.
I have never seen pine with a grain like this wood has, and that man who loves wood fit those boards together beautifully:
The basket was a thank-you gift from my niece Chrissie. We drove out to the Lavender Festival in Blanco when last she visited, and both of us fell in love with baskets made by Austin women. You might as well pick one out now, she told me, or I’ll just have to pick one and lug it home and mail it to you. A dream of a houseguest, and she bakes scones for breakfast without even using a recipe.
You should know that the table has a little glitter glue on it here and there now, and an array of scratches and gouges made in its service as a cutting table for sewing projects. I couldn’t be happier about them. Apart from her “good” dishes in the dogwood pattern, my mother was never one for saving anything “for special,” and neither am I.
The next thing I decided I couldn’t live without was a piece of kitchen furniture. I was envisioning shelves, wineglass racks, and a granite surface for all the candy-making I do (which is none, but this is beside the point). I measured the empty wall space, took out my ruler and sketch paper, and handed my vision over to Floyd.
This time we did make a run up to the fancy plywood store, and that summer when I returned from Mary’s house I sanded and polyurethaned the shelves. Floyd and his friend DJ from next door had wrestled the thing into the house while I was away. DJ has a granite business and his wife Christine had directed us straight to the most beautiful piece of stone imaginable for such a piece of furniture.
Once the polyurethane was dry and more or less stinkless, the shelves were screwed into place and a fabulous work station made itself immediately indispensable in the kitchen.
The piece looks busy and it always is busy. Floyd had taken the time to line up our cast-iron pans on the counter before deciding the placement of the hooks he’d made for them. This wall had been merely a blank space in the kitchen. The previous homeowners had placed a small dining table and chairs in this area, but as much as I love food, I really couldn’t get behind three eating spaces within twenty feet of each other.
It’s a spacious prep area, and a fun place for mixing up batters. I only wipe the granite with a wet cloth so it will always be ready for pie crust (which I do, on occasion, in fact prepare). It even has its own set of electrical outlets!
The bar stools arrived just before Floyd’s most recent birthday. He’d been meaning to replace the ones that had come with the house since we moved in, and finally there was enough of a lull in his schedule that he could put together five bar stools. Why five? Because there are five grandchildren, and when they eat at our house they always want to sit at the bar. When we eat at home, we usually eat at the bar as well.
The surfaces of these stools are smooth and comfortable, and there are no thin sharp corners lurking around to make you regret you have an elbow, as the previous bar stools loved to do. The wood is cedar, and that has a story too.
Outside of Nacogdoches is a little town called Appleby. Although it was once a thriving little berg with several banks, lots of merchants, and a much larger population than it has today, now Appleby is just a little place at the end of the Sand Road. Floyd’s grandparents had a house there, and when Floyd was a little boy his grandfather pointed out a particular cedar tree down near the road.
See that cedar tree? he asked Floyd. When you get grown, you can sell that for money.
Years later the state was putting a big road through, right at the edge of the property. One of the trees that came down was that enormous cedar. Floyd and his father took the logs to a sawmill and had the tree rough-cut into boards. Floyd kept those boards and they came to Austin when his mother moved out of Appleby. Finally they would have a permanent position, in our home, where our grandchildren prefer to eat their burgers and tots – or at least enough of their burgers and tots to qualify them for dessert.
Also in time for Floyd’s birthday party was a room divider cum charging station designed to screen the back of the TV and be strong enough to hold some of Floyd’s vinyl collection. This item has proved itself a workhorse, and we use it to the hilt. It’s amazing how much simpler life can be when all your chargeables are charging at the same place.
One last item: my garden bench. After I’d finished redecorating the front yard last August (Cf. post entitled “A Math Problem”), I decided I would love to have a bench under that wonderful live oak. It took a little convincing to get Floyd on board with a backless design, but I knew exactly what I wanted: six feet long, wide enough to lie comfortably on a couple of pillows, a book in hand and a cold drink close by.
The wood is ipe, hard as stone and dense enough to sink in water. It is a beautiful garden bench and just looking at this photo makes me hunger for spring, when I can lie out in the dappled shade, catching every breeze that passes over our corner, spying on the screech owl in her nest box and trying to steal photos of the owlets before they fledge.
I leave you with one last photograph. It rests in a steel frame on the wall at the foot of our wonderful dining room table. Floyd had made some steel frames for Torchy’s Tacos, and he thought this photo would look good in one.
The steel took on a lovely marble-like appearance when he treated it:
On the paper, I wrote out what was written on the back of the photo in a careful hand.
Although he was more directly involved with the cedar on our bar stools, I like to think Floyd’s grandfather would wholeheartedly approve of our tabletop. He knew what there was to know about wood. I think the photograph in its steel frame perfectly captures our relationship to wood and metal in this house: one made by nature, one by man, impressive in themselves and a marvel in collaboration.
Here he is as a young man, hauling logs from the piney woods of east Texas:
Thomas Floyd (“Pop”) Crawford, at about age 20 years, Hauling logs for “Old River Lumber Company” in Northeast Nacogdoches County, Texas (2 mi. N of Appleby) Saddle mule “Sam” Off wheel mule “Kate” Right lead (grey) “Net” Left lead “Frog.” Pop born 1886. Picture made by Will Pixley, Aunt Ola’s husband. (Aunt Ola was Mama Blanche’s sister) Taken at Old River Lumber Company.