Every year, Brian and I try to do something fairly substantial to repair, upgrade, or improve our home. Some years, it's things you'd never notice unless they weren't there: a new roof, a heating-and-cooling system, even a painted laundry room (complete with tear-out of peach floral wallpaper).
This year we went big and we stayed home. Now for you, big may well be bigger, but this isn't a competition. It's an exercise in gratitude for something new, and nice, and, to my eyes, anyway, clean, crisp, and ... pretty. A BATHROOM REDO!
We updated this bathroom adjoining our bedroom about 10 years ago, changing the flooring, painting the walls a coordinating brown, and getting a new vanity top. I found a pair of oak mirrors in a thrift shop and they matched the double-sink vanity. Yes, it was an update, but it didn't address an aging and awkward-to-enter garden tub with one step up (to where, though?), shower, and worn-wooden vanity.
!The full renovation began as a "Wonder how much it would be." Or put another way, "What if?" Brian bemoaned his old shower, worn and lacking shelving space for both soap and shampoo. So he mentioned replacing it.
That's when I said, "I'd like to redo the whole bathroom." My tub was not only worn and awkward, but even though the room is a good size, there was inadequate storage space. I dreamed of something clean, and fresh, bright, and light.
I wondered about the big, beautiful showers that some are putting in these days. But to add one of those babies, unless I wanted to ax the tub (no chance!) it would mean rearranging the layout, moving the toilet, and thus, the plumbing for that, and likely for the vanity too. We had one company out but the guesstimate was up to more than DOUBLE what we ended up spending.
Our secret sauce was compromise, and the compromise was to not move where the new stuff went. Besides, turns out I'm the only one who thought a big shower with stadium seating might be nice. Brian said nope, just get him a new version of what he had--with more shelving.
"There are people who spend (insert dollar figure that shocks you) for a new bathroom," Brian said, as though he were delivering the Gettysburg Address. "We are not those people."
Well, I had to laugh. I agreed! It seemed ... lavish.
But first, well second, I pouted. We didn't know how to move forward. What if it really did cost that much no matter who did it or what they did?
A couple days passed, and I said I had an idea. Why don't we contract it out one upgrade at a time? Brian said that was just what he was thinking! So we went shower shopping at a big-box store. And left both underwhelmed--and overwhelmed at the same time, if that makes any sense.
One day a good friend asked if I'd like to go along with her to the flooring store. Sure! As it turns out, I had taken a photo of some flooring I liked. What are the chances this store would have something similar?
They did. I loved it. That was the floor I wanted! Affordable, too. Did they happen to know a good bathroom contractor? They sure did. A retired firefighter, Jim King. I was cautioned that Jim stays busy. In fact, the employee knew him pretty well and said he would call him first to tell him to expect my call.
To our surprise, Jim took the call and came out within days. He could do the whole thing. He listened to our wish list and told us what he suggested, and to go to Knapp Supply in Muncie and order everything. We did. It was the easiest buying trip we have ever made.
That was July. It would take 15 weeks for everything to arrive. At first, I wondered if there was a chance that the new bathroom would be done in time for Brian's aunts' and cousins' visit in October. When that didn't pan out, I thought perhaps by Thanksgiving. That wasn't it.
Ah, ha! Christmas. It will be done by Christmas! For a while there, I thought if it's finished by the end of January, we'd be lucky. But here we are, Dec. 10, and it's done! As of middle-afternoon yesterday! It all came in, was installed, painted, hooked up, and the punch list "punched."
We've initiated all the facilities, stocked the pull-out cabinet shelves, and we're enjoying our new and improved bath suite. Brian's a little concerned with keeping everything white. Guess it's incentive for me to ramp up my housekeeping skills.
Shout out to Knapp Supply Co., located in a big, old warehouse in downtown Muncie. The building served as a wagon-wheel shop before Knapp bought it over a century ago. The showrooms are sights to behold for those who are remodeling or redecorating! WOW!
Another big shout out to our contractor Jim King and his company, JJ King Builders, located in Alexandria. More appreciation goes out to Indiana Flooring in Anderson. Well done everyone!
Even though we’d be hard-pressed these days to find someone who travels by sleigh to a holiday dinner at grandmother’s house, it’s a safe bet that during this extended holiday season, numerous memories are shared, and stories told, about our parents and grandparents. This time of year, nostalgia runs deep.
Recently my sister-in-law, Jeannie, sent us home with some family heirlooms that belonged to my late brother, Tim. The treasures include a family safe of which our older son, Sam, is now the fifth-generation caretaker; a brass 1908 Model T headlight (or maybe taillight); a cache of family photos dating to horse-and-buggy days, and some other saved objects.
One is a lidded wooden box, the size of a cardboard Velveeta Cheese carton, filled with old buttons. While this surely came from someone in our family, I'm sure it didn't belong to my mother because I never saw it before. It probably originated with a grandmother, unearthed from storage in the back of a closet or deep inside a drawer.
I doubt that it’s true today, but when I was a kid, I imagine that everyone’s grandmother had a button box.
The buttons themselves are unremarkable. Most of them are of the workhorse variety: the small, white matte or pearl-like ones so common to every man’s dress shirt you’ve ever seen; the colorful but plain, flat buttons of many colors from women’s or children’s clothing; and the odd button notable for a design or texture.
It’s obvious that the buttons lived previous lives before they were cut off blouses or pants, then tossed into the box among the others, where they’ve now been for decades. Tiny fabric scraps remain attached to the backs of a few. For the most part, there’s a bit of matted, plain fabric. Occasionally, evidence of a pattern is detected, such as the small swatch of red, white and blue plaid, still clinging to one.
I can’t tell you the last time that when I discarded a garment, I first stripped it of buttons and zippers. Now that I think about it, I don’t believe that has ever happened. Sometimes I don’t even save the buttons attached to new clothing for replacements if one would pop off. And even when I do, I don’t know that I’ve ever used the spares.
Our ancestors thought differently about belongings of every kind. At least for working-class folks of the past, which is my family’s heritage, every belonging you owned took a good measure of time and money to buy. They didn’t dispose of anything with wear left in it. If clothing was beyond wearing or handing down, the garment was stripped of buttons and other useful elements such as zippers, and saved.
The stripped clothing then went on to its next purpose: for cutting up for a future quilt, stripping for rags, saving for patching, or the making of doll clothes.
Some buttons in this box were apparently so well used before they were removed that the loops on back are worn in half. Others have chipped edges.
Grandma’s button box is a reminder of our thrifty ancestors. Today we hear what seem to be contemporary terms and concepts as sustainability, recycling, reusing, upcycling, and repurposing. Good advice to not waste energy or consumables.
But grandma practiced that advice as second nature long before those with doctorates in environmental science were born. She knew that being a good steward of what God gave her is part of her citizenship on earth as well as a responsible family member. She knew that it took much personal time and energy to own something new, and that using it up in every way possible only makes sense.
We often don’t value that which is easy to come by; easy to replace. Grandma’s humble button box and the buttons inside remind me that there may be a time to come when things aren’t so easy to purchase. They remind me that today we are still called to be good stewards.
Can you imagine your grandmothers chuckling over the idea that caring for what we’re given is a new idea? Here’s to those who came before us and their humble, saved belongings that remind us of the timeless wisdom of frugality.
Look at that piece of aluminum foil that isn’t damaged or soiled. Fold it up and use it again. Grandma would have. Turn off the light when you leave the room. Consider if you really need a straw in your restaurant soft drink. You wouldn’t use one at home.
I’ll save that box of buttons, if for no other reason than the values they represent. Values always come in handy.
Retired New Castle Courier-Times Neighbors Editor Donna Cronk writes Next Chapter. It appears in three daily Indiana newspapers. Connect with her at email@example.com.