A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


The years had taken a toll on Betty’s house.  And that was to be expected.  It had done a wonderful job of providing shelter and warmth to several generations of families.  The way Betty saw it, the house was tired, and it had earned the right to sag and droop a little.

“Just like me,” Betty added.

But that didn’t mean Betty was going to just stand back and let the old house sag away into oblivion.  No, sir.  Even though money was tight, she was determined to figure out a way to give the place a lift – literally.  With the help of some men in her neighborhood, she lined up a row of jacks underneath the sloping floors.  According to the theory, if they gave those jacks a quarter-inch turn every once in a while, they could slowly, carefully, gently restore the floorboards to their original flat, straight lines – quarter-inch by quarter-inch.

At least, that was the theory.

Then Thanksgiving rolled around, and Betty invited a number of foreign students attending school near where she lived to enjoy a traditional American Thanksgiving feast at her home.  While she was putting the finishing touches on dinner, she asked a strong-looking chap from Scotland to go down and give the jacks a little twist.  Somehow between her Yankee instructions and his Scottish interpretation, “little twist” became “mighty turn.”  As the house’s central wall began to crack, Betty pounded on the floor and yelled for the Scotsman to stop.  He interpreted the noise as joyful encouragement, and he continue to twist and turn.  By the time they got him to stop, the entire plaster wall was covered with cracks.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Betty said.  “I had no idea how to uncrack a plaster wall, and I had no money to pay for someone to come fix it.”

But Betty has never been willing to allow circumstances or situations to defeat her.  So she huddled with her five children and came up with a plan.  They purchased bamboo fencing to cover the wall, and then dressed it up with peppers strung on dental floss and a feather from a Nicaraguan bird.  They put an old hunchback trunk in one corner and draped a net holding a few seashells and a size-16 sandal (lost, one can only assume, by a very large fisherman).

“The wall was beginning to look pretty good,” Betty said.  “But now, the rest of the room was looking out of place.”

Imaginations that had been kicked into gear creating the island hut motif now shifted into overdrive.  A neighbor’s Y-shaped walnut tree stump became an outward-sloping love seat.  Chairs were formed from firewood and carpet remnants.  Cardboard covered with wheat paste, sand, volcanic ash and coral became a perfectly acceptable beach.  And a discarded serving bar became a decorative boat stranded on the beach, complete with a yellow polka dot sail (made from old used curtains, or course).

“My adult visitors used to love to sit in that stranded little boat on the beach,” Betty said.  “At least, they always smiled a lot when they were sitting there.”

Word of the island living room quickly spread.  Complete strangers would stop by and ask to see it.  Betty enjoyed watching their eyes move from the “beach” floor, to the boat, to the bamboo hut.

“I think some folks thought we’d probably seen `Swiss Family Robinson’ one time too many,” she said.  “But it was our home.  We liked it.  And whether or not other people appreciated it like we did, they all agreed they’d never seen anything like it.”

And for sure, no one ever noticed the cracks in the walls.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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