Sunday, November 17, 2013

Primed for action -- after a sad week

We've had an easier week or two since I last had time to post. The level of craziness at work -- the periodic high grading load, extra meetings, and gratuitous weekend events that are all part of the job at a residential college -- has tailed off just a little, allowing me to make plans during the week for work on the weekends. This strange feeling of relative ease was tempered by sadness, as we learned of the death of my aunt Rita Womersley in Britain, and then that of our faculty colleague, Lois Ongley here in maine.

Rita married my father's brother Stan, pictured in this post here. They had two children, my cousins David and Ann. My mum and dad kept a chocolate business which went through several iterations, and in the last and most permanent, mum and Rita were the real business "heads," working together to figure out a sustainable and profitable cost structure which would support both families as they staged into retirement. After retirement, mum and dad moved down to the Welsh valleys area to be close to my sister Carol, but as cousin David, now married to Beverly and a Captain in the Salvation Army, was stationed in the valleys too, mum and dad and Rita and Stan saw plenty of each other. I liked Rita a good deal, mostly because she had what Americans call a "feisty" nature, and was compassionate and willing to lend an ear. This was helpful, especially later, when things grew difficult for Carol and I caring for mum and dad, by then both suffering terribly from Alzheimer's Disease. Aimee only met her once, at my other aunt Barbara's wedding (her third -- at age seventy!), but Rita's feisty nature made a great impression on her, and she often commentated on it.

I wasn't able to afford the air ticket to go home to Sheffield for Rita's funeral, which was Thursday, so sister Carol went "for" both of us. 

The last time I saw Rita was at my mother's funeral. I can't help but get the impression that if I don't get done with this extension and to a level plateau with this farm-building project in the next year, to a point where Aimee and I have enough time and money for some proper vacation-length family visits, I won't have very many of my immediate family left in the UK to go visit! That's not entirely true, since Carol and I have a myriad of cousins with a plethora of offspring, some of whom I don't know very well. But of the family crowds I grew up with, the large numbers of immediate aunts, uncles, cousins, great aunts and great uncles that could fill a house for a slightly boozy Christmas party in Dronfield or a lively game of Newmarket in Crooks, well, there are hardly any of those folk left alive now. 

This isn't just a family sadness. The same thing is happening to millions of British families. It runs to a national loss, of character and memory and resilience. The folk I'm thinking of were the Great War and WWII generations in Britain. Rita, for instance, like uncle Stan or my father Gordon and my mother Jean, the Womersleys of Dronfield and Sheffield, were all small children during WWII; while my maternal grandparents and great-aunts and uncles, the Watsons of Fullwood and Whitley Woods, were survivors of the Great War and Great Depression. All had reserves of personality, character and resilience as a result. It was a privilege to be raised by them.

My sister reports that the Salvation Army had a brass band for my aunt's funeral, and that my cousin Beverly, who has the voice of an angel, sang the 23rd Psalm. I'm happy and glad that there are still brass bands to be found in the North, and that Salvation Army women can still sing for the funeral of a loved one.

Lois, for her part, was also a wonderful personality, one of several faculty members that I hired for the college while interim Provost in the mid-2000s. I distinctly remember her private interview with me because she made such an impression. Lois was an old school field geologist that cut her industrial teeth in the "oil patch" of Texas when there were few women in a male-dominated business. She took s**t from no-one, man or women, and I valued her deeply as a colleague for her integrity and independence of mind. According to Dilbert and in reality, the world is full of horrible leaders promoted well above their capabilities, and, from time to time, even little Unity College is no exception. Lois was a scourge to the spin-mongers and flim-flammers, a pest to Provosts, interim or otherwise, a friend for all seasons, and a one-woman hospice and den mother to stray students and stray dogs to boot. Her house on Main Street in Unity was always full of both. They just don't make them like her anymore. 

Lois died of lung cancer in a Portland hospital this weekend, and will be sorely missed. The only consolation for the loss of a valued colleague is that Lois had three bright and feisty daughters, each of which in her own way has made a contribution as helpful as their mother did, scientists and medical professionals. There couldn't be any greater tribute to the dead from the living than that.

Life is for the living, however, not the dead, and I always think that it's by going on and making progress in living that we honor them best. One thing Aimee and I badly need in order to better stay in touch with our families is some room in this small farmhouse for people to stay when they come visit. This particular weekend it was time for priming the bathroom and trimming the living room and bedroom in the new extension. 

Aimee's tiled vanity, pictured above, was finished sometime during the week, as was the tiled shower stall. She's on sabbatical, and so has some extra time for this kind of thing -- when she's not attending marine biology or conservation group meetings or finishing up her sabbatical paper on seaweed research. This nice new item of furniture remained, however, parked firmly in the middle of the living room floor, in the way of everything. I wanted it out of my way so I could clean up some pretty horrible mess on the new floor (where dollops of dripped paint and, far worse, epoxy grout were getting slowly ground into the new surface), and then get ready for baseboards ("skirting board" in British) and window trim.

Accordingly, I had Aimee order me a few hundred feet of pine, which arrived Friday. I staged it up in my workshop and ran the first coat of gloss Min Wax finish over it, sanding down any discolored or rough spots. I then ran the first coat of drywall primer over the bathroom walls. Then I ran to town for more finish, and a new finish nailer, a slightly better one to replace the many old ones I've broken over the years. Back home, it was time for a second coat on both boards and walls. We had some nice sunny weather yesterday afternoon, which allowed me to stack the drying boards outside in the sun. then I moved the vanity into the bathroom and cleaned up the new living room and, on my hands and knees, scrubbing the paint and grout spots off the living room and bedroom floors. 

Aimee for her part decided to preempt her usual workout by cleaning out the two remaining stalls in the barn. I'm sure she was pretty sore when she got done with all that, and will be even sorer today when she wakes up. But now the barn is pretty well clean and the compost heap is built and ready to go.

Last weekend we'd bought the two doors needed for the new building and I'd hung them, leaving the plastic protective sheet on the as-yet unfinished pine.

This weekend it was time to wire and hang the final, formal lighting fixtures, which I did while waiting for my baseboard to dry.

Here's Aimee's finished shower stall, in need of a good clean, as well as the final plumbing. I should be able to get both done today. It will be Aimee's job, however, to take the bathroom to the next stage, as she is in charge of finish painting, as well as picking out the flooring.

All in  all, we're making progress, and we expect to be "in" the new building by Christmas.

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Welcome to our Farm Blog.
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