Different people like to celebrate the holidays in different ways.
Some bake Christmas cookies, attend concerts or stand in line all night on Black Friday to buy a wide-screen TV.
Me, I like to tear apart a room in our house and put it back together to the best of my abilities as an English major. It’s rapidly becoming a holiday tradition.
“I’ve noticed this,” said my long-suffering wife.
I prefer an essential downstairs room — no hallways, bedrooms or closets for me. Those are so minor league. I like the challenge of clearing out a high-traffic area during the busiest time of the year, cramming all the furniture into the rest of the house, sealing off the room with plastic so it becomes a fatherly Fortress of Solitude, and moving in with power tools.
And the time I do this tends to be about the time my wife wants to have the house clean and decorated for the holidays. I don’t do this to aggravate her on purpose. I do enough things by accident for that. It’s just that when the weather is nice, I prefer to be outdoors.
“The problem is, for you that’s February through November,” my wife observed.
It’s true. The fact is I am an outside dog. Whether it’s picking green beans, mowing the grass, cutting wood or cleaning the gutters, I am always game for outdoor work. I am mostly impervious to heat and cold, so it takes fairly miserable weather to force me off the field. You know the old saying about mad dogs and English majors.
Our 9-year-old daughter has inherited this quality from me. She’s always slipping outside after dinner for some “fresh air,” as she says, no matter the weather. I’ll find her in the yard bouncing on the trampoline in a Sponge Bob T-shirt with temperatures hovering just above freezing. As a dad, I am obligated to shout fatherly directives.
“Hey! Put a jacket on!” I say.
“But it’s not cold out!” she answers, not missing a bounce.
It’s hard to argue with her on that. Usually I am wearing shorts when I shout at her to put on warm clothes, which tends to strip away much of my moral authority.
So I’m not ready to tackle indoor projects until, well, the holidays. I’m available at the end of November, into December and January for inside jobs. Come February, I’m out the door for maple syrup season. But the first rainy, cold day in late fall, I come inside, clap my hands together, and look for something to destroy and rebuild.
Last year, it was the dining room. I tore into refinishing the floor a couple of weeks before we were due to host 17 people for Thanksgiving dinner. This year, it’s the living room. I shoved out all the furniture and went to work skimming the old plaster walls with drywall compound and sanding them smooth — kicking up more dust than a Sarah Palin book signing.
My goal is to have it painted, ready for the Christmas tree, and safe for human habitation sometime before Dec. 25. I’d better, or the next project for this outside dog could be building himself a little house in the preferred surroundings of his back yard.
When it comes to my holiday-season renovation projects, I like to think of myself as a sort of human Advent calendar. I’m counting down the days until Christmas and cultivating a sense of patience and expectation in my family. The white drywall dust on every table top, picture frame and horizontal surface in the house makes it look like all our possessions are covered in a fine layer of new-fallen snow. It’s really rather festive.
When the whole house is embroiled in the chaos of homework, holiday decorating and moving mountains of laundry, I’m sealed in my cocoon with tools, coffee and loud classic rock. It’s a peaceful, happy place. All is calm, all is bright in the light of halogen work lamps.
My loving family becomes a sort of fuzzy, soundless TV Christmas special that I watch through the plastic sheets covering the doorways. Wait … is that my wife furiously motioning for me to come out? Maybe she’s just waving to say, “Great work, Hon! Love you!”
I always assume the latter. Look on the bright side, I always say.
Contact John Gladden at firstname.lastname@example.org.