My unfinished “Pondering Nook” in our attic is the fruit of my do-it-yourself spirit.
It all began after a friend of mine moved into a nursing home at age 84. She had been active and was in good health, volunteering at a local hospital and baking cookies or brownies to help raise money for the hospital. Her sudden move surprised me because I heard her say that she didn’t want to be surrounded by “old people” complaining about their declining health and aches and pains all day long. What changed? But I recalled that she once gave me these prophetic words: “When you’re my age, everything is a challenge, even rising from your bed in the morning.”
“Old people” in general deal with the sense of loss: the loss of their departed loved ones and friends, as well as the loss of stamina and the sense of accomplishment they had when they were younger. Some feel inadequate or clumsy because they’re no longer quick, physically or mentally.
Who can guarantee that I can always do what I’m able today? I might someday sit in a rocking chair by a window of a nursing home and recycle my memories, including what I’m doing today. So I came up with the Pondering Nook to make positive memories, while my mind is still alert and I’m physically able.
I’ve been a firm believer of doing it yourself most of my life. For this reason, my mother often pronounced the word “stubborn” in my face in the manner a doctor would pronounce “incurable” to his patient. Even today, I don’t let anyone carry my grocery bags to my car or my carry-on bag at the airport no matter how heavy it is or how long I have to walk, because I can do it myself.
The attic was a mere storage space that had a ceiling light, and the floor was mere sheets of bare plywood that creaked and bounced when I walked on them. The walls were ugly with insulation material between bare wooden studs, without mentioning spider webs. The first thing I did, after the spider webs were removed, was secure the floor with a hammer and a dozen nails.
Hammering seems easy when others do it, but the truth is, nails don’t always obey the hammer’s commands. Some break or bend, and you have to pull them out, which takes time and energy, more energy than pounding them into the wood in the first place. And when least expected, the hammer lands on the hand that holds the nail, causing you yelp like a puppy.
But it’s all about learning. You can’t give up just because you pounded your hand with a hammer.
When the floor felt solid and secure under my weight, I covered the walls with bedspreads and comforters I no longer needed and stapled them onto the studs. The A-shape ceiling is still ugly with bare wood and insulation materials, because I didn’t want to stand on our 5-foot ladder, afraid that I’d fall and break a bone or two. But if I don’t look up at the ceiling, I definitely get a sense of sweet home surrounded by the bedspreads and comforters with flower prints and other patterns that pleased my eyes when I was younger.
Emptying two short bookcases that were in the basement and hauling them to the nook was a serious challenge for me, because I had to climb two sets of staircases and turn several corners. Still, it was worth the effort because I now have a humble library in my nook. The only regret I have is that I left some scratch marks on the banister. But I won’t spoil my sense of a job well done by worrying about some scratch marks on the banister that my husband would never see.
What would I ponder in my Pondering Nook?
Anything from God’s purpose in my life and to how to save money on my next grocery shopping. But I’ll definitely think about how people’s concept of creativity seems to suffer here in America today. Everyone follows experts’ guidance — on TV, on videos, at workshops, in newspapers — simple things as fishing, gardening, traveling, cooking and even making a scrapbook! I don’t mind if my tomatoes don’t look as beautiful as my neighbors’ or I can’t cook New Orleans gumbo or chicken feet in any style. Life is too short to worry about unimportant things.
When I muster some courage, I’ll stand on our ladder and cover the ceiling. Then I’ll conduct a humble ribbon-cutting ceremony, where I’ll be the keynote speaker, the ribbon cutter and honored guest. What would I say to my invisible audience?
I’ll ponder that in my Pondering Nook.
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.