Dr. Perfection and Ms. Good Enough

Judi Meirowitz Tischler, Age, 73

If you are worried that you have cancer, you want your slides read by my husband, pathologist extraordinaire. If you want to sort out a problem with a family member, my skillful listening might help you come up with a plan.

When we decided to embark upon the marital adventure of partially
renovating a small basement bathroom, and do it ourselves to avoid the expense of a contractor, our differences emerged within hours. As we prepped the walls for painting, a speck of dust was accidentally painted over, resulting in a small (dare I say microscopic) bump. Ms. Good Enough could easily ignore it, given our jointly agreed upon objective of finishing the project quickly. But the speck invaded my husband’s dreams, appearing as an errant malignant cell growing and devouring the entire wall. He left our bed at 2AM, clipped on his head lamp to compensate for the absence of natural light, sanded and reprimed the entire wall. Ms. Good Enough slept through the entire event.

What dybbuk could have possibly possessed us to think that this bathroom reno project would be fast and smooth? Fessing up, it was I who pushed this item to the top of the To Do List.

The bathroom has its own story, much of it lost to the history of an earlier millennium. Thirty one years ago, we bought this house from a ninety year old woman, the youngest of six siblings, all of them born in the third floor bedroom. She was eager to sell the house As Is, along with its century’s worth of contents. We paid her asking price. With one packed suitcase, she left to join her two surviving sisters at their retirement home in Pennsylvania.

Our family of five moved in, and with much griping, door slamming, laundry and homework the tasks of life got done.
Ten years into our residency in this house, we engaged a contractor to finish the basement, including the small room in the corner that years before the realtor had called the Jelly Room. It was cold enough to preserve jelly jars and far from the massive coal furnace. It had shelves, a door, a light bulb hanging from the ceiling and a toilet.
Many months later we had a fabulous finished basement with a small full bath.

Around this time, my recently widowed mother began to make frequent week-long visits from New Jersey. She moved into the basement that was renamed Grandma’s Room. With the goal of making her comfortable, we upgraded the lighting, bought a low tech TV and sleep-sofa with a button that elevated the head. The plus was her own bathroom. We ate dinner like a proper 1990’s family, conversing, discussing homework assignments and happenings of the day and during mealtimes did not answer the phone that hung with its curly cord on the kitchen wall. After dinner everyone scattered and grandma washed the dishes while listening to the news on the small transistor radio that she carried in her apron pocket. She would then disappear to the basement .It has been years since she passed away, but these warm memories still linger.

Over time the room filled with our grandchildren’s toys, exercise equipment and books. The small table top TV was replaced by a larger than life wall mounted screen.The two remaining residents, now septuagenarians, spend evenings sitting on the couch, looking at the exercise equipment, often choosing to pick up the remote control and a light hand weight.

The bathroom too had lost its vim and vigor. As if a sign that it was time for an intervention, the mirrored door of the medicine cabinet became unhinged. We looked around. It was time to come clean. We had each been noticing the creeping decay: the small patch of mold in the corner of the ceiling, the broken floor tile, the discolored vanity. This bathroom needed an upgrade.

How hard could it be?

We are both still able bodied and enjoy a challenge but our approach to planning and executing a project were not the same and we had never worked together in quite this way. We needed a foreman who felt confident making plumbing, electrical and carpentry decisions. I have long held a grudge against the New York City Public Schools from which I
received an otherwise fine education. In the 1950’s and 60’s, girls were denied the Shop electives and funneled into Home Economics. Even after the Feminist Revolution which changed things for the generations that followed, my undermined self confidence in these areas worked against seeking out these skills.I agreed to be the apprentice as long as we kept to a time schedule and my innate sense of hue, utility and style.

So far, we are enjoying ourselves. Tarps cover the basement staging area.The old vanity has gone out with the trash. The sink is removed and sits face down among the toys. The unhinged mirrored medicine cabinet has been taken to the dump. The disconnected and drained toilet sits among the books.The sink trap and fixtures are gently cushioned in a carton. We are frequent flyers at the local hardware store, and Home Depot. We have bought a new sink, vanity and medicine cabinet and have watched dozens of How-To-Do You Tube videos. Without much difficulty, we agreed upon a bright wake you up in the morning yellowy orange with a whiter than white trim. I have learned to paint slow and smooth and to care about bumps.

Having begun this project feeling quite misaligned, we have settled into an in sync tempo and are proud of ourselves and happy., Our next big project will be downsizing. Although much greater in scale, when we show a prospective buyer our home, like the realtor who guided us decades ago, we will begin with the small full bath in the corner of the basement. It comes with a story.

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5 Responses to Dr. Perfection and Ms. Good Enough

  1. Maureen says:

    What a wonderful story. Your writing style is beautiful. My husband and I have lived in our home in a small town in New England for 50 years. Our daughters and grandsons live nearby. My husband’s family has been here since 1830. I guess the saying, “Once a New Englander, always a New Englander” is true!!

  2. Sherrill Elizondo says:

    A great story! Thanks for sharing. I have experienced remodeling of a home plus one major move after living in a home for 42 years. I can relate to all the special memories of that home and still relive the many happy days spent in each room with a growing family.

  3. Loretta says:

    Such a beautiful story!

  4. Susan says:

    My entree into health care was a job in Pathology. I loved working with the pathologists, medical students, interns, and residents. Great bunch of people.

    What a beautiful writing style! This would make a lovely and warm script.

    I downsized five years ago today into a 1520 square foot bungalow. No regrets. I think I’ve done all the purging necessary now. I prefer a minimal style. In fact, both my adult children live minimally, too. Talk about role reversal.

    I hope you write again. This was absolutely delightful to read.

  5. Evelyn Eskin says:

    Wonderful story!!!! What lovely memories of a house that’s been a precious home. Lucky you!!!

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