Just Add Water

A little over two years ago, Al and I rearranged some art work in our living room to hang a beautiful, large painting over our couch. And for all that time, two unsightly holes in the wall flanked the painting—reminders of the pictures that had preceded it. They weren’t just simple nail holes; no, the paint had flaked off to reveal the plaster beneath.

IMG_2298It was one of those little annoyances you forget about, ignore, live with—nothing earth-shattering, but an irritating reminder of neglected home maintenance. I had pushed it out of my head as something my hands couldn’t handle.

Until Sunday. I woke up with a plan: I was going to fix the holes myself. Al was working at the hospital, and I wanted to surprise him.

Step One was to locate the wall paint. Sure enough, there sat a can on a shelf in the basement, unopened since 1999 when we moved into our home. I brought it upstairs, set it on some newspaper and pried open the top with a screw driver.

Our living room is painted brick red. What was left of the paint, about a third of a can, was purple. Or so it appeared. I found a dowel and began stirring. The red emerged as a marbled swirl, eventually blending to make a perfect match to the walls. It was thick, but viscous enough to paint.

Step Two was an Internet search for how to patch a hole in the wall, followed by a trip to the local hardware store. Channeling my father, who was Mr. Fix-it and had a very precise way of approaching any task, I bought spackle, a putty knife, a plastic drop cloth, a tack cloth and a sanding sponge that would be easy to hold. I considered buying paint thinner but decided it would be a waste of money for the small amount of paint that I needed.

At home, I gathered all my supplies, including some small sponge brushes from another project. To my surprise, I was able to move the couch away from the wall without much exertion. Behind it, there were two gashes in the wall where the couch had rubbed away paint, so i figured I could practice on those hidden spots, first.

Drop cloth in place, spackle container lid removed (with a bit of a struggle), I was ready to go. I scraped off the chipped paint, sanded the edges to make a smooth surface, tacked away the dust and dipped my putty knife into the spackle. And smiled. It was fun! The spackle spread as easily as cream cheese. Within ten minutes, I had two holes and two gashes neatly prepped for painting.

The spackle was supposed to dry in about a half hour, so I set out for a nice walk around the neighborhood. Upon my return, it was time to pour some paint into a plastic cup and finish the job.

However, I realized when I reopened the paint can that I probably hadn’t sealed the lid quite tightly enough. It was even thicker than previously. I stirred some more and poured a small amount into the cup. I stirred it again. I wished I had bought the thinner, but it was too late to go back to the store. So I set out to paint.

And here is where my project got a little messy. The paint had tiny little globs in it, which balled up on the wall. I had to swipe them off with a series of sponge brushes, over and over to catch them all. Then I realized that the spackle had not dried in one of the deeper holes and had sunk a bit. More spackle, more waiting. Grrrrrr. I wanted to be finished, and I wanted it to be perfect!

About this point, Emily came downstairs to investigate my progress. I groused about the clumping paint and my failure to get any thinner.

“Did you look at the label on the can?” she asked.

Duh. I had to admit that I hadn’t. I’d just assumed it was oil-based from the purple oily layer when I first opened the can. But, sure enough, the paint was acrylic. All it needed was a little water mixed in for a nice, silky consistency.

Em encouraged me to wait long enough to let the spackle really dry this time before I tested it. She promised to distract Al if he came home before I was through. Which is exactly what happened as I laid down the final swath of paint over what had been the second hole.

“I have a surprise for you!” I said, walking into the kitchen with my brush and paint cup. And, indeed, he was surprised—and impressed—not only that the holes were finally repaired, but that I had done it myself. I was, too.

The paint has fully dried, now. If you know where to look, you can see traces of my handy-work. But it blends in well enough. And at long last, the painting looks fully at home on its brick red wall. Best of all, I realized that my hands can take on a light home repair project, with good results. As long as I read all the labels.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

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