Feeling like a refugee in your own home can happen during the unhappy months or years that precede a divorce or —for us — during a weeklong kitchen floor tiling project.
The tile guys arrived on the first day, not to build, but to destroy our cracked floor overdue for replacement.
They wielded long crowbars, wore N95 masks and left a fine blanket of dust over everything.
Before this messy upset, my husband and three sons hauled the refrigerator, stove, china cabinet and chairs out of the kitchen and into the living room.
The round laminated kitchen table I got for free in the early 1990s during a kitchen remodel at the Minneapolis Grain Exchange where I once worked in public relations now stands in the back yard, its legs sunk in shaggy grass.
Once upon a time, traders sat at that table to eat lunch and smoke and talk over their fortunes on the trading floor that day.
We’ll get back to some version of that here again soon without smoking. But during this transition, we make meals with a toaster oven, rice cooker, air fryer, electric pressure cooker and our Coleman camp stove at our folding camp table in the garage — our auxiliary kitchen into next week.
In the meantime, I am squeezing this experience for meaning beyond the obvious.
For one thing, I am listening to our house, because a certain stillness proceeds the demolition of cracked relationships or tiles. And here, during the walk up to the Great Recession, this property in 2006 slipped back into the hands of the bank and sat for 18 months in foreclosure.
So, the conversation between my husband, the real estate agent and me in the kitchen after we toured the four bedroom home in October 2007 echoed.
The house stood by with an inscrutable silence. It held no signs of life — not even the hum of a refrigerator to indicate ownership and homemaking.
But I forgot that hollowness, because 16 years ago, we filled the kitchen with the table and chairs from the Grain Exchange. And, we invited many friends and family to join us there for breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
We put out the punch bowl on the kitchen counter for parties. And we made tray after tray of divinity, peanut brittle and peppermint bark past midnight every mid- December for holiday treats to share.
The tiny feet of all three of my boys have grown into much bigger feet scampering through the years over these tiles, and the original tile floor carried their weight and ours until the dishwasher leaked and the water heaved the flooring underneath.
The tiles cracked then. And like a pond with thin ice, the cracking rippled out in these severe lines.
We needed to replace this floor.
But in between when the project started with demolition and will finish with sealant, we eyed the concrete backer board as an unlikely gray canvas with a very short life as such. And we decided to handwrite some messages on it.
Our middle son, Andy, 15, just wrote, “Andy was here.”
But the rest of us left words from the Bible — sacred words we call scripture. Maybe other families might leave positive statements or words of encouragement.
You get the idea.
Here, we wanted to stand on these words in our daily life.
One of the snippets I wrote from scripture by the transition between the kitchen floor and the hallway is from Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
In the center of the kitchen floor Ray, 13, just wrote, “Jesus loves me.”
My husband wrote in front of where the refrigerator will be this from Ecclesiastes 10: “A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry…”
Meanwhile, Carl went big. He picked a verse from his small blue Bible and then spray-painted Romans 6:23 in black lettering over most of the kitchen’s dining area.
It looks like graffiti.
But graffiti, by definition, appears in public spaces or at least in public view, as is the case when boxcars roll past cars stopped at a crossing. Because of that, the law views the messages graffiti artists leave as defacing — as a crime.
But this was one time that Carl and the rest of us could leave divine messages presently visible and soon veiled by the stuff of Earth — by cement mix and ceramic tiles and, eventually, grout. All of these promises are covered until someone else replaces the tile and finds them in undecipherable bits.
Meanwhile, we can stand on the new floor and recall the hidden treasure that exists there like faith — a foundation invisible.
To this, the Athenian statesman Pericles (circa 495-429 BCE) who caused democracy to flourish in ancient Greece left a message that explains the freedom we enjoy to remember scripture as we build new relationships and repair cracked ones: “What we leave behind is not what is engraved in stone measurements, but what is woven into the lives of others.”