The perfect timing for a new perspective

by Mr. Sheehy

The last couple weeks have not been ideal at my house, since we have been attempting to eradicate the mold that we discovered in our basement. It turns out mold is not good, though the degree of how bad it is seems to depend on the person you ask and how much money they stand to gain from your answer. The extremes run from “Mold, eh? Spray some bleach on it and make it go away” to “Did you say mold?! Are you calling from the house?! GET OUT NOW! PUT YOUR PETS ON RESPIRATORS! BURN EVERYTHING!” Those folks would, I assume, arrive at our house with a contingent similar to Dustin Hoffman’s in Outbreak.

Anyway, we did find some decent resources and finally had an expert come in and advise us about what to do. (Thanks to my wife, we did these things. If it had been left up to me we would have sealed the basement’s door and pretended our house had only one story and when someone suggested otherwise, I’d immediately mope and mumble for 10 minutes until I could distract myself with something more fun, like clipping a toe nail that had been catching on my sock.) Our expert said we could do it ourselves, and that we did, with lots of help.


The process did not always go smoothly, of course, and at times it grew dangerously difficult. Take one stretch last week: overnight the wind blew gusts around 60 miles an hour, tossing what had formerly been my basement’s walls to various parts of the neighborhood. I spent the rest of the day continuing demolition, highlighted by the moment I broke a hammer (I had been using it to knock down walls. It’s not meant for that.) and the moment I realized I’d have to tear down the ceiling to the old bathroom. That night when I put down the garage door (the garage is part of the basement), it broke, leaving a mysterious but obviously crucial pulley on the concrete. I almost got stuck inside, but I discovered some odd contortions I could do with my arms, feet, and back, and so yanked it up. The next day I got to vacuuming mold but I bumped a lightswitch with my elbow, setting off sparks and shorting out power to the basement. I went to throw the breaker but that shot sparks too, from behind the breakers’ box. None of this struck me as good, but I was not overly discouraged, just rather pessimistic about each new step.

Then the morning after I almost electrocuted myself Eldest had to get up early, to head to the bathroom. Smiles wasn’t awake yet, so I had Eldest sneak out. I didn’t latch the door because I anticipated Eldest going back to her room, but Mommy decided to let her hang out with her while she got ready. I said good-bye to those two while Mommy brushed her teeth and I went to the door to put on my shoes. Shortly after I got there, Smiles wandered around the corner, still clutching her orange “lil’ spec’l Bible” in her hand.

“Where are you going, Daddy?”

“I’m going to school, Smiles. Will you give me a hug goodbye?”

She hugged me and then talked to me while I put on my coat. I left the main door open and she waited by the storm door to watch me go. She stood there as I scraped the car’s windshield, threw out the trash, and then she waved to me as I drove away.

Our family waves, so the waving itself was not surprising, but seeing just her standing there–all two and a half feet of her–wearing her footed, fleece pajamas, her hair spiked in impossible directions, waiting to wave to me . . . well, I didn’t care so much about the basement anymore.

I dwelled on that image like the speaker in Billy Collins’ poem, “Japan,” who savors a haiku for an entire day. It affirmed something better, something more important that I knew about my life but was not seeing clearly through all the nonsense of home-deconstruction.

I searched for the words to describe what that moment meant for me, stirred a few ideas in the brainstorming pot. Then I read a poem a student included in a poetry booklet, and I realized what I wanted to say had already been said. Robert Frost said it:

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

John Keats claimed, “Poetry . . . should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost as a remembrance.” I agree, and I would add that these thoughts have a way of arriving–or at least of being noticed–at the moment when they are most needed.

Thanks for reading.