A Kitchen Floor, Plus So Much More

Our ongoing remodeling project is as grueling as ever. But progress has definitely been made. I proudly show the kitchen to my friend, who exclaims, "It's not finished!" Her voice echoes in the empty room.

"No," I say. "Not for a while. But it's enclosed again, at least. I've never been so happy to see a roof in my life. And look at these windows, these doors! Can't you just picture how nice it's going to be in here?"

"But," my friend says, staring at the plywood floor. "What are you going to cover that floor with? And when?"

"We're on the pay-as-you-go plan," I say, but a note of defensiveness is not far below my light tone.

Some little dark thing nibbles away inside me, like a worm at the core of an apple. And that evening when my husband jumps up and down on the plywood floor, exclaiming, "It's so solid now, so different than before!" I hear myself saying in a balloon-pricking tone, "But it sure is ugly." Craig's face falls, and I walk toward him, to touch his arm and apologize. My footsteps echo hollowly on the floor. I stop, listening, considering. Then I do a little tap-dance step. "Heel drop, toe, heel dig, slide, slide," I say.

Craig laughs in disbelief. "Where in the world did you learn to do that?"

"Third-grade dance lessons." I shake my head and tap out a few more steps. "Brush back, brush back, stamp! I can't believe I can remember these!" I tap dance a while in the vacant shell of the kitchen before I go on to bed.

The next day, when our grandbaby, Liam, is here, I realize that the big empty plywood floor is the perfect place for him to roam in his walker. He zooms from end to end for a while, and then he begins chasing me. I dodge and run, skip out of his way, while we both scream laughter. Finally, he corners me.

"I'm it!" I say. "Now, I'm going to get you!" And we're off, him zigzagging, caroming, and careening with me after him, the room echoing our giggles. Liam, it seems, was born with an instinct for tag. His Gran-Shan has more breathlessly wild fun than she's had in years.

That evening, when I'm telling Craig about our walker-tag game, I stop suddenly and look at the wooden slab beneath my Birkenstocks. "It wouldn't matter if I drew on this floor, would it?"

"Why?" Craig asks suspiciously.

"I think I'm going to play hopscotch in here."

"Go right ahead." Craig shrugs and grins his "what-ever" smile. "It won't matter. This plywood will be covered eventually with a real floor."

But not too soon, I hope. Because colored-marker portraits of the family might jazz things up, or we could inscribe poetry underfoot. Or write and illustrate a story. We might stretch out on our backs and make sawdust angels in the sweet-scented wood curls. I could paint an elegant Oriental plywood carpet. Why, Craig and I just might make like Fred and Ginger, whirling together across the room - rather unlikely since neither of us knows a waltz from a cha-cha. But it might not be totally impossible.

I'm only beginning to explore this floor's potential. When you get right down to it, anyone can have a beautiful but boring kitchen floor. But we own an indoor playground, a dance hall, an empty canvas layered with possibilities - at least for now. I'd better enjoy it while I can.

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