‘Ssh! Be very quiet. Come with me.’
My husband Chris gently took me by the hand and led me to our son’s room. I hesitated at the door, knowing that our home had recently hosted at least one family of uninvited furry guests which had eaten through the tiles in the adjacent laundry.
‘It’s not mice … or …?’ I asked, wincing and not daring to name what I dreaded more than mice.
‘No. Trust me. Ssh!’ he said.
He went over to look behind where our son’s pillow usually lay — uncovering a hole in the wall that I’d tried to forget about and we’d all tried to ignore. It had been temporarily covered up with several layers of board and a pile of books.
I looked from afar with trepidation. Chris went right up to the hole in the wall and signalled for me to follow.
There in the hole was a pile of soft grey fur, still attached to its owner — a sleeping possum. Chris poked the possum. I could envisage a frenzy, like I’d read in Colin Thiele’s novels about a possum ravaging the house. But our possum just rolled over and continued its sleep.
The nurturing, maternal greenie in me went, ‘Aaw! Isn’t that gorgeous!’
But the rest of me — the part that likes to be at least in some control over the order of the household — was already experiencing a state of mortification at having found mouse droppings in the laundry. This had been exacerbated by Chris’s discovery of a mouse-house in an old sneaker we kept for crabbing expeditions.
‘I’ve had it! We need to move. We need to sell or we need to bulldoze this house. I can’t take it any more!’ I yelled — out of range of the sleeping possum.
At about the same time as we discovered the sleeping possum in our wall, I made a discovery of my new favourite TV program, late on Friday nights. ‘60 Minute Makeover’ is an English television series in which house designers revamp homes in 60 minutes real-time. Teams of people with strict and detailed instructions invade a home, often while the owner sits next door sipping a cup of tea. In 60 minutes, up to four rooms are renovated — gutted, painted, carpeted. In one episode an entire bathroom was renovated — with a little tiling that still needed to be completed after the episode finished.
I dreamt of the ‘60 Minute Makeover’ team coming to my house. There were so many things that had deteriorated. Several rooms had non-functioning lights. There were at least six holes in our gyprock. There were holes in our floors. Ceilings dripped water by the bucketful every time we had a decent downpour. Different coloured patches of paint decorated the walls where creative young adults had waited while their mother decided — or, more precisely, didn’t decide on the best colour for a makeover. And all of us were suffering from lack of sleep due to possum parties in our walls and ceiling. The house had become a place we all wanted to escape from rather than a place of refuge.
Life’s priorities in other areas had taken over our care of the house. Our lack of knowledge of home maintenance had meant even further deterioration due to procrastination: Where do we start?
In what I can only put down to a God-incident, the book I was reading at the time was Women Who Do Too Much by Patricia Sprinkle. On the day of the sleeping possum, I read: ‘… I became more and more overwhelmed by the chaos. One day as I sat hopeless, considering the mess, our kitten walked daintily into the room, sat down, and looked at her dusty paws in distaste. Then she gave me a withering look that plainly said, “You could at least sweep!”’
Inspired by the kitten’s wisdom, Chris and I decided to take a step — even if it was a baby step— to alleviate our possum problem. Chris phoned our friendly neighbourhood gyprocker and paid him for an impromptu lesson in repairing gyprock holes. An hour and a half after he began to repair the holey walls that had plagued us for years, Chris finished.
Motivated by the ease of doing that job well, once he had the equipment and knowhow, Chris ventured down to the local hardware store to purchase metres and metres of gutter-guard mesh. Several hours later, he climbed off the roof and said, ‘We’ll see what happens!’
None of us remember what happened because we slept through it — the first night for years without the interruptions of thumps and bumps and possum fights. It’s amazing how much less grumpy a whole family of Hahns became after the possum eviction. For the first time for a long time, we were almost happy to stay in our house.
Since then, we’ve made more changes — some minor, some major. We’ve even saved up our pennies and paid professional renovators to come in and make our house more family-friendly. I enjoyed watching them, just to see that everything that painters, tilers, carpenters and plumbers do happens with little steps. It is while the tradesmen take meticulous care in their little steps — the precision of measurements and preparation, hammering in each nail, grouting every tile — that big changes happen.
We’ve learned lots about making house changes. But the most profound lesson was from that kitten. Sometimes it’s making the first little step that leads to bigger accomplishments.
First published as ‘Minute Makeover’ in The Lutheran, November 2011 vol45 no10 p379