SAN MATEO, CALIF.
I was blessed today. My nine-year-old daughter and I connected in an unexpected way.
It's a connection that has been noticeably absent in the last year. I had begun to think that those old adversarial roles of "mother versus daughter" that I recall from my adolescence, were already taking over our sweet relationship.
I have always voiced my standards for appropriate behavior and right living, but lately these expectations have met strong resistance and sometimes sparked anger on both our parts. The triggers: clothes, the Spice Girls, that kind of stuff.
But our connection was renewed over an old Victorian house. For the past two years, as we pass the "haunted mansion" on the way to church, my daughter has imagined all the things she would do if she owned it. The prevailing plan was to make it into a clubhouse, open a boutique and snack bar, and sell tickets to tour it at Halloween.
Recently, we noticed some people clearing away vegetation and debris. Then, up went a temporary cyclone fence and a Realtor's sign.
Upon returning from a vacation, we were delighted to see a banner hanging from the eaves flanked by two American flags. It read "Reborn on the Fourth of July at 106 Years Old." Clearly someone had purchased our relic. One evening we stopped to read some signs posted on the fence. There was a brief history about the house and a sign-up sheet for those wanting to help the new owners in this huge endeavor.
My daughter and I signed up and got a call the next night. My husband, wondering at our enthusiasm, declined, noting that we had plenty of unfinished projects at our own house.
Sunday afternoon, we arrived ready for some hard labor. We got a quick tour of the house and some history about the reclusive John Brown, who had been born in the house and had lived here until a few months ago.
After a bit of basic training in the art of removing wallpaper, Tom, the new owner, armed us with a water sprayer and scrapers and we went to work in a sitting room with a high-ceiling. Soon the soggy strips of paper began to fall away onto a canvas drop cloth, revealing a cool, buttery-white plaster beneath. There were cracks in the plaster - "from the earthquakes," explained my daughter - and spiders with dusty, brown webs along the tops of the walls. Steadily, we scraped away the paper and the smoky filth of 106 years of living.
It was gratifying and satisfying work. The owners came in periodically to offer suggestions, cookies, and sodas. As the paper peeled away, my daughter and I talked. I can't tell you all the topics but there was a feeling of pleasant camaraderie. We were together on an adventure, giving without expecting anything in return. It was work that we both could do. We were on equal ground with no conflict to clutter the atmosphere.
We finished three walls in two hours. We cleaned up our mess and returned the tools to the owners. They thanked us and we thanked them. As we walked to our car, my daughter put her arm around my waist and came in close for a sideways hug. We drove to the ice-cream store and shared a two-scoop sundae.
As we sat outside the store, cradling our sundae between us, she leaned her head against my arm, putting the finishing touch on a splendid summer afternoon.