There was a reason for this burst of activity- my age clock really was ticking. That summer I turned 60 and my wife Deb had invited all of her family to our place in the mountains for their annual summer gathering. With some members from my part of the family, that added up to 21 people over three days. All but 5 of these people had never been to our country place and only one had been there recent enough to know what it was all about. So it was very important for me to show it in the best possible light. The legendary building project that occupied Deb’s husband needed to look good! And in a practical sense, I wanted to give them some shelter: so I knew I needed to enclose the new living room addition and I wanted a downstairs toilet to accommodate everyone. I also figured a shower should be installed–our only two other bathrooms had cast-iron tubs, not convenient for a big crowd.
This was a big deal for me because it was not just a personal milestone but also a kind of grand opening of our place in the country. It seemed that Deb and I had never done any entertaining–we always benefited from other people’s hospitality and would pitch in however we could, but we’d never had to take on the responsibility of pulling it all together.
In my mind it was pay back time to everyone who had hosted us, and I wanted it to be good. By good I mean well-planned, good food and a good presentation. Well Deb did not see it that way for this reason- she is a spendthrift to the degree that surpasses even me! She does not like to spend money even on herself. I admire this about her and I give her credit because it is partially the reason for our financial stability. But for this occasion, I saw things differently: I wasn’t going to go cheap.
Deb believed everyone could bring dishes to pass, while I wanted to feed everyone three quality meals a day. I wanted to present a feast for the Saturday night birthday dinner, when all 21 people would be present: we would grill a whole salmon over the fire. This was the direction I was going and Deb was following me skeptically. Remember, we do not host parties; we’ve never even hosted a kid’s birthday party because we have no kids! And in our 14 years together, we had only put on one large dinner party at our apartment in the city. We were infants in this regard.
The months of June and July were very good months for me work-wise but not good months for getting things done in the mountains. A friend of mine, Mike Drexler, whom I work with often, volunteered to help me put the living room roof on over the July 4th holiday weekend. He was a huge help and although we didn’t get done all I had hoped in the 2 days he was there, it is safe to say I got twice as much done with his help.
Once the roof was on and the living room extension was enclosed with plywood sheathing and covered in house wrap, I switched my focus to the downstairs bathroom.
This was when the stress started to build. During the middle of July things reached the breaking point between Deb and I. We started planning for the party two months out. The plan included everything from a house rental nearby for the guest overflow, 20’x20’ tent, table and chairs, dinnerware, cooking pots and pans and lastly the quantity and types of food for the three days.
The closer it got to the date of the party the more Deb and I seemed to disagree about things. I wanted real tablecloths; Deb was thinking plastic. I wanted individual shell steaks for everyone; Deb was thinking hamburgers. It went on and on, we were going in two different directions and I was getting stressed about finishing the bathroom.
So four weeks out, after one of these confrontational back and forth, I blew up and told Deb to cancel the party. I quit! We can’t pull this off! We are not up to this! I told Deb to call her family and let them know we called it off. It was just too much for me trying to work at my job, finish the bathroom before the party and deal with the planning. The planning was becoming a war between the planners.
Deb said OK and we dropped it there. After cooling off for 24 hours, I brought it up again and explained to Deb my reason for wanting to make a quality party. She gave in and to prove it I asked her to agree on nice candles for the evening’s dinner table and no paper plates. She agreed and we never looked back. It was full steam ahead at that point. We were a new team!
The next weekend I went to work up in the country; Deb stayed home in the city because of work conflicts. The plumbing drains were all in and the plywood sub floor installed. When I cemented in the shower pan I realized there was an issue with my measurements because of something the instructions failed to mention. There was a ¼ inch gap between the shower pan back wall and the green board sheetrock. This would be perfect if I was going to use ceramic tile for my shower walls but I wasn’t. I had bought acrylic walls and glass doors. The shower pan needed to be flush against the green board for these glass doors to work properly.
The cement had well set by the time I realized this. To rip that out and do it over would mean buying a new $300 shower pan. That night I called Deb up and told her I realized trying to finish the shower instillation before the party was a mistake and I was stopping work on it for now. I knew the solution for the gap and I knew the cause of the problem. The directions were indeed deficient but I needed to SLOW DOWN! This shower job was too important to screw up. It was more important to have a toilet, four bathroom walls and a door than a working shower stall. To give an example of how close to the wire things were- I was putting in the bathroom door the day people started showing up. Eventually I wanted to cut a hole in the outside bathroom wall and put in a window- the glass shower enclosure would just be in the way and maybe the glass would get broken so stop already- things will be fine.
And they were. We had a terrific 3-day gathering and everyone was full of praise. Sad to see everyone go but, hopefully, they will return. Maybe next time we’ll just have the plastic tablecloth though.