Jen's World: Wallpaper comes tumblin' down
In the spring of 1978, my grandparents — George and Marvel Van Rooy — bought a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, ranch-style house in Sun City, Ariz. And then my grandma proceeded to cover every last inch of her new home with wallpaper.
She hung a tasteful beige/cream stripe in the family room. An inexplicable blue-and-silver metallic orchid design in the full bath. A subdued, olive-green floral motif in the master bedroom. Southwestern stripes in the kitchen. Specks of blue on eggshell in the living room.
Though I was not witness to it, I imagine the conversation preceding the laying of wallpaper sounding something like this:
George: Look at this nice house, ready to move in, with its vast, cream-colored walls.
Marvel: I'm going to wallpaper every inch of it. And I'm going to use multiple layers of industrial-grade wallpaper glue to do it.
George: Gee, won't that be hard to remove 35 or so years from now?
Marvel: What do I care? Some other suckers will be stuck with that job!
I'm one of the suckers stuck with that job. In fact, I type this column from my grandparents' — now my parents' — home in Sun City. It's been a beautiful, sunny weekend here in Arizona. Or so I've heard. I've spent the last two days eight inches from the home's interior walls, cursing my grandmother.
I loved my Grandma Farm. In addition to being a pretty wonderful grandmother, she was a woman of many domestic talents. She made a mean chocolate cake, could throw a dinner party like nobody's business, and was a genius gardener.
But if one task rose to the top of the stack, it was her wallpapering. Marvel Van Rooy was a wallpaper savant. Every sheet a straight line. The movement from water to wall a single motion. Every seam meeting the other, the pattern never skewed.
One of my sharpest memories is sitting at Paint & Glass in my hometown of Thief River Falls, looking through thick, coffee-table-sized books of samples, picking out the perfect design for my new bedroom. I'm notoriously indecisive as an adult. To this day, I hold up entire checkout lines trying to pick out a candy bar for my ride home. As a kid, I was worse. I don't know how many hours we sat at Paint & Glass before Grandma finally just chose a design herself. It was blue with white floral stripes. I was never that crazy about it. But, God bless her, it remains adhered to those basement walls just as strong as they day she hung it.
That's beside the point. The point is that as wonderful a grandmother as Marvel Van Rooy was to me, and as domestic a goddess as she was in her lifetime, I would love the opportunity to ask her why the hell she didn't just paint.
My little sister, Angie, and I flew down to Arizona on Friday for the express purpose of peeling wallpaper with my mom. Now that the home is my parents', they're making some updates. Because we gave ourselves a single weekend, we decide to limit our initial foray to one room. For reasons I still don't understand, we started with the family room, which has the best-looking walls in the house. Yet, gripping three scrapers, a handful of towels, and a squeeze bottle of water mixed with Downy (thanks, Internet!), we launched into those walls with all the sass and optimism you'd expect from three industrious women starting a challenge together.
"Grandma!" we joked to the heavens as we peeled and scraped our day away. "Why did you have to be so good at this?"
That was Day 1.
By Day 2, the paper — down to the tiniest fingernail-sized pieces — had been stuffed away in garbage bags. All that remained was removing the glue stuck to the walls. The hard part, we figured, was done. We were wrong.
"Marvel!" I yelled out as we scrubbed and sponged and scraped at the wide swaths of 70s-era glue glazing the walls, our arms sticky, dead weights. "Why do you hate us so?!"
"I feel like Cinderella," my sister whined, as she ran a glue-y hand over her forehead. "And the rest of our family is at the ball."
But my mom had the best comment of all. As we stood amidst the detritus of step stools and plastic sheeting and buckets of chemical-soaked water, she said, "Stop! We're done! We're hiring the rest out."
Bless that woman.