Friday, September 11, 2009

The morning I rebuilt wooden windows

Its funny the way the human mind protects itself from catastrophic events that it can't make sense of or understand. Whether it is the impact of the adrenaline, or the firing of neurons that heighten or senses, the mind can take us on a trip to strange places and odd things when it can no longer comprehend or remedy situations that threaten our sense of self or our need for security.

On that morning in September eight years ago today, was killing time at home and having a leisurely time of it. I had a "dog and pony show" dinner meeting that I was dreading in Dayton that evening and I was taking my time going into the office that morning, getting some stuff at home and watching the TODAY Show. Matt Lauer was interviewing someone of marginal importance when he cut the interview short and went commercial saying that they would be right back with a developing story.

Just the evening before my co-worker Barb and I were coming back from Cleveland where we had had another client meeting and we were talking about what a beautiful late afternoon, evening it was. The sky was blue, the fields of soy beans were beginning to turn autumn gold and the temperature was perfect.

But the next morning we all saw what was unfolding, and to our horror, there was nothing we could do but watch.

The horror in New York was bad; but our house is near a flight path for the Columbus Airport, and with the FAA bring planes down, and word that there was a plane being tracked back from Cleveland airspace, and then the Pentagon attack, I came unglued as commercial jet after commercial jet flew overhead for landing five miles away.

Our cleaning lad, Sally showed up and started to clean. I called the husband at work and told him I needed him at home - I couldn't be alone. Did Sally want to go home? No, she needed to work to keep her mind focused one something else.

The husband arrived home and my stress level relaxed a bit. The news continued to grow worse, the first tower came down, then the second.

It was then that I decided that I would re-cord the double hung windows in our bedroom.

If you've ever had an older house, you know that windows are a mechanical enemy that must be fought constantly. They leak, the must be cleaned and they require attention. Ignored, the weakest will stop working, jam, rattle, droop open on their own or stick in place. Then there are the ones that are mighty and will not budge, painted shut in an armor of 90 years of lead paint.

Part of the problem is that people don't understand that windows are mechanical beings, and double hung windows have both an upper and lower sash that are suppose to operate to effect efficient ventilation. Most people simply raise the lower part of the sash up and think "there, they will get the air moving," only to find that the upper part of the room is just as warm and stuffy as it was before they opened the window in the first place.

To make a double hung window work properly, you need to be able to drop the upper sash and raise the lower one. This allows hot air to escape through the top while cooler air comes in the bottom. Eventually, this convection action will cool a room.

Fixing windows is no walk in the park; its time consuming work. Replacing broken glass, reglazing, and the sash is tedious work, but I enjoy it because I find myself entering into a meditative state. What I don't enjoy is dismantling widows and replacing sash cords. Sash cords are the ropes that connect a window sash to the counterweight via a simple pulley. After fifty or so years, the cotton cord needs replaced when it breaks. Windows just don't stay up on their own, so people will use books, sticks or anything handy to keep a sash up and open. When the cords break from age on the upper sash, and the window isn't painted shut, the sash simply drops and crashes.

Most people hate replacing the cord so much that they spend thousands of dollars to replace a whole window when five dollars of material and an hour of their time would fix the problem. Its difficult work because you have to blindly fish the new cord over the pulley and hope it doesn't get stuck on a nail inside the box like channel in which the weights travel. Then there are the weights, iron ingots that are rusted and usually filthy with years of caked on soot and debris.

That morning in September my mind decided that I needed to dismantle the windows in our bedroom and restring the sash cords. And I tackled the job with determination and with joy. Our bedroom has no TV; I was alone in the quiet. After pulling the stoper trim, I removed the sashes. I did the chords that had yet to break, but were brittle and bound to go sooner rather than later first, stitching the new rope end to the old rope end, and then pulled these new cords through first. Then I tackled the broken ones, using an old wire hanger to fish the rope through the channel.

The work was pleasurable and gave me a sense of accomplishment. It took me away from the events of the moment and provided me with a safe harbor for my mind to shield itself from the storm raging out there in the world, on the side of the glass that I looked through each morning when I woke up and each evening before bed.

By the time I finished, Sally was done and left. The husband and I decided that we needed to nap. Sleep is another way the mind protects itself, and we no sooner hit the bed then we were out. When we awoke, the long national nightmare continued, but somehow was detached. Again, the sleep had given our minds a rest, and we could see through our fears towards something akin to resolution.

There have been plenty of times that we have been reminded that our good fortune and that of those we know was tested that day, that week, that month, that year and since. And looking through our windows on our world we have found that life is the same, but different.

1 comment:

  1. It was a strange day. I was in the city, but far uptown...

    I grew up with those old windows. I remember how you would open or close them, and distant sounding thumps would echo as the weights swung back and forth hitting the frame.