COVID taught me to land on my feet

When COVID hit and mask-wearing became de rigueur, leaving the hard-of hearing author without her teaching job, she spent the summer learning new ways to repair a cottage – a crash course in resilience. Photos: Judith Slater

By Judith Slater

Some of you might remember my article from last month’s Glebe Report, “Behind the mask – say what?” where I explained how my paid employment came to a halt two years ago, once masks became an everyday part of our lives. Being hard of hearing, relying on lip-reading to supplement my hearing-aid use, I was no longer able to work as a supply teacher in the school board. Here’s what I did next.

I’d worked as a house painter with College Pro in my early 20s and continued to develop my skills with both interior and exterior work over the years. When supply work was scarce and during the summer, I always returned to that job. During March Break 2020, I contacted my Ottawa painting clients to start banging my paint cans together to drum up more work. First up was a family on Clemow. They live in a two-stairway, three-storey, hide-and-go-seek haven house – three generations of family, plus Porsche (their dog) needed me! It became my second home for a few weeks, while I gouged cracks, taped and mudded ceilings and walls, sanded, primed, rolled ceilings and walls. I then carried on by sanding floors, restaining, then eurathaning with multiple top coats, wherever I was told! It was a great way to stay safe as COVID-19 tore through the country.

Once all my tarps were washed and dried and my painting gear was tucked away, my next thoughts were of my first ex-mother-in-law’s cottage! (Still with me?) Does anyone know a cottage that doesn’t need maintenance work? After getting family permission to go up for a long weekend, I loaded my car with food, water and a first-aid kit, then drove and finally paddled to the island cottage on Black Donald Lake. It was still pretty cold in mid-April, but I did manage a 15-second dip in the lake! Yes, I did scream! Later, after warming up, I assessed what work needed doing. The leaking chimney was still leaking, some rotten wood siding needed replacing, back steps needed some new boards, the breezeway floor looked very worn, and some new screens were needed. I knew I’d be watching a bit of YouTube!

So, where does this knowledge and confidence come from? Mum and Dad. My dad loved visiting me in Canada, as there were always jobs that he could do with me. Side by side, he was the knowledge and I was the gofer. Over the years, I learned by watching, then by doing. There’s not much I won’t try, apart from electrical – I leave that to the professionals. I still insist on calling a Phillips screwdriver a “star” screwdriver, as it doesn’t resemble any Phillips I know, but it does resemble a star! Mum taught me resilience. What skills do I have? What knowledge do I have? Where can I use it for the greater good?

A week later, buoyed with my dad’s confidence and my new-found Youtube knowledge, I packed my car with my tape measure, circular saw, drill with long extension cord, screwdrivers and hammer, 60 feet of bevelled wood siding, Tyvek waterproof wrap for under the siding, stain, metal paint, caulking, painting gear, pry bars, work gloves, swimsuit and 10 days of food and water.

Upon arrival, I pre-stained the wood and left it to dry overnight in the breezeway. Next morning, I was up the ladder, onto the roof, removing the rest of the rotten siding around the chimney. With my drill and circular saw set up on the roof, extension secured, I was ready to install the new Tyvec. Multiple trips up and down for scissors. Retrieving the pencil as it rolled off the roof. Measuring five times, cut once, okay–sometimes twice. Pre-drilled holes, overlapped the right way, nailed into place, caulked sides, stained a second time. I stood back to admire my work. Not bad! Best was me doing a giddy dance after the first rainfall. No drips!

Next was flipping a step board that had a protruding knot. Then sanding the floor of the breezeway. That was a dusty few hours though my respirator mask kept my lungs clear of dust. The lake was my friend that day. Armed with a bucket and soap, I managed to clean off with chilly water before taking my daily “bigger” bath! Without painting myself into a corner, I finished two coats of floor stain and returned the furniture, ready for summer’s outdoor dining.

It’s so great being hard of hearing at the cottage. Why? Well, it’s so quiet at night. The birds’ morning chorus isn’t a chorus until I’m ready for it, which is right after my first cup of coffee. Once my aids were in my ears and switched on, the lovely sounds kept me company as I cut, nailed, painted and swam.

Knowing that mosquitoes and black flies were still a few weeks away, screen repair got underway. Next was the temporary repair of the back steps. With my food and water running out, I threw a few thousand rocks at the shore, knowing they’d roll back into the water in a few weeks. Then I got out the chain saw to cut up one large tree that had fallen during the winter before wistfully returning home to contemplate, ‘What’s Judith going to do next?’

Judith Slater is a former Glebe resident, now just around the corner in the Golden Triangle. She loves keeping busy. She recently Cleaned up the Capital along Argyle and Park avenues, as well as parts of Catherine and Chamberlain! Currently, she is being a “Granny Nanny” for a friend’s elderly mom, keeping Granny company while the family are on a long-deserved vacation.

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