All Hands on Deck by Betty Auchard

In the year 2000 I’d been a widow for two years, and doing ‘guy” jobs had become my hobby. My next task was to remove black mold from our huge deck and stain and seal it again. I purchased deck cleaner and stain-sealer. The directions on the can of cleaner read, “Prepare dirty wood in three easy steps: brush it on, let it set, wash it off.” Oh hey, I can do this. My troubles began with step one: brush it on.

With a push broom, I applied the bleachy-smelling stuff evenly on one small area at a time, and it was going well until I backed myself into a corner. With more thoughtfulness toward strategy, I carried on. The black mold turned lighter but splotchy. I stayed optimistic, feeling that step two–“let it set”–would take care of the problem.

While I worked up a sweat, Rudy, my lawn-mower man appeared to do the weekly grass-cutting and he felt sorry for me. He said, “Oh, Betty, let me help you with that.” I was thrilled and stepped aside.

Rudy worked best to music, so he turned on his tiny red radio that measured 3” x 4” and set the volume low so only he and I, and not the whole neighborhood, could listen to his Latino station. He swabbed the deck with the rest of the cleaner, bouncing to the rhythms of La Bamba.

The sun must have intensified the bleaching effect on the wood, because the longer it set, the lighter it became, but only in some spots. Rudy decided to  use my power washer to stop the bleaching action. That’s when I said, “Rudy, can I just hire you to finish the rest of the deck for me? You could finish it by tomorrow. ”

“Oh, Betty—sure. I’ll mow the lawn later.”

Rudy sprayed water everywhere and some of it got on the deck. As soon as he left I planned to spray a second time. Once alone, I held the power washer nozzle a few inches from the wood, and the deck was lookin’ great. It was so good that I hired Colin, my nineteen-year-old grandson to power spray the whole deck a third time. He said, “Nonnie,” I think you’re doing more harm than good by holding that nozzle so close to the wood.” Since he was just a kid, I pressed him to do it my way because it produced a cleaner surface. Colin worked best to music, too, so he turned on his black boom box to a heavy metal station with the volume on high so the neighbors could enjoy it. I tolerated my grandson’s music just to get the deck clean, dry, and ready to seal by morning so Rudy could get right to work.

That night I slept well and arose early for deck inspection. It looked so good that with both hands I caressed the dried surface. It was full of ridges. I bent way down for a closer look. The power washer had dug out the soft part of the grain. I stared at 533 square feet of deck that I had paid my grandson to damage. There was no time to whine. I dialed Rudy’s number, he answered and I said, “Rudy, I’ll explain later but please stop on your way here and rent a power sander.”

He rented and sanded, but the surface was not getting flat very fast. We also had to rent a small edge sander to get closer to the wall but it made gouges in the middle of the steps. I had an out-of-body experience that made me appear to be calm. We kept the large machine an extra day to take the entire deck down to fresh redwood. The color I had sanded away needed to be put back. I stared at this mess and had to repair it the only way I knew, which was to it up as I went along. Other’s would call it “learning the hard way.”

My oldest son, the fine craftsman, stopped by to see what I was up to and said, “Mom, this is not a good job.”  I knew that.  He didn’t have to tell me, so I sent him home.

Rudy and I were ready to apply the stain sealer with a sprayer. I said, “You spray and I’ll run to Orchard Supply and get more stain so we won’t run out.”

At the store the clerk said, “Oh I wouldn’t spray today; there’s too much breeze. You’ll have that oil based stain all over the place.”

I tore home because Rudy probably didn’t know about NOT spraying in a breeze. When I reached the back yard, splatters of brown had already peppered the windows, his face and clothes. He had used a whole gallon on a very small portion of the deck and he said, “Betty, we are running out of stain.”

Right before I screamed “Rudy, you have used too much stain,” I noticed specks of brown on his teeth.

Thick brown liquid puddled a third of 513 square feet of freshly sanded wood. It would never have dried. We got on our hands and knees and used squeegees to scrape puddles into dust pans and then into dishpans. Stain had found its way to the cement walk, the grass, our hands, jeans, shoes and Rudy’s big, white front teeth. What a mess. That night, I felt a cold sore coming on, which happens when I’m stressed.

Several nights later, by the light from the house and the moon, Rudy and I finished the deck. After four hectic days it looked beautiful. He mowed the lawn and my cold sore healed. But the deck project had made a different impression on him than on me. He was so excited about us doing the whole job ourselves that he decided to refurbish decks as a side job. I prayed, “God, please don’t let Rudy get any clients, because I can’t recommend him.”

I learned a lot in the first years of widowhood. I learned that some of the “guy” jobs could be accomplished by guys found in the Yellow Pages and not by me or my lawn-mower man.

illustration by Betty Auchard

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