by Gina Sestak
My office is being repainted this week. My office at work, that is. Watching the painters set up at quitting time on Friday, their familiar equipment reminded me of that long-ago summer when I worked as a wall painter. [See my blog post Making a Difference in the World, October 21, 2006] I got to thinking about how all our experiences, including the jobs we've held, impact our writing. I haven't written a story with wall painting - yet - but I have no doubt that any description would be helped by my strong sensory recall of the way a brush feels in the hand, the cold splash of drips, the sharp smell of fresh paint, the magic of seeing years of wear erased by just a thin layer of color.
That got me thinking about other people's jobs, particularly family members' jobs. Not everyone is lucky (?) enough to be born into the Mafia or the circus, so the family business is more likely to involve punching a time clock than wasting the neighbors or walking a high wire. Still, the people in our books and stories need to work at something or they just won't be believable.
My father was a long time Westinghouse employee but, between strikes and layoffs, he spent a lot of time working other jobs during my childhood. I remember when he worked briefly as a wallpaper hanger.
No, wallpaper is not just a screen saver, at least not in the sense that I'm using the word. Wallpaper is real paper with patterns printed on it that is glued to walls to make them pretty. Paperhanging takes a lot of skill: http://www.repair-home.com/how_to/hang_wallpaper.htl. Hanging wallpaper the way my father and his buddy did involved:
stripping and washing the walls;
hanging a chalked plumb line against the wall (the chalk lets you press the string of the plumb line into the wall and leave a straight up-and-down mark);
mixing a big bucket of paste;
setting up a makeshift table - a wide board balanced on two sawhorses;
cutting the wallpaper to fit the space allotted, including slicing out areas for switch plates;
laying the wallpaper face-down on the board;
spreading paste over the back of the wall paper with a big brush;
putting the paper in place on the wall; and
rubbing over the paper with another big wide brush to get rid of any trapped air.
It's a complicated process, but I can remember seeing my grandmother, then in her 70s (!), hang wallpaper, too. Of course, my grandmother could do anything. I once watched her dismantle and repair a double hung window, too, but that's another story.
What jobs have your parents done? Have you used those jobs in your writing?