Sixteen-Penny Insanity

There’s something about the sound of a squeaking floor. In a suspenseful movie, it’s a foreshadowing of something foreboding: something really bad is about to happen to someone. In a home with small children, it’s an indication someone is sneaking into the kitchen or that someone can’t sleep or is feeling sick. In a home with teenagers, it might be a tell that someone has come home after curfew.

Some people take it as a given in an old home. Floorboards shrink and separate, some space forms between the subfloor and finished flooring, nails loosen and things move and the sound of wood moving against wood becomes part of living in that house. To me, there’s something warm and comforting about it, something that speaks of years of living and bearing the load of love. The house communing with its dwellers.

Nothing of this world stays new forever and all that gives itself to some good purpose eventually bears witness of that giving. Faces wrinkle, lines grow deeper, even stones wear smooth on their edges. And floors begin to creak.

For some, that creaking has a very different effect. It’s annoying, irritating, aggravating. And for at least one previous inhabitant of this particular house, apparently maddening.

I don’t know if it was a matter of free nails and cheap beer or free beer and cheap nails but it seems obvious that abundant quantities of each were involved.

This house was built in 1967 and furnished with solid oak flooring throughout the dining room, living room, hallway and bedrooms. Lovely stuff, oak flooring. Durable, beautiful, sensible and solid. It can last for hundreds of years, barring water and termites. But at some point, somebody in this house absolutely lost it, went stone-sure certifiable. Maybe the dude had a habit of coming home late and got tired of being betrayed by a squeaking floor. Maybe the dude’s wife laid down an ultimatum connecting the squeaky floor and deprivation of marital favors. I don’t know.

What I do know is that at some point, someone grabbed a hammer and a bag of nails and started pounding away. In one place in the hallway, I counted thirty-two nails in one square foot area. In a few other places, only slightly fewer. Living room, dining room, both bedrooms. Wham! Wham! Wham! Maybe it wasn’t a hammer; maybe the guy had a pneumatic nail gun. And we’re not talking six-penny finishing nails with tiny heads that almost disappear into the flooring. No siree Bob! These are heavy framing nails with heads the size of beaver tails, buddy. Serious stuff.

I’ve love to refinish these floors, sand them down smooth, apply a hand-rubbed Golden Oak stain and three coats of varnish. They’d be awesome. Lovely. Warm, homey and comforting. But I’ve seen what a single nail can do a sanding belt on a big drum sander and I know how much they cost. I also know what it’s like trying to pull old nails out of solid hardwood. Sometimes the wood will splinter around the nail as it’s being pulled out. You can also tear loose the flooring.

Like a lot of other situations in life, it’s often not the people who create the mess who end up trying to deal with it. But I also know what it’s like to have some circumstance drive you to doing things that you and everyone who loves you end up regretting. So, I think I’ll try to cut the guy some slack and figure things just got really out of whack for him and he did what he thought would make things better. Or at least what he thought would make him feel better. I’ve been there, done that and would like to not get another one of those tee shirts.

Sometimes, learning to live with a particular thing leaves fewer scars than trying to fix it. No matter how big your hammer is.

H. Arnett

About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Ark City, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-nine years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-eight grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
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