She’s a powerhouse. I wasn’t expecting it. Damn.
I’ve been watching her for about an hour, perched on my kitchen stool just a few feet away. I was initially poised to be more involved but she quickly and probably accurately summed up that I would be more a bother than help. I have been given some busy work. Stay out of the way, please. Let the adult work. I feel diminished as I watch her, like I’m a toddler helping Mom. She was supposed to be helping me. It is after all my kitchen backsplash.
“Hey why don’t you pull off this weird sticky stuff on each tile? It will help us later.” And that is what I’ve been doing for the last hour. The stuff comes off easily enough with a razor blade. I’m four boxes in on the total of seven. Once the pointless goo is pulled off, the tile is beautiful- a dark warm gray glazed with a crackle finish. They are hand formed with irregular edges. That is what drew me to select them. They felt homey. They weren’t perfect. They didn’t feel a need to conform to each other.
I stack the clean tile on the island counter and then onto the opposite counter. There isn’t a lot of room on the island with the large wet saw that she hauled in, all by her petite self. Unlike me, she has been busy with real work. She has established the tile pattern, first checking that the one weird spot won’t have some wonky sliver of tile. She has installed tile across a third of the backsplash and has already cut tile around an outlet and a light switch. It is clear that she knows what she is doing. When she offered to help, I assumed our knowledge of tiling a backsplash would be similar. I had done it before, albeit over two decades ago. [I have to interject here- when did I get old enough to click off time in decades?] She had asserted that she worked with a tiler on and off. She could borrow his wet saw. It was a kind and generous offer that I would be a fool to refuse. Plus, I really enjoy her company. Working together would be fun.
But she doesn’t seem to be having fun. Her facial expression is all business. Steady hands push tile between a wet spinning blade. She expertly breaks off pieces and moves to the mud bucket, then to the wall with rhythm. I realize that my kitchen backsplash is being installed by an expert. I sit and watch. I am as glazed as the tile. She is really good at this.
I shake myself into action. “What can I do now?” I ask hoping I will get a real job.
“Can you go to Lowes and get more tile adhesive? I think we are going to run out.” I look at bucket of mud in the sink and think that we will have enough. I start to mouth an interjection, but then think better of it. If she wants more mud, than she shall have it! She’s clearly the boss. The Expert.
At Lowes, I meander clueless as to where tile adhesive would be. I feel even more glazed and confused; I can’t even handle this gopher role. I sigh, then laugh. I buck up and interrupt two employees chatting in an aisle. I’ll be damned if I will go home empty handed.
Driving back, I make a bet with myself. She has completed the job in my absence. I’m sure of it.
“We’re going to have just enough mud”, she announces as I enter. She smiles and adds “I am about to cut my last tile. You can start putting the outlets back on.”
Excited at the prospect of grown up work and pumped by how my kitchen backsplash looks, I start with the outlet she cut first. I align and tighten the screws only to hear a pop. She gasps and spins towards me, “You overtightened it! You cracked the tile.” And now we know why she had me stay out the way. I hang my head like a naughty school girl.
Despite my protests that if I broke the tile I would just have to live with it, she wants her work to be to of quality and she instructs me to remove the cracked tile. She will cut another. This replacement will be her new last tile.
“What do you think?” she turns to me and asks. My head is swimming with emotions. Shame. Gratitude. Guilt. Awe. Yet, the thought that stands out is that it looks stunning. Gorgeous. Even without the grout, scheduled for the next day to be done by me solo, the tile changed the room in such an amazing way. Her workmanship shows. Each cut is precise, the pattern perfect.
“What I think is that you are amazing.”
Before picture for comparison...
I really think the Starbucks cup adds something. Don't you? LMAO
Tile: ordered at Best Tile, Empire Blvd, Rochester, NY . The staff was super friendly and knowledgeable.
Maiolica Tile. Crackled Taupe 3 x 12 Ceramic Wall Tile
Slide in Gas stove with double oven: GE Profile 5 Burners 4.3-cu ft / 2.4-cu ft Self-cleaning Double Oven True Convection Gas Range
Large wood bowl: Pottery Barn. https://www.potterybarn.com/products/blonde-vintage-wood-serveware-collection/?pkey=s%7Clarge%20wood%20bowl%7C8
Corner Platter: Williams Sonoma. Mine was purchased decades ago, but they are still available here: https://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/provence-hand-painted-serving-platter/?pkey=s%7Clarge%20platter%7C31