Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 08.17.16
Stanstead, Quebec


This old housepainter

If you ever want to see how your body changes over time, just paint your house every eight years or so.

I started painting houses in my teens. I went on to work for two summers with College Pro, though it was after college and we weren't very pro, trust me.

Those were fearless days of climbing and dangling, though at one point, hanging off the rungs of a ladder and stretching a dripping brush into empty air in attempt to reach some obscure bit of soffit or nesbit or shlebit or whatever technical name you call an architectural doodad that no one sees anyway, I remember thinking, "I'm not paid enough for this shlebit."

Since becoming a homeowner 20 years ago, we have painted our house twice, though the first time took us three years. Those were busy times. Busy and incredibly lazy.

To be fair, that third year was the garage, which we probably could have completed in year two, but the reasoning went something like this: "Hooray! We finally finished the house! Job well done! Now we don't have to paint again until- - Oh. . ." It's hard to paint when you've lost the will to live.

This time around, our goal is to get it all done before school starts. We are delusional, yes, but ever optimistic. We are also already behind.

This may have to do with the fact that I am nearly a decade older than when I painted last. I can still scamper up ladders, no problem, but every bend or stretch is accompanied by a loud "URRUGGH!"

I'm also slightly more cautious, knowing that if I fell, I would shatter into a thousand pieces. I use more protection as well, gloves and masks, especially after I scraped at some orange mould clinging to the underside of the frobisher (or whatever) and watched a million spores drift into the atmosphere and probably my lungs, so it was nice knowing you.

And the scraping tends to continue for hours afterwards, namely the scraping of my joints.

As if that weren't bad enough, the stupid house is acting like a metaphor: the sagging, the cracking, the soft wood. The house has odd mould, I have odd moles.

"We should move," Deb says from time to time. She's probably right. But when I think of buying and selling, the negotiating, the paperwork, not to mention packing and unpacking, I'd rather paint a hundred garages.

Besides, could we really sell this place? Especially after the potential buyer noticed the supporting wooden beam in our basement that a series of cats have been clawing with clear intentions of bringing the damn house down, and given another 40 to 60 years, they will.

There are times when I despair of this old house of ours, just like I despair of this old body.

But then I get up on the roof.

I'm not talking about the top roof of the house. That place is steep and terrifying. I've been up there only once, when we needed some work done on our chimney, and the repairman wanted to show me the damage to the fladangle (or whatever; I wasn't paying attention because death was imminent).

I mean the porch roof. I love getting up on our porch roofs, front and back. It's not the same as being up on the ladder, where most of the time I'm facing the wall. On the roof, with the surface slanted just enough to throw you off-kilter, just 15 feet up, you're free standing. You get a new perspective on the neighbourhood. It's the same view as looking out your second-storey window, sure, but more panoramic, no interior spaces in your periphery. You’re eye-level with the branches. You're outside. On a roof. You're outside on a roof! Look at your lawn. Look at the way the driveway greets the street. Look at your neighbour getting dressed.

No, no, that never happened. But people do walk by and they don't see you on your porch roof, because why would they look up there? They pass by while you stand there, arms akimbo, vigorous, strong, impervious to time, age and cats. King of the house.

It's at those moments, up on a roof, when the years don't seem to matter. I feel solid and safe up there, happy in my home and in a life that lets me do and enjoy these silly, small moments.

I can't stay up there too long, though. It hurts my feet.