Some things are written in stone. We say “it’s not written in stone” when we expect the person with whom we are talking to object or take offense at something we proffer. It is a peremptory phrase of negation. It reduces what we proceed to say to drivel or to an affront. We say it is not written in stone as a social convention at the same time present it as immutable. Without social ineptitude or deception, some things really are written in stone.
The history of our kitchen is written in stone. It is written in the granite that lies on the 1/2 inch cement board that rests on top of 3/4 inch OSB plywood that resides on top of the cabinets. The story it tells is one of hope, rejection, sorrow, despair and redemption.
This house of ours that is replacing our beloved house taken from us by a wildfire is a uneven. The house is not overly large or fancy. It is not a trophy home. It it not small or unassuming but it it cost more than would be expected for its size or the way it looks, unless you look closely.
The cost of this house is in the wood. It is in the 34 foot long king truss that spans the width of the front of the house. It is in the fully hand scribed log stairs. It is tongue and groove hand installed, it is in the wide board flooring, it is in the hand crafted bread loaf stair rail that makes 9 perfectly mitered turns as it runs up its 15 stairs and two landings traveling from the garage to the main floor, it is in the specially milled deck planks that have a non-toxic fire coating on them, it is in each piece of the wood. Our house breaths and moves and creaks and murmurs like only a house of wood can do. It is kin to the woods around it.
With wood there is stone. With all the budget and more spent on the wood there was no money left for stone. When I found rejected hotel granite stone slabs in a seconds bin I felt hope that we could marry the stone with our wood. The counter top would not be seamless because the stone came in slabs and would have to be knitted together but knit they would. Thus knitted they would join the wood and be a house of wood and stone.
After hours of anguish, sorrow and despair set in. The person who helped cut and put down the stone is a gifted professional trades person but with skills in another building art. He was helping with the stone as a favor to us. The stones would not be moved. They sat on the cement board as they chose, wobbly and misaligned. Some chipped, others refused to be cut and some had wavy lines where they should have been straight. Some edges broke, others were lumpy. Most were sharp and were of varying heights with uneven gaps between the stones.
It was written in stone. These stones carried with them the brand of rejection. They were the stones that the builder rejected and we plucked out of the pile to use. To help knit them together, we designed and built into the counter tops a trail of granite running between the large stone slabs. The trail would let us adjust for the variance in height and tighten the joints. The one inch trail that was perfectly level at the end of the day sunk overnight into the thin set like so much mud.
Our friend who put the stones down was dejected. I was embarrassed and did not want to lift my head. I wanted to use the peremptory phrase of negation, “Using these slabs for counter tops was not written in stone.”
But it was written in stone. It was written when they left the fabricators to go to the hotel. It was written in the stone when they were rejected by the builders at the hotel. It was written in stone as they resided in crates in the back of the warehouse where I found them. It was written in stone when they were trundled up the bumpy dirt road to our house sitting sideways on pallets trying not to topple over as they skittered in the back of the utility trailer being towed by a crew cab truck. It was written in stone when the gradeall tucked its twin forks into the pallet to lift the stone to our front deck to be carried into our kitchen where it was laid on the counter and did not knit together. It was written on the faces of those who surveyed the stone as it sat in our house.
Saturday our friend left feeling unhappy with his work but knowing it was the best he could do. On Sunday I untaped the stone like a surgeon removing bandages hoping for a good outcome. It was not a good outcome.
Today I realized that the story was written in stone and if I wanted my stone to marry with my wood I would have to learn what that story written in stone was. I could not take it as an affront that it was written in stone any more than I could pass it off as a social convention with frivolous meaning. I could not pass it off as if I did not notice my counters were uneven, sharp and wrong.
I spent time in the kitchen cleaning the counters from the dust of being cut and the grime of being pressed into mortar. I spent time examining each nook and cranny and each crack and wobbly line. Setting aside my shame for pressing to have these stones in my house when they were so clearly unsuccessful, I studied them carefully. I listened to my stone as I had listened to my wood.
The stone did not creak or move gently when I walked by. The stone was silent as if stolidly clinging to its stoneness. The stone challenged me to make it change. It was written in stone and it would not change.
After running my hands over the counter many times I began to feel the shape of the stone underneath the polished surface. I began to hear the song of the stone. Its rough edges told me of its strength. It could cut through almost anything it encountered. The chips told me of its fragility. They were not there when the stone was placed but they were there when we looked at the stone. With the slightest pressure parts of the stone became a puff in the wind. The fabricated edges told me how the stone could stand manipulated into something that did not exist in nature. The gaps told the tale of the reality of knitting together and that it is not always perfect. The smooth polished surface told me of the polishing rush of water at the edge of the stream. The stone told me its tale.
In return I told the stone that I would help knit it together and marry with my wood. I returned to our tiny basement apartment and learned about stone counter tops. I asked my friend for advice about what I had discovered. I studied on it. I took my tools upstairs and with the resolve of a surgeon damaging tissue by an incision in order to repair what was underneath, I laid a sander with rough paper on the stone and as if with a scalpel, turned it on and sanded. The sharp edges softened. The gaps became more even. The chips smoothed. The stone breathed the dust of its individualness and began to be knitted to the stones beside.
Tomorrow I will continue this story of redemption, mine and the stones. It took great courage on my part to place that grinder with its rough teeth on the surface of my uneven shiny stone. As the stone began to lose its shine and the dust gathered, I could see the knitted surface arise.
For now, the song of the knitted and smoothed counter tops that will shine like a wet river rock is in my head. Their echo is under my hand. I must trust these hands of mine to help knit the stones together to this house of wood and stone.