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  • Writer's pictureSusan Byers

Well ...

It’s over. That terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year is history, Alexander. A new year has dawned. Hope for a better future grows. Mostly, there’s relief that 2020 is behind us.

I wrote that on January second. How much has changed since then.

Georgia went blue and I thought I’d seen everything. Until the next day.

On January 6, we watched in horror as the Capitol of the United States was overtaken by rioting thugs trying to overthrow an election that has been judged to be the most secure ever. They acted at the bidding of the President of the United States. They came armed and prepared to kill. They did kill, although not as many as they might have. They had a plan, knew where things were. Police and soldiers, sworn to protect, were among them.

Overshadowing everything, the pandemic. On January 2, 2021, 2,373 people were reported to have died of COVID-19. Since then, 42,230 more Americans have died—that we know of. Many of them didn’t need to die.

Thankfully, we have not lost anyone, but we have friends who have, and we grieved with them. Our eldest lost one of his two jobs to the pandemic. Our dream of traveling the country, visiting family and friends, and seeing America, ended after only a year.

If 2020 was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year, 2021 is not off to a good start, and we’re not leaving all of the bad behind; there’s still plenty to come.

Our nation is deeply divided, and those who believe the lies and conspiracy theories are incredibly angry. They truly believe the election was stolen, that democracy failed. It is no wonder that they took action, and probably will again.

Somehow, we need to reach out to the “other half” and convince them that our democracy held, that they’ve been deceived, but that’s going to be incredibly hard. Mark Twain wrote, "How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!" How do we convince nearly half of America that they were conned and are still being conned?

Meanwhile, the pandemic, denied and then bungled by the current administration, is still raging, and hundreds of thousands of Americans will yet die. One friend lost her mother to COVID; I expect we will yet grieve with more friends, and that breaks my heart. I pray it all stays away from us and our loved ones.

But good things happened in that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Our youngest graduated from college and had a job waiting in Jacksonville, which he loves. All of our children are healthy and living on their own. There’s a new boyfriend in the picture. Len and I have actually enjoyed being together 24/7, and, since starting on Noom in June, he’s lost at least 20 pounds and I’ve lost nearly 30. There’s this lovely old house that we are renovating together. America stood up autocracy, bigotry and hatred, and embraced inclusion, empathy and democracy, with more people voting than ever before. The future, while still very rocky, at least holds hope for healing—in so many ways.

But it will be hard, so hard. There are so many people, even in my own family, who believe what 64 courts, the head of election integrity and even the attorney general all said was untrue. They truly believe that our democracy failed. How do we reconcile?

Sometimes, I just want it all to go away. It won't, but there are moments of loveliness. We woke this morning to a winter wonderland.

It was so peaceful walking the dogs through the fresh white, every branch and twig highlighted thickly and drooping with snow. It seemed … a respite from the world. But all too soon, we were home and back to reality.

In some ways, we feel like spectators to the madness that has seized the nation; our world these days is much smaller, bounded by an old house that needs so very much.

Boards and an old vent pipe dangle on wires from our kitchen ceiling. Lights are balanced on wires and connected with extension cords overhead. We await an electrician to unscramble the network of wires that run through the antique beams so we can put a ceiling above the beams and insulate again. The kitchen stays pretty chilly, although adjusting the baffles on the heat pipes in the basement has helped, and we make a fire most nights.

Eventually, we will renovate the kitchen.

Meanwhile, we make do with a few old cabinets, a clunky old electric stove from the 70s, a fridge, some shelves and a few appliances. The dishwasher doesn't seem to have worked in years ... but it holds up the counter.

Upstairs, original floors have been refinished and, scars, patches and gaps notwithstanding, are gorgeous.

We’ve begun demo-ing one bedroom where the plaster had separated from the lath. The other bedroom’s walls were in pretty good shape; they appear to have been wall-boarded at some point and then plastered for some reason.

We've patched and painted, and the room waits, base molding off, for the electrician (because two plugs in a room is just not enough!) and a window replacement. Then we can move our bedroom, currently in the formal living room, upstairs. The living room will become a bedroom and small entry hall; few people use formal living rooms anymore, and a first-floor master would be far more useful down the road when we can no longer manage the stairs. Until then, it will house guests, although not for a while; there are other priorities. Renovation on the bathrooms will start in a couple of weeks, and then the upstairs bedrooms, and the kitchen will be done.

It’s a lot. A LOT. And there are four outbuildings that need work as well, including what will be two guest spaces. It keeps us very busy, planning, changing plans because the contractor said it would cost too much or couldn't be done, and working on the things we can do. And building muscle.

Hefting multiple bags or buckets of plaster rubble down the stairs and out to the dumpster is hard work, as is stacking and hauling in loads of wood for the fireplace. We should be totally buff soon.

Before we demo, we do some preservation work. There were two murals in the house, painted by one of the daughters of the family who owned the house from 1945 to about 1970. They'd been painted around by the last owners.

When we started doing demo, we found more of her work under paint (below) and behind paneling (seen in the demo photo, above).

We very carefully removed samples of her art to preserve before the walls are opened up and redone.

We have also collected many samples of wallpaper—there are six layers in the living room alone ...

... five in the hall—and we will frame and display collages of all the papers that were in each room. We are honoring the house's history while becoming part of it. This house, this property, is what our lives center around now.

We are among the fortunate. We are retired, so job security isn’t a worry. Our children are doing well. While isolation chafes at many, we have so much to do that we hardly notice our lack of social contact, plus we’re interviewing and working with contractors, and we have met some neighbors, socially distanced and masked, of course. Facebook helps us keep up with family and friends, and Zoom has been priceless, especially over the holidays.

We opened Christmas presents and ate Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners “together” with our kids via Zoom. But the vaccines are here, so before long, we hope to be social again. And hug. God, how I miss hugs! Fortunately, Len keeps me pretty well supplied.

But our world has been shaken to the core. We have seen things we never dreamed we would see. Our hearts are as broken as our country. We can focus on the good—we must focus on the good—and see how the healing goes. We will stay busy with our old house that needs so much, hope for the best, and do what we can to help along the way. We can, we must, find ways to get along. Be kind.

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Phyllis Sintay
Phyllis Sintay
Jan 19, 2021

Love the update and happy to hear that you have survived all the snow. Looks like this is the perfect project for you both. Can't wait to see the finished product. When I saw the picture of the house I knew it was yours. You both will make it special. So glad you are staying well.


Bill Fogle
Bill Fogle
Jan 16, 2021

Always a cozy and good read!


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