Thirteen years ago, our real estate agent, Bob, opened the door of a blue-gray house built in 1979. I didn’t expect much, though my first impression was generally positive—I liked the big trees and the country, cottage-y style of the front porch. As we crossed the threshold, the inside seemed spacious because the owners had already moved and left the rooms empty.
But the first thing that caught my eye was the newel post.”It looks so worn,” I said, running my hand around the knob,
imagining kids swinging around each time they hit the last step. They must hang onto the knob and swoosh around “Singing-in-the-Rain”-style as they turn down the hallway, sliding their palms against the wood, wearing off a little stain each time.
“It rubs off from use,” Bob said.
“Can it be renewed?” I asked. “Can we re-stain it or something?”
“You can,” Bob said, “but I don’t think you’d want to. It adds character. Shows it was lived in.”
“Lived in and loved.” I nodded.
“Exactly,” Bob agreed.
He pointed out other features in the entry that he thought were notable and walked us through the upstairs and main floor, but I kept thinking about that worn newel post. When we came downstairs again, I slipped my hand around it again and could feel how smooth that curved wood felt against my palm. And then I remembered the scene at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when George Bailey realizes how much he wants to return to his imperfect life filled with family and friends. As he rushes upstairs to see his beloved Zuzu, the wobbly newel post knob pops off in his hand, but this time instead of being frustrated he kisses it as he sets it in place.
Suddenly I loved the worn knob for being worn.
And we bought the house.
But we’ve talked about fixing up the stairs. Although they are structurally sound, they have several issues. We’ve lived with them in spite of those issues, wondering what to do.
For the past year, we’ve gotten more serious about it, prioritizing the work and discussing whether to sand down the old stair treads or replace them with new. Finally, just a few weeks ago, we took the plunge: We bought new materials and hired our friend to do the work.He started this past week and made progress quickly.
Before long he had to head home to get a jigsaw for the bottom four steps. When he left, I returned to my laptop in the kitchen. He came back with his saw and called to me from the stairs. I couldn’t quite hear him.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“I’m taking this out!” he announced.
I walked down the hall and saw him pointing to the short section of handrail, spindles, and newel post. “Oh! It’s coming down!” I said. “Wow, I guess that’s really final.”
“Yep. I’ll cut it here and here,” he explained, pointing to the spots where the rail met the wall and newel post.
I nodded. “Sounds good!” I turned to go when the worn knob caught my eye. “Oh!” I exclaimed. “The knob!”
“Yep, that’s next. It goes too.”
“Ohhhh…” I sighed. “The knob….” I reached out and ran my fingers around the smooth, worn spot. “I bought this house in part because of this knob right here.” I told him about picturing kids swooshing around and reminded him of the scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I bent over and kissed the knob. And when I kissed it, I almost cried. I thought of our own kids running their hands around it, how they were so little when we moved in and now our oldest will be turning 18. I wanted to freeze time. I wanted to keep the newel post. The knob. The memories.
But I couldn’t keep it. It had to go, or else he couldn’t replace the bottom four stair treads.
He saw me getting sentimental and offered, “I can cut it here for you, if you want.” He made a motion with his finger to show where he could slice off the top just below the knob.
“Can you cut it a little lower, so it’ll have a little square stand?”
“But I can’t watch,” I admitted. So I pointed once more, “right there,” and then scurried to the kitchen to wait. First he sawed off the railing. He came through the kitchen holding it in one piece, the spindles still attached and dangling like the legs of a caterpillar marionette. I ran to open the door to the garage where he could lean it against some other old wood.
“The newel’s next,” he said. “Think you can handle it?”
“If you can save the knob, I’ll be okay.”
“I’ll save the knob.”
He disappeared while I sat down at the computer trying to distract myself. I heard the saw rev up. A few minutes later he walked back in.
“Here’s your knob.” He plunked it on the kitchen counter.
My heart swelled. “The knob!” I picked it up and turned it around in my hand. “I love it!”
“Is that what you wanted?”
“It’s perfect! Thank you so much!”
He grinned big and went back to work sawing and prying out the bottom half of the newel. While he was hard at work, I gazed at my wonderful old knob, picking it up and turning it around to look at it from various angles.
I left it on the counter all day and touched it now and then. And once, when no one was looking, I picked it up and kissed it.
Is every hour rush hour at your house?
Find a pace that frees your family to flourish.
“Not So Fast is a gift to every reader who takes the time to slow down and breathe in its pages.”
—Lee Strobel, best-selling author of The Case for Christ