Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 10, 2013

Loraine Anderson: Wallpaper as 'a manner of travel’


---- — The last time I wallpapered was about 30 years ago. I vowed never to do it again.

But there I was last weekend standing on a stool, my face and body pressed against the wall, arms stretched upward trying to keep a sheet of wallpaper in place while my cousin, Susan, struggled to paste the other end to the plaster ceiling on a stepladder above me.

The wallpaper was white, with old sayings in various handwriting styles printed in black. One struck me as ironic, given the situation: "Plan Your Work — Work Your Plan."

I read it aloud to Susan, but heard only the rustle of wet wallpaper overhead as she tried to fit it around a light fixture.

"Oh Lord," she squealed. "The wallpaper is resting on my head. The glue is getting in my hair."

I rolled my head back to stretch my neck and saw a prophetic phrase that seemed to fit the folly of wallpaper: "Just about the time you make ends meet, someone moves the ends."

I wanted to laugh, but didn't. This was the first time Susan and I had worked together on a difficult project. I wasn't sure how she would respond in the middle of her tense wallpaper crisis atop a wobbly ladder.

"What would our grandmothers say if they could see us now?" I asked.

"I think they'd be laughing," she said.

"Me, too. I think they are here helping us, don't you?

The mental images of Lula and Ethel threw us into a fit of laughter. They were first cousins and best friends throughout their lives. Lula lived into her late 80s. Ethel died in her 60s when I was just seven. I knew little about her, except that she always had seemed so "proper."

Susan and I are third cousins, descended from the same pioneer great-great grandparents. We met through my genealogy research and her son's interest in the Civil War. I had the family trees and a Civil War letter. She had a suitcase of old photos dating back to the 1800s that Lula had saved and also identified the people on the back.

I offered to help Susan with the remodeling project because it seemed like a family thing to do and a great way in our busy lives to tell and hear more family stories.

On the first day, Susan gave me an oversized bandanna and showed me how her grandma and other women in the family tied and wore them to protect their hair during house projects. We looked ridiculous but wore them anyway for a couple of hours.

As the wallpaper stated, "Happiness is not a station but a manner of travel."

Reach Loraine Anderson at