By Rick Houser –
As I think back on growing up there are still some things that remain a mystery to me. As a matter of fact they will probably remain a mystery but I still can’t help but wonder. One of those mysteries happened every few years when my Mom would dig into a closet and drag out a bag of tools. Mom would have gone to New Richmond to A.P. Appliance and either looked through a collection of big thick books or brought them home to study over. These books contained samples of the latest wallpaper samples.
It seemed a must to pick out a wallpaper design and with the help of the tools from that closet, Mom would take on giving our old house a new look. The mystery to me was why she felt this was needed and why she felt she had to take on this task. I’m pretty sure this job was done when it was still the time of year that Dad couldn’t get her to work outside. That also made it a great time for him to be her helper. (I think this was never a job Dad looked forward to, but he did it anyway.)
To get them started, Mom would take on the challenge of which wallpaper sample she would choose. She would select several and of course they were based on the design and more importantly the price per roll. As a family we all got to look at the samples and give an opinion as to our likes or dislikes. It is safe to say that the value of your opinion ranked with your age and I was the youngest so my opinion was low in value. The selection process would take maybe three or more days before she went back to A. P. Appliance and made her purchase. Once this was completed the fun began.
Rarely was more than one room papered at a time and I thought our kitchen got more than its fair share of new wallpaper. We always started in the morning as the day or more than a day was set aside for the job. Maybe it was just Mom and her choice of design but I still feel that no matter how different she said the new paper was, I really didn’t see much difference at all. In thinking back I recall that in the period of the 50’s and 60’s the designs fell under two types- Botanical and Floral. What I remember was that Flora usually involved big flowers and Botanical lilies on water and variations on the subject. For the most part, the basic color was almost always a lot of green.
With the tools was a long board that the wallpaper would be laid out on and after it was measured to the length to fit, it would be cut with a special razor type knife. Then wallpaper paste would be brushed on the back with a special brush and then the paper put in place and once it was where Mom wanted it, she would use a device that would remove the wrinkles, something like a squeegee. It is easier to describe it than it was to do and it did take two to make the job easier.
When the papering began all the furniture in the room was moved to the center of the room. This allowed for step ladders and chairs to be used to stand on to hang the paper. In our house the ceilings were 10 feet high and that only made for more work. In my Mom’s case, since she was only 4’ 11”, a higher ceiling just made it more difficult for her to do the job and one more reason why she recruited my Dad to assist.
Again I didn’t really understand her need to make the changes in the house, but after watching some of today’s do-it-yourself shows, maybe Mom was doing her own version. Still to me there always seemed to be a lot of flower designs and a lot of green in the new wallpaper. By the time Mom was nearing the end of the project, things were becoming somewhat messy as the glue was getting on almost everything and especially on the wallpaper tools. Also by the end of the project and even if it had went smoothly, tempers would begin to get short. I guess it was too much time working so close on a task that was somewhat fragile in nature.
I recall one time that Mom went all out and bought some wallpaper that was of a much different design and each sheet of the paper had to be lined up so the pattern on it would flow from sheet to sheet. The pattern was a series of almost snowflake designs and were white but I’m sure you have guessed that the background was green. This was very hard to line up and it took many tries per sheet to get it just right. By the end, Mom and Dad were communicating in almost grunts only. That was when my sister Peg, brother Ben, and myself removed ourselves from the area where they were working. However, when they were done they were all smiles and very pleased at what they had accomplished. There is nothing better than success.
It is safe to say that our home and my Mom were not the only places and people to wallpaper their homes. It is safe to say if a person was to dig back into their attic, they’d probably find that old bag of papering tools. Maybe I was too young to see it but honestly a new layer of wallpaper really didn’t make that much difference to me. In looking back at the pattern choices of that time, the selections were slim and in an old home like ours the walls weren’t smooth and attractive to start with. But after Mom completed a room she was the happiest person around for a good while. If no one else could see how good it looked, she could.
Over the years my wife and I have attempted to do a little papering and installing trim. Our paper came self-adhesive and was much easier to handle, but we agreed that we really didn’t care for wallpaper all that much. I guess I won’t miss those tools at all.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. If you would like to read more of his stories he has two books available. “There are Places I Remember” and “Memories ARE From the Heart”. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.