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Home front update

Walkin'

The old linoleum floor in my parent’s Chicago home was the big topic of conversation during a recent family gathering to celebrate Dad’s 90th birthday.
Actually, it should be called the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) floor, which has largely replaced true linoleum, a mixture of linseed oil, pine rosin and sawdust. The original was invented in England around 1855 by a Frederick Walton, who somehow got the creative inspiration from a crusted-over can of linseed oil. Despite an initial tepid response from the public, painful skin rashes, and a burned down factory, Walton continued to improve and manufacture the floor covering. In the 1870s it became popular, and Walton opened factories around the world.
Dad installed our first “linoleum” floor himself sometime around 1964. It was just one of the hundred odd jobs, like changing a piston in the car or adding a bathroom to the house, he tackled. I remember the year well. In sixth grade, my best friend Dave Buzello and I were on a quest to become the next Alfred Nobel. We’d get together on Saturday mornings and mix up batches of random substances from our chemistry sets, and other items found in the pantry, under the sink, and out in the garage. Our goal was to make something that exploded, or at least stank, so we could sell it to the army. If we discovered something useful, say like linoleum, it would be a bonus.
While we were allowed free reign of supplies and kitchen sink, use of the stove was denied, at least while my parents were home. One fateful Saturday we were left to our own devices and decided to take a break from finding an alternate formula for nitroglycerine and instead make glass by heating up sand on the stove. We got a Pyrex test tube full of grit red hot but never got the chance to find out if it turned to glass because I accidently dropped the tube. It rolled under the table and preceded to sear a hole in the new flooring.
While nothing exploded, the smell of the seared PVC stank plenty.
Doors and windows flow open to dissipate the smell. We thought all traces of odor were gone but the moment Dad walked through the door he asked, “what the heck is burning?” No bloodhound ever worked quicker, and soon he zeroed in on the scorch mark on the floor under the table. Luckily, my sister dropped a hot pizza pan on the same floor a few weeks later, making my transgression fade.
Eventually, my parents bought and paid to have the current floor installed on March 3, 1977. We know the exact date because when a bubble started developing earlier this year, Mom found the original sales receipt.
Options boiled down to three: squirt super glue under the bubble and stamp it down; cut out a section and insert a new piece; or replace it with new. The last choice seemed most prudent to everyone but my parents. They’ve lived an extremely frugal life and they’re not about to start throwing money around now.
By the time I’d left, we had them leaning toward buying new but that opened up the question of design. One sister-in-law was pushing for a pattern that looked like tile but Mom would have none of it. She wanted something that looked like linoleum, whatever that is.
Meanwhile other developments on the home front:
• The toilet was plugged so Dad plunged it and an unusually large and odd shaped chunk of calcium popped out. It was passed around before dinner, and everyone admired it. One brother thought he saw an image of Jesus on it. I thought I saw a copy of toast.
• Mom’s flower garden was unusually pretty this year. She found a large packet of marigold seeds for a $1 on a discount shelf, and she converted them into a large golden bed of flowers.
• Baby brother Bob, the heavy equipment mechanic, is working on a new method of inflating tires that involves ether (starting fluid) and a match. He was missing eyebrows and his hearing was poor.
If we had ether to work with back in the day, they might be awarding the Fleck/Buzello Peace Prize today.