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Meditations on a Wood Floor View Comments
By Charity Vogel

SOME PEOPLE FLIP on the TV or climb on the treadmill when they get stressed. Others go shopping, draw a bath or rip open a bag of Oreos.

But I’ve found a different means of escape, and it’s about as plain and prosaic as a peanut butter sandwich. For me, relief from worry and care comes through the weathered wooden floors in my old Victorian house. Knotty and scarred, worn smooth by the decades, these old heart pine floors have saved my sanity quite a few times. And I’m sure—as sure as I am of anything in this stress-driven world—that they’ll do it again.

Take an example from the recent past. In February 2009, an airplane carrying 49 people crashed to the ground in a suburb near my home. It was a traumatic event and it stunned the community, not to mention the country.

As a journalist at the major metropolitan daily newspaper in our region, moments like these for me—and for my husband, who is also a reporter—aren’t just tragedies. They are calls to relentless, deadline-driven work. The two of us spent days and nights in the newsroom after the crash, writing stories about the disaster. By the end of those grueling shifts, we were spent.

We came home, and my husband went off to fix a snack. (We had been living on newsroom pizza.) But instead of sinking onto the couch, I headed straight for the basement—and the Murphy Oil
Soap.

Wiping the wood floors in my house that night soothed my spirit and calmed my mind. Instead of seeing images of the downed plane on an endless loop in my mind, I saw the grain in antique pine planks, darkened by more than a century of steady use, some parts worn smooth as a cloister walk, other parts roughened and shrunk with age.

Instead of the smell of jet fuel, I inhaled the lemon-and-honey smell of oil soap, homey and innocent. That night I realized again what I already knew: Wiping down these old wooden boards with warm soapy water is an act of health and cleanliness, of organization and structure. It is a way to reclaim order and to reassert control in a world where those qualities can be difficult to find.

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Charity Vogel is a prize-winning journalist who holds a doctorate in English from the University of Buffalo. A native of Buffalo, she lives in a 19th-century Victorian with her husband, T.J., and two small daughters. She is currently at work on a book for Cornell University Press.

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