top of page

Willow Wood, Chapter 7... How to Encourage Patina

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

“Well, Charlie, I know it’s not the Arctic, but let’s give this a try,” I told the wooden bear as I held a paintbrush in my hand.

Beside me I had the last remaining pint of white wall paint and a sweating glass of iced tea. We were sitting on the front porch where the sun wouldn’t mess up the painting and the wind wouldn’t blow in any of the dandelion seeds that floated in the air like tiny hot air balloons. I’d always thought that Charlie, while handsome as a brunette, always looked like more of a Klondike. He just had that air of sophistication about him which was not common in many wooden bears, and the maker had obviously committed a grave oversight in not realizing Charlie’s potential.

I dabbed the paint into the worn, cracked wood, pressing it into the thirsty lumber and letting it close up old fissures. The wood was so dry, it took several coats of paint before it covered the muddy red-brown and turned him snowy white. I left the deep-set, pitchy black eyes alone, and also the nose and claws, which were a grey-black and contrasted beautifully against the now-pale fur. When I was finished, it was Charlie as he had always been meant to be.

I smiled and sat back to finish the iced tea and admire him until the paint dried. It was the height of July, so it wasn’t long before I was able to pick him up and set him back in his sentential position by the door. Then I looked down at the deck and realized I had neglected a very important part of the painting process – drop clothes. Charlie’s behind and two back feet were now outlined quite starkly against the dark blue wood. Thankfully, if you didn’t know what it was, you’d only assumed some toddler had gotten into some paint and tried to draw a circle (which is to say it didn’t look much like a circle, but was at least connected). That was the good news, because the bad news is that I had run out of the time, energy, and desire to do any more major home renovating projects – and least of all any more painting.

I’d call it patina.

Merriam Webster’s Definition:

patina – a special quality or impression associated with something

Kirsten Grace’s Revised Definition:

Patina – the collection of characteristics related to memories, the marks of time gone by, known or unknown history, and mild to extreme disaster that give the impression of being both well-used and well-loved

There is just something so comforting about a chip in the front door that you see every day, or a cabinet door that doesn’t quit shut all the way, or a teakettle that’s been boiled dry one too many times. We’ve been trained to think that new is better, and pay with countless hours of our lives to try and keep the new things looking new. We tiptoe around the house to keep the floors nice, and wax the table every month and use coasters to ensure not a mark is accidentally inflicted upon it. We keep strict no-shoe policies and refinish the furniture on a regular maintenance schedule.

But I don’t believe we realize how much good it does our souls to see a craterous dent in the kitchen table. I think in part, it allows us to be imperfect as well – our worn out and dented, not-so-great-but-beautiful-anyway selves. It’s also good to remember to allow others to be imperfect. Because when you’re not paying attention to making sure everyone is using a coaster and has properly removed their shoes at the door, you have the mental bearing to engage with them on a more welcoming level. When the small things don’t matter so much, the more important things can.

It’s also a relief to give yourself permission not to worry so much. Things will break, get dented, get stained, maybe burn to ash in front of you. It’s what things do. If you hold them loosely, you will be amazed how much life they have when they’re not being strangled by a death-grasp.

I’m not suggesting sloppiness. If someone gets ketchup stains on the couch because they decided to not worry so much and eat a sloppy hamburger there without a plate… well that’s all I have to say about that.

In any case, it’s important to allow a house to collect a personality for itself. If we were all perfectly shiny and uniform, we’d be a bore to live around, and so would a house. Only YOU can give it what it deserves.

But patina isn’t only about the physical manifestations. There are also the ghosts.

Houses collect memories. What happens inside four walls seeps into those walls, and over time, develops into a definite atmosphere. Some places can be perfectly lovely inside, but for some inexplicable reason, you feel sad when you walk in. Some places look like a ramshackle mess, but you feel a sense of peace there that you can’t put into words. Old houses have had the decades to develop this patina, this atmosphere, and if you find a house with happy ghosts, it’s a treasure indeed.

Whether we’re talking about physical or ghostly patina, this is what new homes lack. It takes decades to make enough memories to fill a newly built house with patina. Of course, the befit is that all the memories are yours, and no one else’s. That may be the drawback as well… There is something special about knowing someone else has lived their own life within these walls, and you don’t know what or when or how, but you can tell they lived a good life. And every once in a while, you find a forgotten letter in the bottom of a drawer, or a box of photos in the shed, and it’s a mysterious link to someone you’ve never met but have a strangely important connection to. It’s a mystery, ancient history, and an odd sort of incorporeal club all at once.

But we were speaking of the more physical forms of patina. Some of them are a result of near catastrophe.

I had put a pork roast on to boil. It was a large pork roast, in a Very Large Pot, with a rather large quantity of water inside. It took half an hour to even get it to a boil, and once it did, I turned it on simmer and ran to the grocery store for mochi [1]. This was a mistake. Ovens and stoves are malicious sprites. If you leave them to their own devices, their pyromaniacal tendencies will run amok. It doesn’t matter if what you’re cooking would normally cook for half a day; if you leave it unattended for even just ten minutes, mark my words – you will regret it.

“Oh my,” I got out a squeak as I pulled the car into the driveway and watched the smoke billow out the of the house.

Sheer panic took over and I, literally as it were, ran into a burning building. Thank God it wasn’t actually burning, or this story would have had a rather odd and tragic ending. I did not meet a tragic fate that day. The pork roast, however, did. I stumbled through the smoke, holding my breath and barely able to see a hand in front of me, until I found the culprit. That evil stovetop! I should have it demoted! I should have it sent to the scrapyard!

I snatched up the oven mitts, turned the burner off, grabbed the smoldering pot, and dashed outside. The pot was billowing out a great cloud of smoke, like a localized volcanic eruption. I set the miniature volcano down on the porch and raced back into the house, opening the doors and the windows as fast as I could manage, and flapping a towel at the air in an attempt to chase the smoke out. I had to take a break every five minutes to run out to the front yard and breathe.

As I stood outside coughing, I threw the towel to the ground and shook my head, putting my hands on my hips. The dissipating whisps of transmutated pork began another sashay from the soup pot. What a mess. What was that stovetop thinking? I should have known better than to trust it with a twenty-minute errand.

After a while, I set up fans inside, funneling the stale air out of the rooms and through the front door. There was not much else to be done, so I took the opportunity to sit outside and eat my melted mochi. [2]


“Oh my,” I heard a voice from the other side of the willow tree.

El walked into the yard, eyebrows raised (as they so often did while she was around me I was beginning to realize) and stared at the smoke still dissipating out of the house.

“That’s what I said,” I agreed. Great minds think alike. ‘Oh my’ truly was the perfect reaction to the situation.

“Oh my,” she repeated.

“Boiled pork,” I explained.

“I’d say roasted.”

“That’s the truth of the matter,” I agreed.

She sat down and I offered her a dripping mochi and told her the story. By the time I’d finished, the smoke had cleared away and we walked back toward the house. The pot was still smouldering a little, and the boiled pork inside was a black, misshapen mass permanently fused to the metal. It had almost become a metal itself. At the very least, you could likely use it to pound nails if you were so inclined. I picked the pot up to throw it in the trash and realized it had melted a perfect circle through the porch rug and branded itself on the deck. Well, it would pair well with the outline of Charlie’s rear half.

We walked inside, wrinkling our noses. The smoke had cleared, but the smell had not. Not even a little.

“That’s going to take a while to get rid of,” El coughed.

I gave a dramatic sigh and a malicious glare at the offending stovetop. The dramatic sigh caught in my throat, though. The smell of rancid smoke was overpowering.

“I don’t suppose you fancy a Clothes Washing Party?” I ventured.

“Well, I’d planned on a Tea and Chatting Party, but I suppose that will do.”

We took down all the curtains, gathered all the towels and rags, piled every article of clothing on the floor, and started washing them load by load. And for every load, we washed it two or three times. Even then, the smell wasn’t entirely gone, but it was getting late, and that would have to do for now. That was how I earned the nickname Smokey for the next six weeks. It took that long for the smell to finally wash out of my clothes. For the next year after that, I’d still catch a whiff of it if I opened a little-used cupboard.

Smoke smell is not good patina. I do not recommend.

The branded circle on the front porch does make a good conversation starter, though. It’s an exciting story – everyone likes a drama piece. One day, I’m sure, I’ll repaint the deck and cover up all those memories, but the truth is, I think I’d miss seeing them.

It’s amazing how many good memories are only good memories because by some miracle, no one died from it.


[1] [1] Concerning mochi, it’s the full realization of the true gloriousness of ice cream. As with most European things, the Japanese have ‘borrowed’ it, and returned it in a state ten times as good as they found it. [2] [2] One of the marvels of mochi is that it’s just as good melted into a puddle as it is frozen firm.

22 views3 comments
bottom of page