My cousin Ed serves as a magisterial district judge in Pennsylvania. Back in March, when the pandemic closed down the courts in Ed’s district, he used the time to do something he has needed to do since his mother passed away in 2005: Deal with a room full of boxes she inherited from our grandmother.
Meticulously going through old letters, photos and other items of yellowed ephemera, he separated things into piles he believed would have meaning to each of his 17 cousins, packed them up, and mailed them to us.
When my package arrived, I found a treasure trove I never knew existed that included photos of my mother when she was in her teens, letters she wrote to her parents during her 20s when she lived in Europe, and photos of me as a baby.
When I called to thank Ed for sending those things, he said it had been a laborious task that took him the better part of two months. “I’ve been needing to take control of this for 15 years,” he said.
While Ed’s work may not have the lasting impact of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” or “Macbeth,” which the Bard reportedly wrote while quarantined during a plague, to me, my cousin’s accomplishment is one that impresses me as time well spent.
It is certainly time better spent than getting into political fights on social media, watching “Tiger King” again in hopes of catching some lunacy you may have missed the first two times, or doing what I’ve been involved with: personal growth.
It’s true. I have used this time of pandemic isolation to grow. Not spiritually, culturally or didactically, but rather in a way that is evidenced by the fact that I can no longer fit into any of my clothes or step on a scale without doing a double-take.
To combat this growth, I’ve started to get out and walk. It has been during these walks that I’ve noticed something: A lot of Burbankers are using this down time to make changes and improvements to their homes.
Upon further investigation of my observance, I found that Scott Strobl, who serves as the senior vice president of operations at Universal Studios Hollywood, and his wife Krysti, a kindergarten teacher, have used this time to do something Scott has been dreaming of doing for years.
“We’re empty-nesters now, so I decided to put in a game room with a pool table that doubles as a card table,” said Scott.
According to Krysti, the custom pool table Scott had made was inspired by a painting they bought during a cruise of the Mexican Riviera.
“We went to one of those onboard art shows and bought a painting called ‘Pool Shark 3’ by Michael Godard,” said Krysti.
Godard’s art is renowned for its whimsical portrayal of anthropomorphic food, animals, Martini glasses and wine bottles. In the painting that grabbed the Strobls’ favor there is a crying olive who has been hustled out of his cash in a game of 8-ball by a great white shark.
“I love the red bed and the wood design of the pool table in Godard’s painting,” said Scott. “So I wanted to control the look of the table I had designed so it would be as similar as possible.”
Ryan and Samantha Wick have also taken to making changes in the home they have lived in for the past 13 years.
“When everything closed down we just took control of the situation and did the full COVID,” Samantha said with a laugh. “We’ve done most of the work ourselves. We painted the exterior, built a porch, did a new ceiling in our den, remodeled our kitchen, installed a surround system, and did a lot of repairs we’ve been putting off for too long.”
Asked how they got through the DIY projects and still maintained a happy marriage, Ryan, who works as an animation editor, rolled his eyes. “We definitely had out moments; but when we did we just went into different rooms to clear our heads.”
Samantha, who got a lot of inspiration from Pinterest, said she has actually enjoyed doing the work. “Although I feel like we’ve been living in a never-ending episode of ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,’” she added.
Over at the home of John Lawrence, a construction supervisor, and his wife, Maxcell Leon, an ICU nurse, steady work has been going on since the pandemic began.
“We’ve had the entire house painted. We are putting in artificial turf, a new path in the front yard and a picket fence,” said Maxcell. “We also stained the driveway, put in a new Jacuzzi, redecorated the guest room and installed a new air conditioner.”
Admitting that some compromises had to be made along the way, Maxcell said it was her vision to have the house painted black and white.
“John was freaking out about that. He said white reminded him of a hospital, and that the black trim would be too much,” she said “He kept hoping I’d change my mind, but I didn’t. Then, when it was done, he decided to stain the driveway black. I let him have creative leeway on that, but I was terrified since his only knowledge of how to do it came from a tutorial he saw on YouTube. But it came out OK, except that we had a gun-metal gray driveway until he did some troubleshooting to correct the color.”
John, holding the couple’s dog, Snoop, said that as they are coming to the end of the renovations he is happy with the way things have turned out.
“We were really overdue on doing some of these things,” he said. “But I think the real reason we did it all now was to stay sane. It gave us the feeling of having some control during a time when we seem to have less and less.”
Control. It was a word that ran as the inspiring impetus with everyone I spoke to, from my cousin Ed to all three of the home-improving couples. Perhaps, I’m thinking, they will serve as an inspiration to me as this pandemic continues; to gain the control to push myself away from the table and curtail any further personal growth.
David Laurell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.