My mother is selling my childhood home. I knew the one souvenir I wanted to keep. The only problem was, it could kill me.
Sadly, the time has come for my mother to sell the house she lived in for over 50 years – the home I grew up in. Despite my affection for it, I must admit there’s nothing really distinctive about the place, with one notable exception.
The playroom in the basement was covered with mottled red vinyl tiles. In the center of the room, the monotony was broken by the figure of a horse head – or perhaps a chess knight. Frankly, I never thought it was particularly attractive. I remember thinking throughout my childhood, “why is there a picture of a horse head on the floor?” But it made a convenient home base in a variety of games. And now that I would be losing the house forever, I discovered I had a fondness for it.
No one buying the house would want the tiles in the basement. We had suffered flooding several times, and many of the tiles had become unglued. Some were broken or made cracking sounds when you stepped on them. All the tiles had to go. Saving the horse head was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.
So how is this a deadly, toxic souvenir that could kill me? Did I mention the tiles were asbestos? And broken?
OK, I know. You’re a little disappointed. After I built up the suspense with “deadly”, “toxic” and “kill”, you expected something a little more scary than asbestos tiles. The fact that some of them were broken adds a little to the thrill. But none of them were crumbling, so there really wasn’t much danger.
Still, we needed a contractor licensed for asbestos to remove the tiles. I asked him to save the horse and he did, although the horse’s mane broke in two (that was the first thing that went wrong).
I bought a piece of ¾” plywood and glued the tiles onto it. They probably hadn’t been cleaned or polished in 50 years, so I bought floor cleaner and polish and did several cleanings followed by several applications of polish.
I had done a poor job of gluing some of the tiles, so I used a heat gun to remove them and re-glue them. Alas, I used the heat gun for too long in a few spots, and the vinyl melted and bubbled a little. That was the second thing that went wrong. (Maybe they also released asbestos into the air, so don’t give up hope: I still might die from this.)
Finally, I took it to Michael’s and figured out a custom framing job with them. It ended up costing $253 (!).
The end result is not great art. The broken mane and bubbled vinyl are easily visible, as is the wear and tear of active children running, jumping, and stomping on it (it adds character, right?). But it has a place of honor on my wall and in my memories. Hopefully, it didn’t leave anything in my lungs.