At a garage sale in Woodside there's a lovely marble countertop with attached sink for sale. It could have been lifted from some ancient Roman bath. It certainly looks that old - and beaten. The man is asking $45. The day is late; it hasn't sold. Rose, my wife, wants it. So do I.
I offer $3. The man says he could come down some, but $3 is ridiculous.
Rose asks me if the stains will come out. Also, she asks if there's a way to smooth the rough spots on the surface. And how do you fill those pock marks? There's a chip on the edge. And how can we make that crack go away?
I say I don't know; it would be a gamble to buy it but I'm willing to try. Rose shakes her head skeptically.
Turning to the man, who has heard every word, I ask, "Will you take four dollars?"
This is a wealthy house in a wealthy neighborhood. They don't need the money. The man is probably under orders to clean the crap out his garage.
We settle on $5.
Rose and I are still constructing our new home, one room at a time, in a most unwealthy town. While building, we are living in it - camping out, really - with two small children. We have no money but oodles of energy.
In the library I read some books about how to restore marble. Baking soda, then hydrogen peroxide, then bleach, with complete drying between each solution, removes the stains. Blending white and black epoxy, I find a shade of gray that looks good for filling pock marks. Slow, careful work. With more work, sculpting the slow-drying epoxy, I fill the chip at the edge.
When the epoxy dries, I sand it by hand.
The hand-sanding is tough work. In a hardware store I find little discs you can attach to a power drill. They work beyond my expectations. They actually erase flaws.
There's a hairline crack we'll just have to live with.
If I were paid for the labor I put into this sink, it would cost a fortune.
These low-dollar, high-labor salvages make the house a somewhat odd and eclectic place. They make it our home. They won't appeal to the next owner, who will tear them out and eventually hold a garage sale including an old marble sink. But that won't happen for a long time: we plan to raise children, grow old, and die here. As of 2011 we've accomplished two thirds of that plan.
It's a common story, sweat equity. Being children of the Sixties, homesteading had a particular appeal. But in any era, many have done the same.
A year after finishing the sink, our new, third child takes a Roman bath: