It was earlier that spring that I was forced to face the mystery of the misshapen corner of the ceiling in my own old house and summoned inspectors to try to solve it. One man used an infrared light. Others went into the attic and onto the roof. The bow in the corner had come from a long-ago leak that had grown beyond notice, unattended by a series of previous owners, the moisture from the original leak long evaporated but leaving the plaster weakened over time, heavy and tugging at adjacent seams, inch by inch, until a section of the ceiling was now threatening to cave in on itself and perhaps take the rest of the ceiling with it.
I hadn’t caused this problem, hadn’t been there when the leak first crept toward the ceiling. In fact, I had been the one to install the new roof. But it fell to me to fix it or suffer the consequences. Contractors offered to trim it out and Sheetrock over it. A plasterer said he could replaster the fragile section to blend with the rest of the old ceiling. It would be indistinguishable to the naked eye but would not protect against further weakness in what remained of the original plaster, strained as it was from the adjacent frailties.
The only way to truly fix it, he said, was to tear out the plaster, down to the beams, inspect and rebuild the rotting lath and replaster the entire ceiling. And so we did. It took days to scrape and inspect, recast and reconstruct. When it was done, it was quietly glorious, as ceilings go.
And I could breathe free, knowing, as we now are called upon to do in our era, in the house we all live in, that it was sound and secure, not merely patched and papered over, but maybe even better than it was, for ourselves and for the generations that come after us (emphasis added).