I’ve long had it in my head to decorate and furnish a house like those magazine pictures — everything perfectly in place, matching colors, rich fabrics. I married into Mike’s 100 year old Houston house, which was the sum of more than one remodel, including ours. Mike had an art room where he literally tried paint colors right on the wall, the wallpaper in the dining room was upside down, and the porch was purple with blue rocking chairs, a white railing, a red bench, and a cream-colored front door. That house was my first attempt to decorate, and the results were mixed (to put it kindly). The upside down wall paper was replaced with wall paper of a concrete block pattern, the lines of which angled downward till we realized what was happening, then they meandered up. My multi-purpose room was yellow with a purple accent wall and sheer green print curtains over the windows (rather Mardi Gras, looking back on it). Art work was literally everywhere. The ceiling access to our air conditioner was concealed behind a Van Gogh print. Only a repair tech of slim build could get through the painting to service the unit.
When we moved to this much newer ranch style house at the other side of the country, I once again had some decorating ideas. Nice arrangements of artwork, tasteful rugs, coordinating colors, simple but elegant decorating. No more of that “stuff everywhere and on everything” look. I wanted a space that would make a favorable impression on those visitors I anticipated hosting.
What was I thinking? Whose life was I trying to live — Martha Stewart? She can’t even get a haircut that doesn’t look like everybody else’s. Arrangements of artwork? We have so much art that the walls are nearly filled and there’s a goat cart in the living room filled with the surplus. Why paint the walls? I’m just covering them with pictures, tiles, greeting cards and plates. Who needs curtain rods — I’ve got a wooden toy rifle I’m going to use as a hanger. My decorating style could be called Scratch & Dent, with a subheading of Impermanence.
And those people have visited, both family and friends. They’ve slept in the spare bedroom packed with Civil War art and a half-moon pinata that held my engagement ring. I had to beat the pinata with a stick to extract the ring and hope it didn’t fly into the nearby cow pasture to be swallowed by Elsie. Thev’e slept on the leather couch in the living room, across from the wall where a Montana trip souvenir switchplate moose is stalking Marilyn Monroe. We’ve had coffee under the gold-framed chicken prints, the first artwork Mike and I bought together after we decided to get married. Napoleon with a Heavy Seas Beer dinner pirate eye patch watches everyone troop down the hall from bedroom to bathroom to dining room.
I’ve learned a few things over the past year in this house. First, that’s all it is, a house. Walls holding up a roof. It’s the storage unit where I keep what’s important to me — my father’s pheasant statues with the glued-on tails, my old dog’s collar and leash near the door even though he died in Houston, our Texas flag that everyone, friends and friends of friends, signed before we left. These are what matter, these memory keepers, not the color of these walls or the type of flooring.
Second, I’ve learned that family and friends are everything, and that they are the same thing. Both have lighted here over the past year and we’re all better for having been together. Who knew Alice wore socks with trains on them? I knew Beverley had a Derby party but not that she was horse crazy. Bryan has cool friends. My brother-in-law John can make even me understand politics. My mind’s eye sees each of them here, surrounded by all these things that make up my memories, and the way I think of all those things is widened to include my friends and family as a part of them. That picture in my mind keeps everyone nearby, even if they can’t be.
And I’ve learned that people don’t visit to see the house, the new couch, or the local artist’s painting. They’re here to see us, Mike & I. They come to laugh with us, drink with us, play games with us, and comfort us. They come because we’re family, and we’re friends. They visit to add to our memories, and to their own. That fact, the most important one, isn’t in any of the decorating magazines.
Somebody tell Martha Stewart.