Once upon a time, my father came home from a business trip and my mother had spray-painted all of their wooden bedroom furniture silver. He was not angry, but neither was he pleased. He was incredulous. He reacted with sit-com dad élan. “Our bedroom looks like a brothel!” he said to my mother – though he did not use the word “brothel.” He used a synonym that most decidedly was not a euphemism. He may also have modified his synonym for brothel with an adjective that was, in hindsight, redundant. There is, after all, pretty much only one reason why a person goes to a brothel.
So, maybe he didn’t really sound like a sit-com dad – at least not a sit-com dad on a network or basic cable TV station.
I was not an accomplice to the painting, but in all fairness I knew what my mother was planning. I was in ninth grade. We were living in Miami, Florida, which was why my mother thought it made sense to spray-paint an antique New England armoire, dresser, and bed silver. Florida can do that to a person.
I am telling you this because in mid-August I returned home to Vermont from a rather long business trip myself: 22 days. I arrived in Lincoln around 11:15 on a Saturday night and found that my wife had had the vinyl siding on the front and screen porches replaced with wooden clapboards, the kitchen floor sanded and stained, and she herself had repainted the den. Just for the record, she did not paint it silver. She painted it orange and yellow and it looks spectacular. Some people might say it looks a little too much like the Bhutan flag, but I am not among them. This is because I had never seen the Bhutan flag until I googled “orange and yellow flags.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.)
It was wonderful to be back in Lincoln and the thoughtfulness of my wife’s home improvement plan was not lost on me: I was completely spared the upheaval and chaos that comes with having clapboards banged into place and a kitchen floor you can’t walk on. Our kitchen is accessed directly from our front door, so on those nights when the floor had been stained, my wife was entering the house by climbing in through a living room window.
Now, let me tell you: That’s love. Years ago, I drove a 1984 Dodge Colt hatchback. During the winter of 1990, both passenger doors froze shut and I spent a week climbing in and out of the car through the hatchback. My boss at the ad agency in Burlington where I worked once spotted me clawing my way in through the hatch in my gray flannel business suit and asked rhetorically, “Do you think that car sends the right message to our clients?” He was on to something. That weekend I bought a new car: A Plymouth Colt hatchback.
In hindsight, I think my mom’s silver furniture was a labor of love, too. Ill-conceived, but well-intentioned. She imagined she was sprucing up the house and making it more aesthetically appropriate for Miami. It was simply that my mother’s many strengths did not include interior design. Remember, this was the woman who once decorated a Christmas tree entirely with napkin rings. Not kidding.
In any case, it was fascinating to come home to Vermont a few weeks ago and find so many things that were different. It was actually a bit like Christmas morning. So, to my lovely bride, I say thank you. Thank you for steering clear of the silver spray paint. I love all the improvements and I don’t need to modify my thanks with a euphemism, synonym, or anything a sit-com dad can’t say on TV.
(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on September 23, 2012. Chris’s new novel, The Sandcastle Girls, was published in July.)