My husband just loves the slightly off-white hue I’ve come to call Episcopalian cream. If I didn’t assert myself now and then, we’d be surrounded by walls painted this non-color. It’s tasteful, it’s innocuous, it’s bland, I hate it.
But every time I bring up our need for more color, my husband gets nervous. I know what he’s worried about. He grew up Episcopalian, living in a house with whiter-shade-of-pale walls and pictures hung at a very precise height. He’s afraid that, if I get my way, our environs will blossom into a carnival funhouse of bright, throbbing colors, folk art and religious objects.
Fortunately, we now have a referee in our ongoing taste war. It’s our old friend Craig, who’s an interior decorator in Houston. Craig is so prominent and exclusive he doesn’t have to advertise. Still, you may have noticed him before. He turns up in the comments section of this blog now and then, almost always following one of my more serious posts about a parent’s death. If I got worried that I hadn’t heard from Craig in a while, I’ll just write one of those posts; it’s more reliable than a warrant for his arrest if I want to get his attention.
Craig also has a rather sordid history of mayhem with my husband, who was his best friend in high school. You couldn’t pry the truth out of me with a crowbar, but I will say that if the school authorities ever caught wind of it, they would probably revoke both my husband’s and Craig’s 1968 Midland High School diplomas.
Anyway, for some reason, Craig likes working with us on our little decorating issues. He drives up here and stays with us and offers brilliant solutions for two people who have more opinions than money. Then, once Craig leaves, I’ll spend weeks quoting him to my husband to back up my opinions. For example:
“Craig is a professional decorator. He said we shouldn’t do that, remember?”
“Well, that wasn’t my idea. I’m just trying to protect Craig’s vision for our condo.”
Two weeks ago, when I was feeling stalked and creatively stifled by all the off-white walls in every direction, I decided we needed color in our living room and kitchen. I talked to my husband, who, amazingly, didn’t seem averse to the idea. Either that or he couldn’t hear what I was saying, since I was mumbling or maybe he was already asleep. In any event, he didn’t object.
Craig sent us a paint wheel and when I saw it, I realized the new color was going to transform my life. I walked around, trying to envision taupe on our walls. Free at last from the off-white curse, liberated from banality.
My husband squinted at the colors. “Isn’t it a little dark?” he asked worriedly.
I shook my head. “Of course not. Craig picked it out. It’s part of his vision.”
Two days later, the painter finished and re-hung the final pictures on the wall. It was like being in a new place. It was beautiful, with the freshly painted taupe walls.
I paced around the condo, looking at the walls from the bedroom, the balcony, the hall, the kitchen. I turned the lights off and on. It was gorgeous. I went to work, then came back to see what it looked like in the afternoon light. It was even better.
My husband came home and said it looked fine, just fine, no big deal.
“You know,” he said later, “if you hadn’t reminded me it was getting painted, I never would have noticed.”
“I find that sad,” I said. “The painter said he loved it. He complimented me on the color. You must be color blind. Have you ever been tested?”
It all reminded me of how hard it is to be a sensitive, artistic person surrounded by people who are untouched by beauty and aesthetics and folk art, but you know, that’s just my lot in life.
The next evening, our son came over and I waited to hear him exclaim about the new color, since he’s younger and more sensitive than my husband. He didn’t say anything, even though I spent a lot of time clearing my throat and flapping my hands in the direction of the new taupe walls.
“I asked him if he noticed and he said no,” my husband said later. “He said, ‘It must have been pretty subtle — just like it is when Mom gets her hair cut.’ ”
I have learned my lesson from this. The next walls we paint are going to be loud enough to wake the dead and shake the Episcopalian color sensitivity to its country-club roots. Let the funhouse begin.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
OK, so I wrote 25 Things About Me