Last week, as I watched Rich paint the upper reaches of my office wall, I thought — hoping it wasn’t blasphemy to paraphrase the Bible — “Greater love hath no man than this, that he picks up a paint brush for his wife.”
Because verily, Rich really, really hates to paint. But he loves home improvement projects, and he’s accepted the fact that some entail changing a wall's color. As it happened, one of our first projects, back when we were newlyweds in Ohio, was repainting our boring white bathroom a cheery buttercup yellow. Our “master bath” was the same size as our closet, and I kept saying, “It’s a tiny room. How long could it take?”
We labored intensely for an entire weekend, painting everything — walls, trim, even the mullions on the window — that rich buttercup. When we were finally done, we cleared away the tarps and stood in the doorway to admire our handiwork.
“Dear God,” said Rich. “How did it get so bright?”
The yellow bounced from one wall to the other, each reflection ramping up the saturation level until it was like looking directly into the sun or the headlights of a flying saucer.
“Yellow paint color intensifies drastically when used on the walls,” I read later in a home improvement tutorial. “Interior decorators even have a joke about this — “Every can of yellow paint should come with Caution: Handle With Care.” Sadly, our paint can had kept that little tidbit to itself.
“I guess the good news is we’ll get our entire day’s requirement of vitamin D every time we walk in here,” Rich said.
I kept staring at the color, aghast. “Maybe we should —”
“It’ll be fine,” he said firmly. “We just have to get used to it.”
But after a week of flinching and groping for sunglasses every time we opened that door, Rich finally agreed we had to fix it. The following weekend the bathroom walls became a warm, cozy ivory.
Thirty years later, the emotional scars from that incident having faded, I took it into my head to give my Seville office a perky accent wall. The idea of take-home paint chips hasn’t caught on in Seville yet, so standing under the fluorescent lights in the paint store, I chose what seemed a tasty creamy coral. On the wall, however, it revealed itself to be a howling Halloween orange. Again, the paint can failed to give me a heads-up about the danger.
“Repaint?” Rich said incredulously when I voiced my concern. “It’ll be fine. We just have to get used to it.”
I tried to get used to it for seven long years, but it was no good. Last week, with Rich’s help, I finally bid a not-so-fond farewell to that obnoxious orange and replaced it with a restful shade of green. I’d wisely bought paint guaranteed to cover in a single coat, so we only had to put on three to obliterate the orange completely.
While I was still celebrating that jolly transformation, our household was blessed with a new (albeit temporary) addition: Fred.
A bit of background: Here in Seville, live holiday trees are as rare as paint chips and hen’s teeth. If you can find them at all, they tend to be small, spindly specimens with their roots shriveling away inside a very dry dirt ball. I can only assume they dig them up early, over the summer, to get a jump on the season. One year, ours blew over on a windy day, and when I went to heave it back into position, the needles — all of them — stayed on the floor. I rushed out and bought garlands to wrap around the pitiful sticks that remained, but it was a sad sight indeed.
This year we asked our florist to reserve one of his largest arboles de Navidad for us. When we went to pick it up, we were astonished to be presented with a hulking seven-foot fir with the kind of robust girth I associate with Fred Flintstone. The florist's assistant strapped it to our dolly with endless meters of plastic tape; Fred was not going to be allowed to escape on the way to his new home! For a week Fred loitered around, hinting he was ready to branch out, until we finally had time to free him from the tape and dress him up properly.
One reason live trees aren’t common here in Seville is because everybody wants the kind they see in Hollywood movies: perfectly proportioned artificial pines hung with a matched set of ornaments and color-coordinated ribbons and lights. Around here nobody has little kids coming home from kindergarten proudly bearing hideous Styrofoam orbs garnished with popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, and glitter. Vacationers don’t buy the kind of oddball ornaments that you soon realize are aesthetically questionable but hang up anyway because they are emotionally resplendent. It's not fashionable to have a glorious hodgepodge that's as messy and warmhearted and convivial as life itself.
I love my rag-tag band of random ornaments. Like the angel Rich’s dad brought back for him from Bangkok back in the 1960s. Oh sure, it may be missing an eye and some of the gold trim, but its many decades of service have earned it a place of honor near the top of the tree every December.
The dog angel was purchased when we lost our beloved Eskimo Pie. She was certainly no angel, but she was fun to live with. I’ll never forget the year she found a rum cake under the tree and ate the whole thing. Rich and I came home from the movies to find her sprawled on her back, fat, drunk, and happy, with the shreds of the package all around her.
Every year we add another ornament to the collection. Twelve months ago we were feeling pretty anxious, especially as half our friends had to bow out of our traditional December 25 feast thanks to Omicron. I thought the sight of flask in his stocking might cheer Rich up. (It did.)
This year, in celebration of finally liberating my office wall from the menacing orange hue, I added this to the tree.
And then I got to thinking. Hmmm. We had an orange wall for Thanksgiving. A green wall for the year-end holidays. Maybe I should change it up every season. Pink for spring, perhaps? But for heaven’s sake, don't say anything about this to Rich. What he doesn’t know won’t give him time to come up with any reasons not to re-paint.
And in other news: today Fred got his first email. My sister-in-law Deb wrote, “Fred, meet Barney. (Yabba dabba do. Or ... yabba dabba Yule.)"
YABBA DABBA YULE, EVERYBODY!
Enjoy the winter solstice this Wednesday and whatever holidays you may be celebrating. Thanks for a great year. You guys always make me laugh and cry and think; my life would be much duller indeed without you. I suspect you’ll be too busy playing with new toys to read blog posts for a while, so I’m taking a short break. See you in 2023!
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I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and my home state of California. Right now I'm on a Nutters' World Tour seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and wacky food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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