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My Mom and the Front Door

May 9, 2015

This is another one of those, not-a-book-review posts. Feel free to skip it if you’re just here for the books.
Otherwise, here are some thoughts on my Mom.

When I was about eight I came home from school to find that my Mom had painted the front door bright pink.  It was like catching a nun in sexy red underwear; horrifying, but kind of cool at the same time.  Once she came home from work and I talked to her about the new addition to the house I realized two things; first, my life was over, and second, I was kind of proud of her.

I was already something of an outcast at school because I was fat, mom kept my Keds sparkling white when everyone knew dirty was the way to go, and my dad had been a waiter at the yacht club their dads had memberships at.  And now Mom was bucking convention.

Great.  On the other hand, Mom was being a rebel.  And rebels were cool.  A few years earlier the family, which at the time consisted of my Mom, my Dad, Mom’s mother, and me, had moved into one of the newer, nicer subdivision.  The kind of development with a fancy name, landscaped medians, two story houses with multi-car garages, and a neighborhood covenant.  Prior to that afternoon the covenant had only affected me at Christmas.

One of the requirements of living in Riverchase was participating in the Christmas Eve Illumination.  What this meant for each, individual household was that at about 3:00 p.m. on Christmas eve several volunteers would come by your house and set white paper bags filled with sand and a tea light across the front of your lot.  Interior lots usually had eight to ten bags while corner lots could have close to thirty luminaries to deal with.  Once the bags were placed it was the responsibility of the family in the house to light the candles at sunset and keep the bags glowing until midnight.  If you were going out of town for the holidays then you were supposed to let your neighbors know so that they could take over your luminaries.  Usually a lot was split in half by the two houses on either side.

Being the youngest person in the household as well as a bit of a pyromaniac the tea lights were my own special purview each year.  Mom or, usually, Dad if he wasn’t working at the Yacht Club, would escort me outside at dusk and I would use the big fireplace lighter to light each candle in it’s white paper bag.  Then every 20 minutes I would go peer through the windows in the dining room and the parlor to see if any candles had gone out.  If one had out I would trot with my lighter and some spare candles (left over from Halloween pumpkins) and perform the necessary repairs.  The last check would be at about 11:40.  After that I would be bundled off to bed so Santa would come and the little glowing bags would be left on their own to gutter and burn out.  Sometime Christmas day we would go out and collect the bags, dig out the candles and then pour the sand out into any low spots in the yard to level them out.  Mom hated to waste things.

That was as much as I knew about the neighborhood covenant then.  But apparently, there were also rules about what color you could paint your house and your shutters, what kinds of holiday decorations you could put up (nothing plastic and no colored lights), how long your grass could get, how long your garbage can could stay at the curb, how late you could use power tools outside.  Lots and lots of rules so that everyone’s house would look nice, as defined by the neighborhood council of course.

What they didn’t have a rule about, because they didn’t think anyone would be that crazy, was what color your front door could be.  At the time, our house was painted a light grey with dark, grey-blue shutters, and a matching front door.  Houses in Riverchase were grey, beige, tan, brown, white, natural brick, or natural wood.  Shutters were grey, blue, black, white, or, in rare cases, weathered wood.  People didn’t, as a rule, step out of line.  And if they did someone on the council would write them a polite note reminding them of the neighborhood “agreements” and they would shape up.  Or else.  I never did find out what the Or Else was.

But doors, everyone knew doors just came in neutral colors.  They were doors.  They could no more shock you than your garbage disposal could sing carols or your dog be allowed to poop in someone else’s roses.  But not only did my Mother paint the front door a shocking salmon pink; she added a jaunty insult to injury by painting the mailbox flag to match.  When she sold the house two years later the door was still pink.

Twenty years down the line I’m not really sure why she did it.  I don’t know if it stemmed from the separation with my father, if it was a mark of freedom, a declaration that she wasn’t going to live up to anyone’s standards but her own.  Maybe it was a shot in the eye for all the ladies who lunched and sneered gently at the now single secretary in their midst.  Maybe there was just a sale on pink paint that day at the hardware store.

But that door will always typify my mother for me.  She was always a few degrees off center, finding loopholes and giving me unique experiences while never noticing that she might be embarrassing the hell out of me.

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