Today I have decided to take you back again to my first childhood home, that little white frame cottage that my father built, after marrying my Mom, in 1948 . It was a sturdy well constructed house that still stands to this day, but as the core of a much larger house, due to a number of additions.
Anyone who had the privilege of knowing my Dad would always use certain adjectives to describe his character: loving, devoted, kind, generous, loyal, hardworking, and one other word—particular. Particular would probably be their top word really, unless of course they were writing in a birthday card or something. Imagine “Dear Bill, you are the most particular man I know. You deserve a very happy birthday!” Even total strangers noted that particular character trait of my father. Once a new manager at a local McDonalds refused to let my father pay for his order, saying “I’ve noticed that whenever you come in here for breakfast you always stop to pick up the garbage in the parking lot on your way in.” Dad, who by then was well into his seventies, and due to illness not very agile at the time, was still quite embarrassed by the gesture. To him it was just the right thing to do; he would even walk over to his neighbour’s lawn and pick up a tiny gum wrapper if he happened to spot one there.
Well, as you may have noted, I tend to ramble a bit when I write, but I did promise to tell you a bit about my childhood home. The new wallpaper in the hallway was pretty for a while. It was a nice silvery grey with maroon stripes. I can still recall the very first loud argument that my parents had in front of us children− although I was still quite young at the time. Daddy was trying to get a piece of wallpaper to stick onto the wall in a nice straight up and down section, and Mummy was holding onto the lower part. Or maybe they were in the bathroom arguing, and trying to paper behind the toilet (my memory is a little foggy here, but the point is really, that they were arguing.) I learned right then and there that arguments make people feel bad, and that wallpapering probably takes only one brain and four hands.
The hallway wallpaper was beautiful; the maroon stripes ran perfectly straight up and down with not a flaw in sight, at least initially…and then, my father found it! From the baseboard on up to about four feet off the floor, in the two corners at the end of the hall, on either side of my parents’ bedroom door there was a series of little perforations. They looked just like those on a postage stamp only bigger, the size of someone’s baby fingertip. I don’t know for sure who put them there, but I have often wondered why this is such an indelible memory if it was not me.
Perhaps it was the trauma of realizing that I had committed my first lie, if so it is now long-forgotten, yet I always felt a little twinge of unexplainable guilt whenever I received a present which my dad had wrapped. Meticulously covered, there was never the slightest slack in the paper, the corners and mitred folds were always crisp and unflawed and he used a lot of tape to seal everything. A lot! The only way to get anything he had wrapped open was to slide a sharp knife under the scotch taped seams. No more perforated paper corners would ever haunt my dad again, he would make certain of it− at least as long as 3M existed. He was practically keeping that company in business!
My mother was fond of glitzy jewellery, of fuchsia lipstick, of pretty shoes and all things feminine, in my growing up years.One vivid memory encapsulates this femininity for me in a visual nutshell. The wallpaper on one long wall in our living room was black, and had open jewellery boxes with strings of white pearls cascading out of them, pink lacy fans, and feathered quill pens, artistically positioned along the length and breadth of it. It was paper that was probably better suited to a lady’s boudoir, but for my Dad, who was young then and so much in love with his somewhat flamboyant American bride the papering of that wall was an act of true love. As soon as the plaster on the house he had built for her was dry, he pasted the wall enthusiastically with her rather unusual choice. Those pearls on the wallpaper were just the first of many jewellery gifts that he would give her in their 56 years together. There would be gems on rings and pendants, gold and silver bangles, and other shiny treasures. Some were real and some were not, depending on the finances at the time, but it mattered little to my Mom. Dad’s love was the one treasure she valued most, and she kept that and still does next to her heart.