24 October 2008

The Colour of Happy

Just before EBDI quitting time late last Friday afternoon, the west wall of our Ashland Avenue Victorian jewelbox, to which my office is attached, bounced the sun into the north-facing windows of my carriage house perch, transforming my ho-hum-hued office with sublime light the most exquisite shade? tint? colour? Of what? Light definitely has a colour - just go fluorescent or incandescent bulb shopping, at least while you still can. Notice the way a room colour changes throughout the day. Think about why painters prefer north-facing studios.

Perhaps what I observed best resembles the look of a simply celestial Rehoboth summer sunrise, the early-morning uber-rosy glow of the east-facing salmon-pink brick rowhouses meeting my gaze across the way, that same glow infused with unobstructed mid-summer high-octane first light pouring in from across the Fallsway and settling on everything near the corner of Calvert and Chase streets (stand there - you'll get it), and the late afternoon fire that ever so briefly blazes the cornices of Oliver’s ramshackle grand houses lining Preston Street.

But no words sufficiently capture what I mean and what I see. Maybe Anu Garg, founder of Wordsmith.org, which five days a week sends me A Word A Day (with which my chum Albert and I compose dueling haikus), might know a word that means TGIF, as I associate last Friday's type of light with almost every sunny Friday of my life, beginning with the flat-out happiest times of my childhood - late Friday afternoons, particularly in fall, often clad in plaid, venturing a few miles over to Grandma's house for the warmth and comfort and pleasure of Shabbos dinner the way it's never tasted since, for seemingly the briefest moment in time with my parents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins and Grandma and step-grandfather all squished together 'round that precious mahogany inlaid table that became my most prized possession, along with the matching demilunes, Hepplewhite chairs, and Potthast breakfront. In June 1999, I marched into the crowded Bolton Hill Wednesday broker's open for my house, whipped out my tape measure to confirm my eyes had accurately assessed that the demilunes would neatly tuck into the recesses either side of the tiled, pier-mirrored fireplace, and proclaimed victorious my search for a house worthy of Grandma's furniture.

More than nine years and countless dollars later spent mostly on things not seen, rehab still hasn't reached the dining room, which still wears colors (spelled without the u on purpose) chosen by the clueless owner twice removed - idiotic imperceptibly pink walls plus crown moulding and a jaw-dropping Eastlake ceiling medallion polychromed in puke - but even with my hypersensitivity to colour, I love and revere that room.

My friends gather there and I serve them approximations of what Grandma made and when they ask for recipes, I repeat her oft-used line: "I'll make it for you." It wasn't about wanting to keep the recipe close, but keeping her family close by.

She was my champion, my biggest fan, and the most important person in my life. I dialed her every single day right after school (484-0098). If I could have five minutes more with anyone, it would hands-down be with her, though as I strongly feel her presence in my dining room, she's always with me. Every day I sit at the head of the table for a moment or two after work or when I need clarity and courage. If need be, I lay my head on the table like an ear to the ground and always hear which way to go.

I focus on the Bradbury and Bradbury Aesthetic Movement and Herter Brothers wallpapers tacked about and dream of the day twenty or more might, in Eastlake fashion authentic to this house, co-mingle on the walls and ceilings, restoring this room, and the rest of this spec-built 1883 house, to its original papered glory touted in an 1884 Baltimore Sun for-sale ad; and hope to see the mouldings and the shutters liberated of layers of haphazardly applied white paint obscuring poplar masquerading as walnut. I fantasize how food, simple or opulent, will look against a crazy quilt of colours and patterns and imagine I’ll savour, even more, my guests enjoying those beautiful meals. It’s endlessly amusing to remember that Grandma's walls were white, a room colour I neither understand nor tolerate, though of course it mattered not a whit then, as now. Friends and family are the real colour in a room.

But absent beating hearts, or on a cold grey dank day, my dining room is still filled with an ethereal light maybe only I can see. It is the colour of happy.