We’ve never had a living room before. Well, technically, the room came with the house, but other than lining one wall with our dream floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, we’ve always pretty much ignored the room, only stopping by to search for a book, or store a hockey bag, or display the piano I swore I’d learn how to play but eventually wound up selling.
The room was a glorified garage.
One evening, as our kids entertained pals in the den, my husband and I parked our friends in our living room/garage for drinks. Two of us were lucky enough to have chairs from my grandmother’s basement. My husband sat on an unpopened crate of Town House books. Another guy sat on a skateboard.
My friend balanced her drink on the vaccum canister and said, “You guys are fortyish now. Isn’t it time for a real living room?”
She had a point. Even my husband agreed she had a point.
It was time to grow up.
Then came the news that, in order to promote an upcoming literary festival, my house was to be featured in the home section of a newspaper. I panicked. My house, my gardens, they’re all suffering from the same problem–absolute neglect.
The interviewer said they’d need to shoot in 3-4 rooms and they gave about two months’ notice. Just enough time to pick out a couple of sofas, some tables, pick up a few lamps and a pair of curtains. And, of course, we’d need to paint. And if we painted the living room, we’d need to paint the dining room, and the kitchen, which I painted yellow once, to match a sweatshirt I’ve since threw out. And then we’d need to paint the hall, which meant painting all the way up the stairs.
I didn’t break this painting news to my husband all at once. I broke it to him gently, one Town House white, washable matte latex gallon at a time.
As the summer weeks passed, we spent our evenings laboring away to get the house ready. Painting. Scrubbing. Moving furniture.
I found a huge five dollar metal milk can with the bottom rusted out, painted it black and filled it with tall sticks. I bought a ten dollar wooden ladder, stained and waxed it and propped it in a corner and hung blankets from it. I ordered tables from the Mennonites and rearranged the bookshelves. I picked up linen curtains from Ikea. I dug up a silver tray from my mother and polished it–yes, using actual silver polish–and filled the tray with thick, white candles.
When the room was fully furnished, I drove up to Newmarket to a particularly toothsome antique mall with prices time seems to have forgotten. For two years, I’d been stalking a vintage ceramic German Shepherd. It was oversized, about the size of a malnourished rabbit, black, brown and cream, with a bright red tongue. Sleek, stylized, 1950’s chic. The canine equivalent of chrome-bordered kitchen table, a beehive hairdo, or an avocado-colored stove.
At $20, the dog was hardly a splurge. I don’t know why it took me two full years to make this purchase. I didn’t trust myself. Just kept walking away, daring myself to forget about the gaudy Alsatian.
In the end, I couldn’t.
A few weeks ago, I bought it. Carried it home and set it on the fireplace.
The living room was complete.
(On a side note, that very day, my youngest son was looking for a book. I told him it was in the living room. He looked confused. “Where’s the living room?” he asked. Poor lamb. This is what our delayed growing up has done to our children. They’re lost in their own home.)
Today, the photographer arrived to shoot the house. We’ve been straightening and cleaning every night this week. While the main floor looked pristine, the upstairs was groaning with laundry baskets, paint cans, and ugly bits and bobs we’d pulled off the main floor. The upstairs had become our new, if temporary, glorified garage.
The photographer asked which rooms he could shoot. I showed him three or four, just like I’d been told. The photographer shot the kitchen, dining room, den, and, of course, the living room. We were done. I could finally relax–no more tidying, fussing and cleaning!
The photographer turned to me and smiled. Said he needed more rooms. He’d been told to shoot seven rooms. Maybe eight. Nine would be best. He glanced up the stairs and said, “Shall we head up?”