"The house I want will have ..."

December 2, 2019
last modified: December 2, 2019

I've been reading The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg, and am captivated by the author's poetic words delivered in the voice of a 50-year-old woman who has temporarily run away from her routine to rediscover the person she is becoming in middle age. I highly recommend the book, particularly to women (like myself) "of a certain age" who may find the prose within highly resonant. Below is a passage that captured me, and caused me to see in great detail the house that the main character, Nan, decides she must have at this stage of her life. She has written these words to her husband, Martin, who remains at home. I've been there, and I completely understand Nan having such specific desires in a home. Perhaps some of you will as well, and that's why I wanted to share this excerpt.

Nan's words also recall the famous "paint soliloquy" of Muriel Blandings in that old film, and that is a sweet reminder to me as well. You know, we speak so much in this forum about how we should design and decorate and we seek the opinions of others and that's all well and good, but this passage really seems to get to the heart of deciding on our very OWN, with our personal needs and desires and pasts and futures in mind, what we want in a home. Anyway ... hopefully some of you will enjoy this.

The house I want will have much smaller rooms than the one we have now. I think we will have it built. There will be pastel walls, Martin, not the safe off-white you always insisted upon because that heavily jeweled, heavily perfumed, heavily made-up interior designer who came out when we bought our first house told us to let the things ON the wall speak – not the walls themselves. Neutralize, she said, looking at me because I had said I would like walls the color of the sun, and of robins’ eggs. I don’t know how we could have put so much stock in a woman whose clothes we both hated. The very notion of some stranger telling people how to arrange their houses seems so ridiculous to me, now. Did then, too, if you want to know. It’s like someone else deciding when you’re hungry.

I want a place by the ocean, where you can hear the water any time you decide to pay attention, where you can see it out of the windows. The ocean will be ever-changing during the day, blue to gray to green; but always the same at night: vast black. I want a white fence around the property, tall flowers leaning against it in patches so thick they don’t suffer from the occasional thief. I want a porch, wide and long enough for an outside living room, perhaps a hammock for you; I think you might like to drink your seltzer in a hammock. You might like to read your Sunday newspaper there too, then doze off under the business section.

Inside the house, golden-colored wooden stairs should lead up past a small leaded glass window. The sunlight should come through that window so thickly it looks like candy. There should be no curtains in the house except for white ones in the bedroom, with trim so beautiful it’s heartbreaking. I can find those curtains somewhere, I know – they’ll be old, of course, and hopefully used, and therefore saturated with soul.

In the bathroom, I want an old-fashioned sink with a wide pedestal base; and the presence of a clear, strong blue color – perhaps in towels, and probably on the ceiling, too. There will be a claw-footed tub, and in the summer, I will paint its toenails, and in the winter I’ll knit slippers for it. We’ll have big seashells scattered here and there on the floor as though they had stopped by to change out of their swimsuits.

I want a small fieldstone fireplace, a bouquet of flowers always on the mantel. Multipaned windows, French doors. The kitchen should be a large friendly square and the cupboards should have glass doors to show this brown speckled bowl, perfect for making pancakes; that yellow mug, right for morning coffee. Our forks should be decorated on the ends with forget-me-nots so that each bite will carry flowers to our mouths. We can do without some of those damn wineglasses, Martin. I would just as soon drink wine out of a jelly glass, it always looks so good in the movies when the Italian men wear their T-shirts and sit at the kitchen tables and drink their wine that way. And in the background, the women standing over pots with lively smells, wearing print housedresses and white aprons and braids pinned on top of their heads, and little, foreign, dangling earrings – I bet they have a nip too, their own glass on the counter beside them. Yes, I believe we must both start to drink from jelly glasses, and I think when we do, some stubborn old stone will be loosened.

The kitchen counters will be wooden, hip high, and a slight slope will develop in the middle from the weight of our meals. There will be a back door off the kitchen, a rope clothesline you can get to from there.

Our bedroom will have a little wall space for paintings of flowers, but otherwise there will be windows. The bedspread will be white chenille. The closet door will be large and heavy, and it will creak in familiar but different ways when we open it, as though it were saying the same word in different moods.

There will be another bedroom with yellow walls. For Ruthie and for guests. A round, floral scatter rug on the floor. Lace here and there. In summer, a blue vase on the dresser with one pink-and-white peony, the shameless-hussy variety. In winter, a fat book lying open there, pale sunlight on the page like a wash.

I want one bedroom painted a blue leaning toward purple, and I want that room kept empty except for the fill of light and the dust motes, drifting down like inside snow. It will be the place to stand in and get peaceful. To remember the fullness of spareness.

I want a little room only for me. Stuffed full of what I love. A ticking clock, too, the smooth measure of time that is not hysterical or guilty or full of longing, that offers no judgment of anything, that just says here, here, here, in slow sounded seconds. Here. Here. Here. Off that room should be a small balcony, facing the water. Room for one chair and a begonia, a flustered red color. Room for one cup of coffee balanced on one knee.

There should be a shed in the back, with my red bicycle inside, a brown basket on the handlebars. Your bike will be in there too, though I know of course you won’t want a basket, you think it’s wimpy. I’ll use the basket to hold loaves of bread from the bakery, packages I’m taking to the post office. We can ride to look at other parts of the ocean, to see the large and larger rocks, tan colored or gray, sharp or smooth. Waves will crash and the spray will be spectacular, as it always is, small cymbal sounds seeming to come from it. We should keep gardening tools in the shed, and old newspapers stacked up neatly, just in case. You know. In case of paint. In case of puppies, in case of kittens, it’s good to keep yourself open to the possibility of them.

You can do something in our new house just for you too, but this time YOU will ask ME about it. It will be your turn to say, “What do you think about this idea, Nan?” And it will be my turn say, “Well … I suppose.”

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