Trying to get back into work mode after a weekend of festivities–many of them instigated by me–related to my 40th high school reunion. Probably the last time I had so many friends over my parents were away picking up my brother at college and I watched aghast as the living room floor swayed under the weight of it all.
Thinking about my old friends it is amazing how much I remember about their interiors. Our house was kid central; we had 6 and at any time there were at least 6 more in the house. Money was tight so we were DIY long before it was fashionable. Along with our mother we ripped up carpets, sanded and waxed aged oak floors, pealed off wallpaper and painted anything we could find. Most of my friends were better heeled and I was amazed at what I saw at their homes.
Perhaps the most dramatically different was M’s. Her home was contemporary–probably modern would be the better term. There were three different levels, large picture windows with floor to ceiling Venetian blinds and the furniture was–I’m pretty sure although it sounds dreadful–white vinyl…it may have been leather but I don’t think so. Anything wood was Danish modern. The floors were all tiled and I swear there was a white shag carpet in the living room. An only child M. had her own bedroom–never happening at my house in a million years–and the beds and all the furniture were white formica with matching bedspreads made out of the same material as the curtains. Not a hand-me-down (or much real wood) anywhere. I loved it!
Then there was L. Her Dad was a successful Madman kind of guy and in the late 60’s built a beautiful center hall colonial on a large waterfront lot. They had the first “family room” I can remember; a room built expressly for watching television. Most people just plunked a console unit in the center of the living room or jammed a set into a bookcase in the den. Not L’s family. This room had overstuffed upholstered furniture in a variety of fabrics that coordinated with the hunter green and red plaid wall to wall carpet. I loved it!
I probably ate over there a million times and never once set foot in the formal dining room. For that matter I’m pretty sure I never went into the living room either. And even though there were four children in the family she had her own room with curtains that matched the bedspread and wall to wall carpeting. I loved it!
Then there was A. Her family lived on Park Ave in the city and summered at the Jersey shore (back when the words Jersey shore had a certain cachet). Her house was the most like ours, with mismatched furniture in a variety of styles–the only difference was theirs were period antiques and ours were hand-me-downs. The floors were exposed hardwood layered with heirloom oriental carpets, the walls white, and the couches a dazzling array of bright chintz that matched the curtains that swagged under upholstered valances, all in colors my mother would never have mixed in a million years. I loved it.
Our house was a seashore colonial built in the early nineteen hundreds as a summer home. Set twenty feet from the Shrewsbury River it was a child’s paradise from day one. The living room had a bay window with a stained glass sailing ship set in the center. There was a massive peanut stone fireplace and back to back bookcases separating the dining and living rooms. And wrapping around the the house were a series of porches, some closed in and some screened. We were all big readers and everywhere there was always a comfy couch or a chair with a child with a nose in a book. We never had air-conditioning; there was always someplace in that house with a breeze.
When we finally tore up the ancient wool carpeting we discovered fabulous oak floors that after a serious application of elbow grease–actually we used to skate around the rooms with rags on our feet merrily buffing away–were gorgeous. Then off came the old wallpaper (patterned wallpaper, patterned carpeting it was just bad) and we painted all the walls a light, light green called celery. Because the house faced the river we didn’t bother with curtains or blinds downstairs.
The pine trestle table in the kitchen could seat 8 tight. Any more (which was more often then not) and we ate in the dining room at a table my mother bought in a local antique store. Victorian, it had a massive round oak pedestal table and two or three misshapen leaves we would jam in for holidays. There was no way it matched the Stickley cherry hutch, an expensive, unauthorized purchase by my father that my mother never really forgave. Chairs were a challenge, always breaking, always mismatched until we discovered a local thrift store where vintage pressed oak side chairs could be had for a song.
To be honest, I didn’t always love it. I hated sharing a room with my sister, although our bedroom had its own dressing room that led to a huge bathroom and a large tub that I can remember soaking in for hours. Even though my mother sewed the curtains for our bedroom so they coordinated with our bedspreads I wasn’t that thrilled; not until much later when I learned our spreads were one-of-a-kind twin wedding ring quilts hand-stitched by an ancient aunt.
In the winter the porches were closed off (there was no heat in the television room) and the TV would migrate upstairs to my parents’ bedroom where you always had to fight to get a seat on their bed. At some point when we were teenagers with lots of friends over of both sexes my puritan mother capitulated and unhappily allowed the television set into the living room–no hanky panky was going to go on there–not in our busy house!
But even if we didn’t have a television room, we had a kitchen table. And it was there you could find my mother, reading the paper, making dinner, always busy but never too busy to talk to a child or a neighboring teen. This was the heart of our house. When we were older we’d sit around with friends until late at night drinking beer, playing cards and–I don’t know when it started–carving our names and our thoughts into that scrubbed pine table. I loved it and so did all my friends, many of whom were here this weekend, forty years later.