Greg and I have a bad way of falling for old things. Anyone who has experienced the basement of our Halifax home knows it to be a reliquary of mismatched chairs, vintage scales, chrome barware, a 1977 Bally Eight Ball pinball machine (that works about half the time) and odds and sods to which one or the other of us has formed an attachment.
Shortly after we bought our first house, Greg spied a cool old pharmacy cabinet among an auction lot from a former military base hospital. His $150 bid scored us the white metal cabinet along with a pallet-load of gear that included an outmoded EKG machine, a blood gas analyser and an ophthalmologist’s chair.
The new property may well be the ultimate extension of many years spent rescuing dubious treasures from junk shops and flea markets. Or perhaps it is simply a place to keep them.
When we first saw the blue house it was sad and empty, the only signs of life a few groceries left behind in the pantry. The home’s previous contents were piled high in the barn, awaiting an auction that must have been terribly difficult for the former owner who had collected in staggering quantities.
The scale of her efforts aside, she was probably not so unlike us, imaging the possibilities of a different life in a little seaside house surrounded by totemic pieces of the past.
In the three months before we took possession of the place, Greg and I devoted an inordinate amount of time to searching out the items that would fill the house up again. Our criteria were twofold: character-rich and budget-friendly.
Among the first finds was a fat, round wooden gear cast, once used to shape foundry molds for molten metal. Greg had no sooner pictured it on the wall of the new living room than it was in the back of his pick-up. An oar with a leather-wrapped handle also met our loose criteria, as did a two-pronged fish fork of the sort Greg’s grandfather once used to unload cod from a Newfoundland fishing boat.
“Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways,” – Oscar Wilde
Our old house is crying out for a fresh coat of paint, a visible indication of a new lease on life for a homestead that still looks a little forlorn.
The current powder blue has found a fan in Faye, our youngest, but I find it flat, insipid, a blue that gave up after not trying too hard in the first place. Maybe it couldn’t compete with the redness of the barn, the vibrant green of the grass or the complex, shifting blue-green of the inlet. Perhaps our house wanted to blend into the vast blueness of the sky but fell short, left hunkered on its stone foundation with a nothing-to-see-here-folks look.
So, the pale blue is going, but to be replaced with what? A new blue, that’s for certain. No other colour seems appropriate to our coastal location where longstanding residents still call themselves Bluenosers, an apparent holdover from the days when fishing crews risked frigid temperatures in pursuit of a big catch.
This seemingly trivial colour decision has taken on momentous proportions of late. Blue carries so many connotations; it can be hopeful, calming, noble, whimsical, mysterious. Blue can be youthful or staid, bold or boring. Despite the endless array of choices, no house paint sufficiently captures the mercurial hues of the North Atlantic or the particular brilliance of a Nova Scotia winter sky against an expanse of snow.
Our little house deserves a blue of its own, something to make it stand out proudly in its surroundings. For now I am shuffling chips, vacillating between brights, lights and darks.
In the end, though, the only true blue criteria is a shade that says “Welcome home.”
My wise and wonderful friend Beth has been with me since the days before houses, husbands and kids. She regularly offers up witticisms and simple truths about the winding paths of our lives and the people with whom we share the journey.
When we bought the blue house with the red barn Beth shared in our excitement. She understood I saw the property as a place to relax into a life that is often more hectic than we imagined, an opportunity to spend real time with friends and family, particularly our two girls, Faye and Charlotte.
Every parent of a teenager knows the quickening pace of the years, the tiny beautiful and heart-seering milestones that mark the passage out of childhood. The eye rolls, exasperated sighs, and teenage ennui. No pretty little house with a water view is likely to change that for the time being.
At 17, Charlotte is the more restless of the two, anxious to finish high school and chart a life that takes her beyond the city of her birth and the confines of her family. She has always possessed a uniquely Charlotte perspective, the workings of her busy mind kept mostly to herself or shared sparingly with a wry humour beyond her years.
It was Beth who long ago characterized her better than I could. Charlotte is like a butterfly, she said, if you stay very still eventually she will alight. And it will be worth it.
I have no illusions that Charlotte will spend much time at the new/old place, at least not for the foreseeable future. But I will be here, patient and still, waiting for her to land.