I come from a long line of housepainters. My grandfather painted interiors and hung wallpaper professionally; he even had his own store for several years. I loved paging through the thick books of samples, patting the red flocked paper, considering the impact of stripes with flowers, of different color combinations of the same patterns. (It was the late 1960s. Paper was wild!) I also loved watching him work, a shock of thick grey hair falling over his milky blue eyes, softly singing the song about the bedbugs and the cockroaches in Chelsea jail while he spread the paste over another strip of paper and pushed it up the wall. We did not talk much—men of his generation did not have much to say to their granddaughters—but it was companionable. He painted and papered all of the houses my uncle built, as well as constantly redecorating all of our homes. He knew how to cut in a neat edge around a window frame, to box the electric switches in with paint, to keep splatters off of the glass.
My mother inherited his skills. Her hand was steady and her eyes were clear. The walls of her shop were lined with her oil paintings, a slowly evolving lesson in style as she worked her way through several community art class teachers. But she could also paint a wall neatly—and freehanded several series of dogwood blossoming branches on her bedroom walls. They were lovely. She did all of the interior painting and attempted to teach me as well. “Patience,” she would say, “Slow down. Breathe. Do not overload the brush. Angle into the corners. Work on coverage. You have holidays.” I was not a good trim painter. I was not a great roller, either, but that was the less dangerous task, so I often rolled while she cut in. In my family, the ability to cut in was a sign of adulthood. I was a late bloomer, covered in paint.
When we bought our house, I was forced to work on my technique. That summer, it was me and the house. Mark was working. I did not think to hire anyone to help. How long can it take, I thought. I have all summer. I will be fine. It took all summer. I balanced on ladders, one foot on the rung, the other on a sill, for days, reaching for the trim just beyond my brush. I do have good balance and an affinity for ladders, even when I back into a freshly painted wall.
I was still painting in mid_August, when my mother came to visit. The kitchen doors, inside and out, were still white, not the contrasting yellows and red. She smiled and reached for the brush. While I worked on one, she took on the other. I know she glanced over several times to make sure I was not overloading the brush, but I had learned that lesson in July. Then, she moved into the door. While I watched out of the corner of my eye, her knotted and veiny hands reached for the paintbrush and drew the first line, absolutely straight, down the inside panel of the door. Her breath, and her line, were perfect.
Bean and Barley Soup-- all local
3 cups of cooked Indian Woman Beans
1.5 cups of cooked barley
1 bag of frozen corn
Saute an onion in olive oil with a couple of cloves of garlic. Add the beans, barley, corn, a handful of fresh parsley, salt and pepper and allow to meld.
It is not exciting, but it grows on you until it becomes comfort food on rainy days.