“Love Begins at Home.”
The engraved wooden plaque hangs proudly in our upstairs living room, enthroned above what I have dubbed “the picture wall,” holding court over our family when we linger there in the minutes before bedtime.
Not usually one for kitsch, I just “knew” I needed to buy the plaque when I saw it for sale last Sunday. I was taking a little walk through my new town, trying to connect to the place that has been home for the past several months. I thought being on foot might give me a chance to appreciate the details I had been missing at 30 mph.
Though most of the shops were closed for the day–a fact that actually endeared this place to me–I found one Open sign on a store promising “antiques and primitives.” Not really my thing, I sighed. But hey, they’re open.
The shop delighted me with its cabinets and crocks, handmade quilts and quirky signs. I floated through the rooms aloft the cinnamony smell of candles, and after choosing the small plaque and a decorative Halloween pumpkin for the house, I left–but not before promising the clerk I would be back. I hope to take my mom someday.
Up to that point on my tour, I had taken meticulous notes, hoping the minutia of the piped-in music around the courthouse, the rose bushes lining the war memorial, and the hanging pots of petunias in pinks and purples might linger long in my memory. The woman in the zip-up hoodie whose scooter stalled in the middle of the empty intersection, and the nervous boy in the white t-shirt and khaki shorts who hurried along carrying a take-out box and occasionally looking over his shoulder at me are present with me today only because they exist on paper.
But after the antiques and primitive shop, after “Love Begins in the Home,” I didn’t even need to take notes about the trip to the library, about the quick search of the online catalog, about the book-length Wendell Berry poem, “The Farm,” that I checked out, and the four other books of poems I found because the Frankfort library still uses the Dewey Decimal system, and because “811” equals poetry.
When I arrived home, my husband was finishing up the four days worth of newspapers we were behind on, and the football game he had been watching was just about to end. He looked at me suspiciously when I said, “I bought something!” since all I was supposed to be doing was walking around.
But I showed him the sign, told him my plans to hang it on the new picture wall, told him it only cost $12. He smiled, nodded, went back to his paper.
Later that evening, I walked upstairs to the living room, holding the sign up next to the wall to find a spot for it.
Just a couple of weeks ago I had complained to some friends that that room looks like a “yard sale.” The open space that connects all of our bedrooms holds all of the leftover furniture that didn’t fit anywhere else when my husband and I combined households. My hand-me-down mauve recliner next to his stained tan recliner. The green upholstered love seat with the cat-scratched rips in the back, side by side with the matching ottoman, its convenient hidden storage space within now empty. The small drop-leaf table that I used to eat from in the dining room of my old house now provides work space in the evenings, or a convenient recharging station for our laptops and phones. My husband’s old coffee and end tables from his single days and the boys’ used foosball table–a gift from their mother–round out the collection. “Priced as marked OBO.”
The mish-mashed room mocked me each time I would pass through on my way to bed, or in the evenings when we would gather there for reading or TV as each of our sons would slip away to bed in half hour increments. For the other rooms throughout the house, my husband and I purchased furniture, organized books shelves, decided on and hung pictures. Together. Even though he and his previous wife built this home and then lived here for years, he wanted it to be my home now. He gave me freedom to decorate, to organize, to rearrange. And I did.
But even though I have grown comfortable here, it didn’t feel like home.
Somehow, I suspected that upstairs living room had something to do with it. We had taken down some pictures for the walls to disperse elsewhere in the house, but the hangers remained exposed. The curtains on the window and the cloths on the end tables were stained and dirty. The carpets needed to be cleaned.
So, during a week off, I began the transformation. New curtains, table cloths removed, carpets cleaned, and the picture wall. I rummaged through closets for frames; gathered some old photos of the boys as infants; ordered a few new prints of me and Steve, the five of us together, extended family at the wedding, the boys with their mom. One by one, I peeled off the backs of frames and mounted our images. Then, with hammer and nails, I hung each one on the wall–no order, no matching, no chronology. Just our patched together family collected in one place.
The space felt warmer for my work, and I grew more comfortable each time I entered. But still, something was missing.
The evening after my walk, my husband called our two younger sons upstairs so he could hang their recent sports team pictures on their bedroom walls. Though the three months it took me to remember to buy the frames won’t win me any mother-of-the-year awards, it was a task we could finally mark off the to-do list. While he had the hammer and nails out, I asked if he could hang up the Love plaque.
“I’ll come up and show you where I want it,” I told him.
As I walked toward the wall, the boys complained that the wall was too full of pictures, that there wasn’t room for one more. They were teasing me, knowing how proud I was of it. I teased back. “Are you kidding? This is only the beginning. We are going to hang tons more pictures here.” They laughed.
After I pointed out the position for the plague, I went back downstairs to finish dinner. The rest of the evening was hectic as I finished some chores and signed on for a conference call for work. Steve and boys went upstairs without me as I holed up in the office.
An hour and a half later, with two boys already in bed and the third with just 20 minutes to go, I walked out of the bedroom heading to the mauve recliner and saw it. Without moving a single picture, I the sign had fit perfectly.
Maybe this will be a place love can begin after all, I thought.