My mother was a pleaser. She wanted everyone to be happy and life to pass without conflicts. She was known for her low key inane chatter and her avoidance of anything remotely resembling a disagreement. When dad insisted on planting bamboo in the yard she went along with it, even knowing it would eventually grow everywhere. We laboured for days after he died digging up the bamboo forest in the back yard.
I was a teenager in the early ’60’s when I witnessed one of my parents’ few major disagreements. It was so rare for mom to assert herself that I don’t remember another time when she let her opinion be known so forcefully.
It happened on a typical hot California autumn day. My father arrived home from work about 3:30 in the afternoon. I had just returned from school and was surprised to see a delivery truck in the driveway.
“What’s up Dad?”
He replied, “Wait and see.”
His mood was elevated like the time he had driven home a new vehicle without consulting anyone in the family.
As I stood watching, three men began carrying new furniture into the house. First they laid a bright turquoise carpet in the living room. Then came a russet coloured faux leather sofa, followed by a bright red recliner chair and several clunky end tables. Not finished yet, they carried in an antique style hutch. There was no overall plan, no colour scheme, no furniture style. To cap off our new look, several Andrew Wyeth prints were hung on the wall. I didn’t know for a fact but it appeared my father was colour blind. Our house was small and the garish colours made it look like a circus tent. I was speechless when he asked if I liked it.
About that time, my mother returned from work. She walked in looking tired from her bike ride home; then stopped dead at the door.
“My God, Don, what have you done?”
She threw her purse on the new sofa and when she got her voice back, she said, “Take it back. Take it all back!”
Dad replied, ”I can’t. It was on sale. Besides you were asking for some new furniture weren’t you.”
This was not a question but a statement. Mom started to cry, ”You could have asked me what I wanted. I could have helped you pick it out.”
She and l both knew Dad would never back down. I decided it was time to make an exit and took my dog for a walk. When I returned in an hour, the house was quiet. I heard the sizzle of the potatoes frying as Mom stood over the stove in the kitchen. I smelled Dad’s cigarette and knew he was sitting in his office smoking. The atmosphere between them was chilly for days. If they spoke at all, it was in mono-syllables.
Eventually Mom grew accustomed to the new furniture. She bragged about how comfortable the sofa was, even though no one liked sitting on it because the faux leather flaked off and stuck to your clothes. Few were brave enough to sit in Dad’s red recliner even when he wasn’t home. He had claimed it as his space. He slept in it most evenings, snoring away with his red dog curled at his feet. The antique style hutch sat in our small dining area, looking like an escapee from another era.
The decor stayed long after Dad died and I couldn’t look at the blue green carpet and red chair without thinking about that day. I did come to enjoy the Andrew Wyeth print titled ‘Christina’s World’ which showed a helpless woman in a splash of pink dress lying in a field and reaching out toward her house. It was the perfect metaphor for how my mother had met her defeat that hot autumn day.