Last summer our newly planted garden brought the neighborhood out to gaze and ruminate. This summer we're painting our house with the same results.
We probably should have known that changing a three-hundred-sixteen-year-old landmark from slate blue to daisy yellow would stir up Yankee sensibilities. Fortunately, the comments have been mostly positive so far, summed up by ''Never did like blue.'' There's plenty of opinion about the previous owners' choice of color, but not much said about the new. Not yet.
Some days as I climb down off the ladder to fill my paint bucket and find one of our neighbors standing on the other side of the street, shading his eyes against the glare, I wonder what would have happened if we'd decided on aspen lavender.
The only other house I've ever painted sat on an almost inaccessible hilltop in colorful Aspen, Colorado. I was staying with a friend who'd majored in art at college and who made her living painting houses in the summer and teaching skiing in the winter. The summer I was there she'd decided to try out some of her favorite colors on one of the town's oldest Victorian gingerbreads. She was painting it lavender with pink trim.
By night we sat around her big oval dining room table, testing delicate shades of lilac, fuchsia, and orchid on a scale-model drawing of the house. Then , in the revealing light of day, we'd climb the hill to see how the colors looked on real-life clapboards and shutters.
The painting crew was a highly trained, precision team. Some specialized in hard-to-reach crannies under downspouts, while others took on the challenge of broad, expansive walls and ceilings. As an inexperienced newcomer, I was assigned where I could do the least damage, varnishing banisters on the indoor stairways.
As it turned out, it was probably the best vantage place for watching the gradual, if gaudy, transformation that took place over the summer. When we started, the house sat hunched at the top of a lonely hill, a nondescript, brooding gray presence. By the time the first and second stories had been painted various purples, I could see hikers detouring around the hill for a closer look. When at last the observation tower on the third floor was capped in outrageous bubble-gum pink, the house was hard to miss from almost any corner in town. Like an eccentric grandmother in a souped-up Edsel, it gave the community something to talk about for many winters to come.
Thankfully, our antique Cape isn't quite that prominent. Perched on the edge of a low-lying flood plain, it's concealed from all but the immediate neighborhood in the summer by the sugar maples and weeping willows that sprout from a nearby creekbank.
Our seasonal invisibility is giving us plenty of time to paint at our own pace, shutter by frustrating shutter. And as we limber up our brushes each Saturday morning in preparation for another weekend of fun on the ladders, I'm finding out what specialization can mean.
My husband has developed a flair for rolling on a quick primer coat of paint, having lunch, and following up with finish yellow. Which leaves me with windows and doors. All forty-nine windows, each with twelve panes of glass, and all seven doors, each with screens and outer storms.
I'm not complaining, mind you. After all, he's painting the entire house and I'm just helping with the trim. And there is a certain amount of satisfaction in standing back at the end of the weekend to look over the two windows I've finished in two days.
But I'm beginning to wonder, at the rate I'm going, how much longer we'll be giving friends the same curious directions to our home. Take a right on South River Street, we've been telling them for the past two months, and turn in at the first blue and gray and black and white and yellow house you see.