My husband surprised me by painting the room to the right of the stairs when I was out of town.
He held the handle of the soft, purple roller in his callused hands. He cracked open the paint can. Carefully poured the creamy liquid into clear plastic trays. Like a sly finger in a bowl of cookie dough, he dipped the roller into the tray.
He covered the walls in a flavorful yellow called Meringue. I picked the shade after perusing Pinterest and carefully comparing a rainbow of paint chips at the Home Depot.
“Better, right?” he told me when I came home and followed me upstairs. My eyes looked like saucers as I spun around in this sudden room of sunshine. “I wanted it to feel like yours.”
“I LOVE it,” I said. “I. Love. It. I can’t believe you did this.” I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and closed my eyes. He smelled like turpentine and soap. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.”
In another life in another decade, the first homeowner wallpapered this room. The second pair of homeowners concealed the wallpaper with brown paint.
Not dark brown. Not light brown.
The color of cheap coffee, or milk chocolate, or fake leather.
The color of my mom’s eyes when she’s unimpressed with a movie, or exhausted from a 12-hour night shift at the hospital.
The brown paint had puckered over the layer of patterned paper. The wallpaper wasn’t visible, but it refused to go unnoticed. A silent “screw you” to the people who didn’t think she was good enough.
When we first toured the house, the brown bubbled paint in the small room was a bit….off-putting.
Okay. Ugly. It was ugly.
“We’ll have to paint in here, huh?” I asked my husband. I had never painted a room before. The thought of this new task made me nervous the way new tasks always did.
He nodded. “Yeah, we can do that, no problem.”
I glanced around the narrow room. It was almost too small for a bedroom. Too big for a closet. One large window stared at the plowed corn fields and modest ranch houses lining the street.
A friend from church—a former professional painter named John—came over to check out our house once the ink was dry on the closing papers.
“We definitely have to change the color in here,” I admitted as I stepped into the small brown room, John and Adam following suit. John’s lined face turned toward the white popcorn ceiling. His eyes moved from wall to wall.
“Well, if you’re gonna be in here a lot, then you better paint it something that makes you happy,” he offered in his gravel voice. John drops wisdom the way people drop pennies.
His advice is why I picked out meringue yellow to cover up the dull brown. I wanted sunshine and bright and open.
I wanted happy.
And happy is how I felt when Adam showed me the freshly-painted walls. From that day on, we’ve slowly put the room together, piece by piece:
White book shelves lined with colorful book spines.
A wooden sparrow figurine.
A white office chair threaded with thin, silver threads—a Christmas gift from my parents.
A cream knit rug woven with a magenta diamond pattern. I got it on clearance at TJ Maxx.
Each item further transformed the room from a forgotten, brown space….to my dream writing office.
The night we moved into the new house, Adam and I laid on the wooden floor in the living room and closed our eyes. For the first time, it sunk in that we were officially homeowners. The rooms held strangers’ memories and smelled like other people, but soon, the signs would fade.
The scents of my cinnamon french toast and Adam’s ocean-scented shampoo and thick Vanilla Bean candles from Bath & Body Works would waft through the hallway and up the stairs.
Our first Christmas tree, tall and chubby and pokey, would glimmer in the front window.
Our dancing steps would cover the hardwood floors in the kitchen.
Our new chocolate lab puppy would make messes and tippy-tap with her paws and run in the back yard.
Soon, it wouldn’t be some other people’s former house. It would be our current home.
We’d leave our mark here.
On March 3, we closed on our house…which means it’s soon our one-year “homeowner-iversary.” It’s been an adventure. It’s been a learning experience.
Today, I walk into my office. I sit on the chair behind the desk and stare at the yellow walls. I breathe in the air and smile. Because it smells like home.
I’ve never seen my father without a mustache.
Once sandy brown and thick, the mustache is now gray to match Dad’s hair. “It’s blonde,” Dad corrects. (It’s gray.)
The mustache has always retained the same size and shape. No beard to accompany it ‘cause his ‘stache is a star of its own. Dad trims the upper lip hairs with dedication and tweezers and a small pair of silver scissors.
When I was young, I loved to stand next to Dad in front of our old bathroom mirror. My tiptoes tilted me closer to the sink counter. With Dad’s old, unplugged, silver electric razor in hand, I’d rub the razor head across my smooth cheeks, my mouth, my chin. I’d glance out of the corner of my eye where Dad stood next to me. His electric razor buzzed as he whirled the whiskers away. I smiled. Me and Dad. Shaving together. As dads and daughters do, don’t you know.
My dad’s name is James. Known as Jim, or Jimmy to close family and casual friends. I didn’t understand this when I was younger. “If his name is James, why do people call him Jim?” I wondered.
Even though my dad’s personality is large and distinct, its the everyday, small, meaningless objects that symbolize my dad. They serve as an extension of his personality.
He’s the blue bottle of Suave shampoo. A toothbrush with rigid bristles that turn fluffy ‘cause Dad brushes his teeth with fervor. Closed eyes, furrowed eyebrows. Tooth decay, be gone.
He has a chip in his front tooth, but not on his shoulder.
My dad was a forest green tube of Brute deodorant….until last month, when I made a crack about him wearing Old Spice. “Nope,” he smirked. “I use Axe now.”
“Oh wow, look at you, Dad,” I laughed. “So modern and cool.”
Mom rolled her eyes and tugged her mouth upward. “It was on sale,” she explained. “I bought it for your brother, and your Dad started using it.”
My dad is Bloomin’ Onion at the Outback Steakhouse. NO seasoning. Too spicy.
He’s chicken tenders on the lunch menu at Red Lobster. He’s steak Medium Well.
He’s French dressing.
“You have to have French dressing at your wedding,” he instructed. “You have to.” So we did.
Actually, Dad is all of the foods. Because he will ask you what you had for dinner at the party. He wants detailed answers.
“We had chicken, Dad,” I’ll say.
“Oh, chicken,” he nods approvingly. “Fried? Or grilled?”
“Grilled chicken breasts.”
“What did you have for the side?”
“Sweet potato fries.”
“Pew,” he crinkles his nose. “I like regular fries much better.”
My dad is a dark blue Rick Ford Dealership trucker hat. The snapback kind, never velcro. Mesh, never cloth.
He’s my elementary school spelling words. Every night in the living room, he’d say words, and I’d spell them.
He was there with his blue jeans and T-Shirt and trucker hat and mustache during my third grade spelling bee. Mom had to work at the hospital, so she missed it. Twenty-two years later and she still feels bad…but she shouldn’t. Because Dad sat in a chair while I stood on stage in the cafeteria. And my parents…they’re a team. If he’s there, she’s there.
But I confess…it is Dad’s beaming smile and him twirling me around in a hug after the spelling bee that I remember most. I got third place and took home a golden trophy on a wooden base with a smiling bee wearing glasses. I spelled “possible” wrong. P-o-s-s-a-b-l-e. Dad said I did great and told me he was proud of me. I will never forget it.
My dad is pranks. He’s fart machines under my cousin William’s wedding table, dead fish in the back of a co-worker’s truck, a sign that says “CLARENCE: KING OF THE HOME” on the back of his grandpa’s wheelchair at the assisted living facility.
My dad is strength. He’s worked hard all of his life in the worst of weather conditions. He’s Blue Dickies and NASCAR T-Shirts and a golden farmer’s tan that makes him laugh with pure pride as he holds up his forearm to my pale skin in the summer. “Beat you,” he beams.
He’s the tickling of my toes to wake me up at 6:15 a.m. every morning from middle school to graduation. He’s dusted sugar on top of my Rice Krispies cereal because he could pat it down on top so the milk brushed the sugar but didn’t sink it.
Dad buys bright orange pumpkins on the side stand of a back road that he brings them home to my mom. He hung a glowing red lightbulb outside my window on Christmas Eve to make me believe Rudolph fell off the roof. He loves Christmas and Michigan football and plaid sweatpants.
He calls me “Sis.” Never Lindsay.
He calls my husband “Big Man” and “Sparty.” When Adam asked for Dad’s permission to marry me, Dad replied, “Well, will my grandchildren be raised as Spartan fans or Michigan fans?”
He often jokes that he molded me. The joke is so old that he doesn’t say words now, just a smirk and motions with his hands as if he’s holding clay.
My dad is one of my favorite people in the entire world.
He has the biggest piece of my heart. No one can replace a girl’s dad. No one.
Dad didn’t know if he wanted kids. Mom had to convince him. I think he wasn’t sure he was going to be a good dad.
He was right. He’s not a good dad.
He’s a phenomenal dad.
And next week on his birthday, as we go to Outback Steakhouse for Bloomin’ Onions and juicy steaks and watch him blow out candles on a chocolate cake with fluffy white whipped cream frosting, I will smile at his smile.
I will be grateful for these moments.
And I will feel, for the millionth time in my life, how blessed I am to have James Henry as my dad.