“There is nothing like being hanged in a fortnight to concentrate the mind,” wrote Samuel Johnson. Or, as he might also have written, “There is nothing like having your house on a Historic Homes Tour to send you repeatedly to Home Depot.”
On Sunday, May 15, about 450 people walked through my house and six others in my small town: appreciating the historic bits, appraising home décor, and, in my worst nightmares, looking for dust.
Agreeing to put my house on the tour was my way of Giving Back to the Community. The tour is sponsored by the American Association of University Women – “the A-A-U-Dubya,” as my mother (a long-time member) used to call it. They use the profits to fund scholarships for girls, so it’s also a Good Cause.
Couldn’t think of the perfect sub-head here
But it was perhaps not the best move for a perfectionist. In fact, there are very few good moves for perfectionists, beyond “stay indoors with the curtains closed and try not to do anything.” Ours is an unhappy temperament, forever finding fault when others are saying, “No, it’s fine,” unable to settle for “good enough” when “just right” might be around the corner.
I found many projects to obsess over, including Rebuilding the Deck Stairs in a Better Direction; Installing Period Light Fixtures; the Back Bathroom Project (with its sub-project, Visit Every Store in Sonoma County That Sells Tile); and the Quest for Picture Frames and Mats.
This last project was the worst, since once the direction of the deck stairs had been determined, the period light fixtures found, and the right tile bought, the actual work was done by other people. But I made it a point of pride that I, and I alone, would hang dozens of old family photos in my office in an aesthetically pleasing manner. It was to be an act of communion between me and my ancestors, a way of saying “thank you.”
Or so I envisioned it.
The quest begins
Only 16 of the photos were already framed, so in addition to visiting every store in Sonoma County that sells tile, I visited every store that sells picture frames.
Meanwhile, the photos lived on a white sheet on my living room floor. Every evening I would move them about, trying to put them in meaningful order – Dad’s family first? Oldest ancestors on the top? – while making them fit together. It was like doing a large-scale jigsaw puzzle, only with puzzles, you don’t have the faces of your ancestors staring up at you, wondering why you can’t get the job done.
The cat contributes
Months passed. The photos gathered dust. The cat walked on them. No matter how many frames and mats I bought, I was always missing at least one frame, which was always a 5 x 7.
We perfectionists will prepare almost endlessly and then do things at the last minute, because it has to be “do or die” to move us past the fear of not getting it right. I hung the last photo just two days before the tour. Act of communion and thanksgiving? Ha! More like, “For the love of God, Grandmother, hang straight!”
Done and dusted
The night before the tour, I wiped the cat’s paw-marks off the pictures. And then, being a perfectionist who’s also a writer (bad, bad combination), I sat down and prepared a Guide to the Family Photos, as well as a separate List of Stuff in the House. Sensibly, people used the List of Stuff (“where’s the 62-year-old Teddy bear?”) and ignored the Guide to the Family Photos, not really needing to know that my maternal grandmother (still not hanging straight, bless her) was born in Iowa in 1887.
Afterwards, the docents told me that what people commented most about in my house was the picture gallery. Apparently, I’ve inspired a lot of people to dig out their old family photos and get them framed.
Oh people, I’m so sorry.
And I hope you didn’t find any dust.