Back in October I took a trip up to Chicago to visit my Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Chris. I’ve always felt a special kinship with Aunt Dorothy, and it goes to her credit that all of her nieces feel the same. We all think Aunt Dorothy is “ours” and ours alone, that no one else could know the bond we share, that our bond is best and we are all her favorites. I had the privilege of growing up with Aunt Dorothy in my home, as she came to live with us the year before my mom and dad split, and she moved with us when they got separated, the four girls of the family relocating to a ground floor apartment. She’s sixteen years older than me, so she straddled two roles in my life: protective cool big sister and young–but stern–guiding mother. Aunt Dorothy was the first person to teach me about make-up. Pay me to tickle her feet after a long day at work. Stimulated my love for books when she asked me to read to her while she soaked in a tub. Taught me how to drive. I was in the fourth grade when she moved out of our apartment and into her own house. I was devastated. My sister-mother was abandoning me, and I cried the whole day she left.
Aunt Dorothy has always had a sense of style that no one else in my family has. She’s petite and tailored and classic. She wears button down blouses and classic clothing in earth tones, same as her shoes and bags. She wears scarves as part of her everyday wardrobe. It’s very hard to buy for her, because I don’t have this gene. I am color and whimsy and teeny bopper and movie culture. All the women in my immediate family are. We all love make-up and perfumes, but Aunt Dorothy can spend hours at the cosmetics and fragrance counters. Even though she doesn’t wear eye shadow or liner. Or a multitude of lipsticks. Aunt Dorothy’s all about the creams and the serums, the blushes and eyelash curlers. I know her look wouldn’t work on me, but how I would love to have her eye for what works perfect for her. I don’t spend that amount of time on myself, On my “look.” I used to. As a teen and a woman in my twenties, I would spend hours on my hair and make-up. Back then my life was shopping, primping, and working for a paycheck so I could keep up with the first two. Even in Vegas I kept up with this because living there, well, I had no other choice. Now I consider myself accomplished if I take a shower before bed and blow dry my hair just to keep it from water-staining my pillow.
Aunt Dorothy applies this same philosophy to decorating her house. It’s classic. It’s like H.A. Winston’s, for anyone who remembers H.A. Winston’s. It’s showroom, but homey. It’s model home in Vermont. It’s cozy and full of personality while still feeling like someone from a movie set department put it together. It’s your aunt’s house in a Hallmark Channel movie. It’s pictures of family–modern and old black and whites from the early nineteen hundreds. It’s framed factoids about Abraham Lincoln. It’s handmade needlepoint pillows and the kind of American nostalgia you find while eating breakfast in Cracker Barrel. It’s Mickey Mouse on the couch in the living room. It’s her black lab Polly greeting you at the door and jumping on your bed in the morning. It’s a bathroom with every product you need, a bedroom with two night tables with a coaster, pad and pencil and a box of tissues.
The guest bedroom upset me. It upset me in the way finding out Alex Ovechkin just got married upset me. By that I mean to say, it is something I wish I could have, do, be, but through the draw of the cards, never will. But it is such a wonderful world to visit. It inspires me to write. It is a fantasy. The room, pictured above, is the room I wish was my room. It is the room I could never construct, even though it is everything I love. In comparison, it made my own room, which I love, which I decorated, where I am now writing to the sounds of hockey (no Alex Ovechkin tonight, but settling for Malkin and Crosby. At least Dolly’s beside me) seem like a teenager’s. Done in dark shades of red and purple, the furniture black, my costume jewelry draping those headless lady-body necklace holders, it lacks refinement. Sophistication. I have no pictures on the walls, because I’m just too lazy to get it done. No pictures at all, in fact, in my room, not even on the dresser or nightstand. I love books, but there are only five books in my room; the one I’m currently reading and the boxed set of the first four Cherry Ames nurse books that I read as a child. This is my style, or at least what my budget and attention will allow. But deep down, I felt like Aunt Dorothy’s guest bedroom was my style. Brightly colored curtains, a book shelf with a big reading chair beneath it. Wooden bed in the corner, tv mounted on the wall, clothing tree, thick carpet, night tables on either side of the bed. To me, it is so my taste. So then why doesn’t my room look like that? My Vegas room was closer to looking like that. I had light wood furniture, and the bedding I used was soft yellows, lilacs, flowery. Now that I’m in Tampa, that set is, ironically, in the guest room.
I went through a similar comparison back in the nineties, when I lived in Hatboro. A friend had me over to her apartment for a girls’ night of pizza and television. I was so impressed with her bachelorette pad. It was so womanly, so adult, so chic. Her bedroom was so classy, the kind of bedroom where a man named Ben spends the night, then makes you breakfast in the morning, not some dorm where Johnny sneaks in through the window to cop a feel and then dashes out. Again, I criticized my inability to have my space reflect who I felt I really was. Or at least who I was trying so hard to be. I went home to my bedroom at the time, with its white wicker furniture and daybed, complete with Winnie the Pooh sheets. What was my room saying about me to the people who entered? What was it saying about me to me? Was I quirky, or juvenile? Was I playful, or immature? My bedroom was so not bachelorette-ready. Seeing Aunt Dorothy’s guest room brought me back to a feeling that although I felt I’d made leaps and bounds in the decorating department–my tastes having shifted drastically when I moved to Vegas–my space-making skills still weren’t where I’d hoped they’d be.
Fittingly, when I arrived back in Tampa I took a look at my own guest room. What was the vibe it presented to people staying there? Would they feel like they were even in Florida? On a fun vacation? Was the room welcoming, cozy, interesting? The answer was a disappointing, devastating NO. My house is a rental, so the walls are white; can’t do much about that. But the bedding I chose: dark. Not very sunny, beachy, Florida-y. No pictures on the walls. Some decorations, but no real theme. That had to change.
So Lisa and I rearranged the furniture. I told her the color scheme I wanted and she agreed. We discussed accents and pictures and shelves, some stuff in the garage that could be transformed with Lisa’s mad artistic skills. It is the main project on the docket at the start of the new year. Right now, to be honest, the room’s a little depressing to me. It looks barren and shadowy, and where I once went in there sometimes to spend a few nights myself, now I hate to go in to even get something out of the spare closet. But I remind myself of the vision I have and how great it will look once I’m done, and I start to get really excited. I can’t wait to meet this new extension of myself.