For 43 years, my mom lived in the two-story 4-bedroom 3-bath suburban cul-de-sac home where I grew up. At the time we moved into it, in 1968, it was a newly built – in a tract called Tustin Meadows. At that time, beyond Tustin Meadows, past a small riprap-lined straightened creek and some railroad tracks, was open farmland.
Architecturally, the home was pretty standard stuff. It’s fairly big for a suburban tract home, but no mini-mansion. Mom and Dad paid something like $500 extra for a large lot – mostly it has a big backyard, due to the geometry of the cul-de-sac.
From the outside, it’s not that different than other homes around it. What distinguishes the home is what’s inside. Friends of mine have mentioned that Marge’s home felt different than most suburban interiors – friendlier and more personal, more informal, perhaps more cluttered.
I am not going to try to describe every nook and cranny… but I figured I’d record some of the things I enjoyed there (and it’s a somewhat self-serving post, because I did some of these pieces.) Mom passed away, and now it looks like we’ll be selling the house (and we’re already dividing up mom’s possessions that fill the house), so I figured that I’d record some of it, so we, her family and friends, can look back and remember it and her.
Shown in the photo atop the post, the den had wall-to-wall bookshelves, built by my grandfather. Nearly every room in the house had a bookshelf or two.
My mom loved books. I am going to try not to get lost here in listing all the books she raved about in her day… but I will touch on a few that come to mind. Among her favorite authors and books were Wallace Stegner (she said her favorite book was his Angle of Repose), W. Somerset Maugham, and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Some of my favorite authors who she introduced me to include Toni Morrison, Primo Levi, Sam Shepard, and Cormac McCarthy. She also like somewhat less high-minded stuff including fairly-literate mystery/crime novels and series by Alexander McCall Smith, Dorothy L. Sayers, Tony Hillerman, Stieg Larsson, Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow, David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars and, of course, some of my all-time favorites Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. In addition to fiction, she had lots of art books, theater, history, and more.
On the shelves were also knickknacks – framed pictures, ceramic things that we kids had made (including a hand-print in clay that one of us did in school – it had fallen more than once and been glued back together), artwork, wooden horses she’s bought in Sweden, etc. etc. etc.
Mom was a fan of Carl Larsson, a Swedish artist who painted a lot on walls, doors, cupboards, etc., so, over time, she went in for embellishing her home in somewhat similar ways. Here’s a mural that she painted in the bedroom that Matt and I shared growing up:
It’s a thought balloon full of Zs… it used to have two smaller beds, one at each end of the room, and two series of trailing thought balloon circles, one going toward the head of each bed. I think that she must have painted this in the early 1970s. I think it was based on an idea she’d seen in a magazine. She used to tell the story of how she was finishing painting these Zs in descending sizes. Just when she’d completed the smallest final detail one on the right, one of us kids (I think Mark Fletcher?) put his finger to wall, counting each Z… and when that person got to the smallest Z, he put his finger on the wet paint, smearing the detailed tiny Z, so mom had to re-paint that letter.
Just after college, when I moved home for a couple years, I painted this mural of the comic book superhero The Rocketeer:
The Rocketeer image is taken very directly from a comic book. I didn’t (and still don’t) really like doing an image transfer using a grid to replicate proportionally at a larger scale… and I wasn’t sure of how to do the image… so I had my brother Fletcher stand in front of the blank wall, and assume a Rocketeer pose… and I marked where he was standing. Then I drew and painted, copying the shading from the original, then lettered “The ROCKETEER” in more-or-less the same lettering as the comic.
Due to this imperfect copying process, the mural Rocketeer’s pose is a bit more static, less dramatic than Stevens’ original. Compare the space between the head and the gun… also, the angle of the head (and the incorrect anatomy of the gun handle… oh well.) The mural version is also a bit more tall and lanky – my brother’s physique.
That smaller bedroom became known as The Rocketeer Room. (The third bedroom, not shown, was known as “Liz’s Room”.)
Another mural I did is on mom’s bedroom door. It features an approximately 5-foot-tall depiction of a potted cactus. Mom was a huge fan of cacti and succulents. She had hundreds of potted cacti in a patio outside the dining room, and more all around, outside and inside the house.
She had a big tall cactus growing in a half-barrel that she called “Spiny Norman” – after a hedgehog in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. We used to cart Spiny Norman into the house at Christmas to be used as our Christmas tree. The practice only lasted a few years, We discontinued that process after the barrel began to decompose… so we planted Spiny Norman outside her kitchen window.
Back to the cactus door painting: It was a fairly quick piece, painted in oils quite a while ago… I think in the late 1980’s.
I think the mural may have been inspired by George Seurat’s pointillism which we all became more enamored with after plunging into Stephen Sondheim‘s Sunday in the Park with George. It’s not quite the marvelously complex pointillism that Seurat did, but it’s a somewhat similar style.
That’s all for now… I will post more about mom’s house soon.
Updated 11 August 2011. Part 2 posted here. Part 3 posted here. Also I added the sketch below – showing mom and the cactus known as Spiny Norman. The drawing is dated 22 December 1988, and is from my sketchbook number 15. Spiny Norman and mom are inside mom’s living room.