But eventually, priorities interrupted my daydreaming. The little white farmhouse needed to be transformed into a home. After the requisite renovations were complete, including modern electrical service, I began decorating. The nightmarish mustard-colored walls darkening the living and dining areas had to be dealt with first. If those poor walls daydreamed, they envisioned wallpaper. I did too. I spent hours poring over catalogs and sample books carted home from numerous shops.
At last, decisions. A pale yellow on cream print would lighten the dining room and blend ideally with the kitchen. The living room would host warm tones of blue and brown on a beige background. Curtains from a shop in New England would add to the homey farm decor.
I sought counsel from neighbors on finding a reputable painter/paperer. “Oh, ask Mr. M,” I was told. “Everyone uses him if they can get him. He’s been in the business for years!” I obtained Mr. M’s phone number and called. Mrs. M answered and said that she would send hubby over to have a look. “Yes, tomorrow morning would be just fine,” I told her, excitedly.
The next day, at 8 a.m. sharp, I heard a gentle tap at the door and opened it to see a man, perhaps in his early eighties, standing on the front porch, hat in hand. The well worn felt of indeterminable color most likely was a constant companion of the few bits of hair combed neatly on the gentleman’s pate. A denim jacket which looked to be a veteran of many barn visits hung loosely over faded coveralls. I was smitten. There would be no one else I would allow to paper my walls.
We got to know each other over tea, and Mr. M explained the essentials of measuring and gave strict instructions regarding paste. There were to be no newfangled supplies from big box stores. “No prepasted wallpaper– not ever!” he admonished. If Mr. M didn’t paste it, Mr. M didn’t hang it. He’d bring his own paste because when he pasted paper, “it stayed, but good!”
I measured twice per my mentor’s instructions, eagerly placed my order, and two weeks later we were ready to go. My husband and I were also ready to go on a weekend getaway we’d been planning for months. It was fine, Mr. M assured me. No need for us to be home, what with all the paste mixing and such.
Off we went. I found my thoughts often turning to those soon-to-be-beautiful walls, anticipating the next step in the decorating process.
We arrived home Sunday night. From the driveway, I could see Mr. M. had very kindly left the dining room light on for us. It provided a nice welcoming glow through the windows. It also provided my first glimpse of our new wallpaper. I froze, suddenly unable to exit the car. “No!” I shouted. “It can’t be!”
But alas, it was. The paper intended for the living room had been applied quite skillfully in the dining room. The living room sported the dining room wallpaper–except for the large gap revealing the preexisting condition of mustard yellow. Apparently I had followed Mr. M’s measuring instructions quite well. What was problematic–a gentle term in retrospect–was that he had not followed mine.
Excess paper lay neatly coiled on the table, next to my note to Mr. M about which pattern belonged in which room. When I recovered from my shock and horror, I called Mr. M to ask what had happened. “The wife,” as he called her quite affectionately, answered. I explained my dilemma, and she explained his. “I’m afraid, my dear, that Walter is a very good paperer and a very good man. He just isn’t a very good reader. In fact, he can’t read at all.”
Couldn’t read at all. Couldn’t read. I couldn’t get over it. I couldn’t be angry. I couldn’t ask him to take the paper off the wall, not after all that special paste. Thirty-five years later, the paper still sticks, without a loose seam in sight. Mr. M’s secret remains there too, pasted over, hidden between the lines.
Patricia O’Connor lives part-time in Stone Ridge, part-time in Florida with husband Mike and Basset Hound Rosie. She retired from a career in school nursing and now enjoys the free time to tell the tales she needs to tell.