June 22, 2010
The front hallway of the house I grew up in was a grotto of potted plants and hanging baskets placed in and amongst a collection of modern art made from highly polished cast steel.
A floating staircase linking the hallway to a second level cut through the middle of this exhibition of vines and metal in pure seventies fashion (think of Mike Brady* and Tarzan colliding in Chicago‘s Millennium Park). It always drew gasps from house guests as they handed us their coats, in the same way I’m sure the foyer in Toronto’s Metro Reference Library inspired nods of approval when it first opened in 1977. We laugh now, but everything about the seventies was earthy and overgrown.
One plant in our foyer had been steadily dropping its tendrils for 10 years at a rate of about a foot a year. Its planter was suspended from a macrame hanger made from a kit which featured a rope long enough to hook into the ceiling 25 feet above. Mum watered it every week. Leaning over the floating stairs in her quilted house coat, she’d give the planter a good soak and watch the liquid disappear into the soft earth. The plant dripped for about an hour after. Usually on us. It was part of mum’s morning routine, along with putting on the kettle, opening the curtains and watching the sun rise.
The tiles in the front hallway under that plant were oven-baked and dark brown. They matched everything else in the house except for the dog who used it as her horizontal canvas. That floor was forever in bloom with flower-print paw marks, especially in the spring. “Sit, Penny, sit!” You needed more than a damp sponge to wipe up the marks; water just seemed to spread the mud, leaving behind a milky film. I know because it was my job to keep the front hall tidy.
We put down two large rugs and frowned the dog into sitting on them until her feet dried. But something always lifted her rump and got her damp feet dancing and tail wagging. Every one of Penny’s moves was recorded on the floor. She didn’t care. And, come to think of it, neither did we.
* Apologies to my dad for the Mike Brady crack. You’re a much better architect than he ever was, Pops!