Smell of Paint

I drifted sleepily down the stairs into a busy Christmas preparation zone. Cut out sugar cookies covered the kitchen table. Stopping at the foot of the stairs, I sniffed appreciatively. I could tell that a different kind of cookie, one with a lot of spices in it, was baking in the oven. The linoleum hallway floor sparkled from having been freshly scrubbed and polished.

Seeing that I was up, Mom scolded, “I thought you were going to spend all morning in bed. Hurry up and have breakfast. Then get dressed. I want you to help me rearrange the living room furniture.”

All the sleep cobwebs in my brain cleared instantly. Christmas was less than a week away. Deciding to change out of my flannel nighty first, I turned around and bounded up the stairs back to my bedroom. Eating breakfast wouldn’t take long.

         Moments later, as I ate a cookie and drank milk, I glanced out the kitchen window. Fine flakes of snow were falling heavily like a thick curtain. A sudden gust of wind escorted a white veil of ice crystals past the house to a growing drift along a bank of pine trees. Feeling cozy and happy, I smiled.

In the living room, Mom described what she wanted. “I’m going to put the Christmas tree in the southwest corner this year. That means the davenport will have to be along the kitchen wall and my rocking chair in front of the big window.”

Excited, I questioned, “Does moving the furniture today mean you’ll let us put up our tree before Christmas Eve for a change?” Most of my classmates said their Christmas trees were up and decorated already. Only Mom and Daddy and a few of the other parents clung to the tradition of waiting until the afternoon of the 24th to do it.

Mom responded, “No, of course not. I’m just rearraigning the furniture now, so we don’t have to do it when we bring in the tree in a few days.” Looking around, she said, “When your big brothers and sisters were small, I did all of my baking and cleaning on Christmas Eve. After they were in bed for the night, Daddy and I put up and trimmed the tree. Then, I sometimes sat up almost all night sewing little matching night gowns for the dolls.”

Shaking my head, I commented grumpily, “Well, at least you don’t wait until I’m in bed before you put up the tree on Christmas Eve. I enjoy being there and seeing all your special ornaments going up.”

Mom said comfortingly, “If we put the tree up a month before Christmas, you’d be sick of it long before New Year’s Day. This way, we leave it up into January, a cold, dark time of the year where we need some cheer.”

After our noon meal, I dressed in several layers of clothing to take a walk though our snowy yard. Deep drifts made a simple circuit of the yard hard work. When I was tired, I returned to the house where I found my brother Billy painting the entryway to the house and basement. Loving to hang out with him, I sat down on the steps to watch him work. This brother was ten years older than me. He confided, “I love the smell of fresh paint at Christmas time.”

Billy’s comment about smelling fresh paint at Christmas time has always stuck with me. Most people would question why he made that connection. I think I know the answer.

One year before I was born, Daddy built a new farmhouse for the family. It was across the yard from the old house. My family wanted to move before Christmas, but the varnish on the woodwork wasn’t dry.

Two days after Christmas, they were finally given the go-ahead. Billy was nine-years-old when they moved. The smell of the clean, freshly painted house made a deep impression on him. My excited family wrapped their decorated tree in a sheet and carried it across the yard to the new, modern house. They no longer needed the back-yard outhouse. The new house had two flushing toilets.

I easily understand why the smell of fresh paint has made Billy think of Christmas.

This year workmen are building a small room for my washer and dryer on the main floor. Soon they will paint the room before moving my appliances up from the basement. I know the smell of paint will make me think of Billy and vividly remember the day he told me it made him think of Christmas. 

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