“Sign here beneath the payoff amount,” drawled the realtor.
Her enormous beehive reeked of Aqua-net hairspray. That ancient do and her polyester pantsuit screamed: Northwest Florida, thirty miles from the Alabama border, ten years into the past. How I longed to be back home, surrounded by family and friends when my first baby arrived instead of Smalltown, USA!
She handed me the pen with Bayside Realty emblazed in red, white, and blue letters. Grasping it with a shaky hand, I co-signed the loan with my nervous husband. My ring flipped to black for “nervous, tense, and stressed.”
The purchase price of that $11,500 house was a number too scary to fathom—a thirty-year mortgage with a payoff in 2001. That same year, I would buy a SUV for double that amount with only four years of payments.
“Are you gonna carry me over the threshold?” I asked my hubby.
“No way,” he smirked, “With that big pregnant belly, you should be carrying me!”
His biting sarcasm never ceased, even on this important day.
I spent the next five weeks painting psychedelic colors: a bright lime living room, a tangerine orange kitchen, a bedroom with flowered walls. No warnings about mothers-to-be climbing ladders or inhaling paint fumes in those days. No offers from the future father to help with the work.
The baby’s room required special decor. Would my firstborn be a boy or girl? Sonograms to determine gender were still uncommon in those days. I settled on the palest yellow Bubba Johnston Hardware sold during this Age of Aquarius.
Was everyone in this hick town named Bubba? The superintendent of schools, three county commissioners, and my dentist proudly touted this moniker. Perhaps if I couldn’t think of a boy’s name…
It was the only house we could afford in our first year of marriage. Nine hundred square feet of living space was hardly enough room to separate the sparring newlyweds. How crowded would it be when baby makes three?
The spare bedroom was absolutely miniscule. We had to take down the door to fit the baby furniture inside. The reluctant soon-to-be-dad and I spent the day yelling at each other, our typical communication. Now we argued about proper techniques to remove the thing.
“Let’s hang long shutters to open like swinging doors.” I suggested.
Another trip to Bubba’s. Credit charges for more things we couldn’t afford. The quarrelling escalated.
My would-be solution was a fiasco. We installed them upside down. “You stupid!” he growled. The paint smell flooded my nostrils. Exhausted and nauseous, my hormones kicked in. I suppressed the rising sobs.
Another two hours spent removing and reinstalling the doors. At last, the evil deed was done. Exhausted, I collapsed onto my favorite rocker and propped my swollen feet on a hot pink beanbag chair. Watching the final episode of Ed Sullivan Show did not cheer my pre-partum blues. I longed to crawl into the chocolate brown shag carpet and disappear.
Perhaps a long drive would alleviate my nine-month PMS. Waddling to our rusty Plymouth, I crammed my rotund body into the driver’s seat, and placed a worn Madras pillow behind my aching back. The scratchy Hair! soundtrack exploded from the eight-track player:
When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
Rickety pickup trucks queued on State Road 135. Stench of cow manure filled the car. Questions pierced my already troubled mind: Would I adjust to small town life? Find happiness living in my little dollhouse? Survive marriage and parenthood?
The unaligned planets offered neither peace nor love. I returned to Home Sweet Matchbox. Wandering from room to room, I imagined the White Rabbit leading me through ever-smaller passages until I was trapped in a miniature Wonderland. I cried myself to sleep every night for a miserable week. I despised those shutters and cursed them each time I passed the nursery.
Peering through those hated doors a month later, I was transformed. The tiny doorway perfectly framed the white bassinette that swaddled my petite infant daughter. My mood ring sparkled its brightest sapphire: “love and joy.”
Less is more after all.