Frost Valley #9: A Yellow House

There were two summer homes on the private estate where I spent the summer of 1969, one a few miles upstream from the compound that included the lodge and the other a few miles downstream. INT

Come mid-summer Stan said one of the chores for 1969 was getting the upstream house painted. They had hired a professional painter and since most maintenance chores on the estate had slowed down I could keep busy helping him out.

At the time acrylic paints, those wonders that let clean-up be done with water, were fine for indoor work but no respectable professional painter would ever use them for exterior coverage. They just did not stand up to the cold and water and sun like good oil-based paint did.

So, up Frost Valley I went and cursed to cleaning up with solvents I was.

The painter taught me more our first day together than I have learned about house painting before or since.

First, scrapping is the most important part of the job. (I figured out on my own that scrapping sure makes one glad to be finished with pushing steel over wood and to start painting!)

Second, the house was sided in long slats of wood, about three inches wide, running horizontally across the walls. The painter started off by explaining that if we were using acrylic paint we could paint whatever we could reach from the ladder, square blocks immediately in front of us, and when we overlapped them with the next square block we painted they would blend right in.

But oil-based paint isn’t like that. If it gets tacky or dry and you paint over it it, even though it is exactly the same paint, where they overlap there will always be a different color. So we painted three boards at a time, reaching as far along the length of those three boards as we could, and then we moved the ladder and continued painting those three boards all across the wall. There was plenty of moving ladders that summer.

Third, he taught me to keep the paint on the tips of the brush. Take small dips of paint to the wall and don’t let it get past half way up the bristles of the brush. Painting is so much more pleasant when your hands are not slippery with paint.

And forth, he taught me not to sweat cleaning up. It’s no big deal, especially when the paint is all in the end of the bristles of the brush. Just swish it about a bit in the solvent and flip the solvent and paint off the brush with a good swing of the arm. Two or three swishings and flippings does the trick.

I’ve since learned that with acrylic paint, where you are dealing with water to clean up, just a touch of soap on the bristles when you have finished cleaning them keeps them nice and soft. (I’ve also figured out that disposable brushes are much better than they used to be, but that’s our little secret.)

We got along well, that painter and I, but I do remember one awkward moment—

It was 1969 and I was a young wonderer, not serving in the military. One day I was on the roof, painting the areas under the eaves of a dormer window, when Stan and another local both managed to be spending some time chatting with the painter. They were right below where I was working. The conversation, as often happened that summer, got to hippies. Perhaps out of deference to my being in ear shot, the general tone of the discussion was that for the most part those hippies are OK.

“I will say one thing for those hippies,” the painter observed. “For the most part they seem to like girls.”

I instinctively turned to check that comment out and the painter was looking directly at me.

What does a shy young gay guy do?

I snapped back to my painting and to the rush of anxiety I had been caught up in since my youth when caught off guard about sex. Perhaps today I’d have pursued it with him. Perhaps it is just as well the topic was dropped by everyone.

We painted that house a beautiful light yellow with, as I remember, white trim. It looked real sharp. I was proud to have been part of the job and I was glad to have learned how to scrape and paint.

I’m also glad my home is sided with steel and has never needed my skills.

2 thoughts on “Frost Valley #9: A Yellow House

  1. rangewriter

    Ugh. I hate painting…everything from canvas to walls. Even if I don’t dip the brush too far in, I still manage to wear as much paint as I place on the target surface.

    The innocence of youth…it gets us into things like house painting and for some of us, at least, it seals our lips from engaging in awkward argument about sensitive topics.

  2. Dorothy Burrows

    Its always good to learn a new trade. Maybe a wink would have been a good response but maybe not. LOL


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