As I am typing these words, my daughter is changing the number on the Halloween countdown on our kitchen door from four to three. It is a pretty serious moment in our day lately. Halloween is our absolute favorite. I am always a bit annoyed at the way she holds the chalk down so hard that it makes this hard, almost squeaky noise. When she is chalking a masterpiece, which it sounds like she is doing now, in her consistent intensity, I sometimes have to rock on the front porch a while, as an escape from the sound. Mostly, I just endure it, knowing it will be something grand, or because it is a simple reminder that our human spirit must always find something to look forward to, something that makes us smile. For that reason, there is always a countdown on our door, like the one in the summer, which makes us ready for the beginning of the school year and a fresh start and the beginning of the end of the sweat and cabin fever August brings, much like wintertime and its intense cold does to those northerly.
Towards the end of my kitchen remodel, on the day I planned to throw out the door pictured, I was at one of our local antique shops about to purchase another old door to take it’s place–something with more panels and, I thought, charm. Anytime I make a purchase, I stand and look at the merchandise for quite sometime, thinking it over, making certain. As I studied the “new” door, I felt the hundred dollar bill I was going to use to pay for it, burning a hole in my pocket, and it hit me, and I thought to myself, “Bran, you have been wanting a BIG chalkboard somewhere in the house–just paint the old one!” It is one of my favorite DUH moments. I painted the old door that same day, loving the way the black color contrasted the otherwise light tones I’d used in the heart of our home. It serves as our reminder space, mostly, working especially well for my autistic son, William, who is a visually and schedule-oriented soul. I sometimes tried writing a favorite quote or line of poetry, but they never seemed to be quite at home in that practical space. I decided to take an old frame and spray it white, cut a piece of plywood (which I also painted black chalkboard) to fit inside, placed it in my neighboring dining space, and this became my more inspirational artspace.
It has since held many of my most treasured sayings, but the one in the photo has been written there for months and I haven’t yet found the need for the eraser, for it seems to embody perfectly everything that flows through our home. LIFE MEANS SO MUCH. We try never to allow those words to escape us. They are the heartbeat of our home, my favorite montra.
I have tried not to go overboard with the chalk paint, but I will admit it is hard, in this case, to remember that whole “less is more” thing. The other side of the kitchen door, which leads to our family room, is the sacred home of the New Orleans Saints football schedule, a critical element for a fanatic such as myself. In that same room dwells a gigantic four foot square wall calendar, where we note our most important days in each month: holidays, birthdays, and the like. My most recent project is an entire dark green chalkboard wall in my classroom, where my students draw amazing things from our literary journeys, such as the recent tombstones of those who died in The Salem Witch Trials in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” (They get so excited when they hear me exclaim, “You guys get to write on the wall today!!”) I learned, prior to that project, that a little unsanded grout in a gallon of paint makes it accept chalk, saving a ton of money on such a large space. I will never buy the expensive stuff again!
Though I have ceased the madness for now, I seriously doubt that I will ever break off this love affair with chalkboard paint. Something about it reminds me of an old school house, like the one in Washington, LA, which is now an antique mall where some of my fondest childhood memories are set. I would go there with my mom and grandmother and drool over the treasures, all the while imagining what it would have been like to go to school in a place so magical, all those years ago, running up the creaky, wooden stairs to get to English class, sitting in my iron and wood desk, my feet swaying with the rhythm of whatever poem I was engrossed in that day. All these years later, I still love going there and finding that same pleasant-ness, imagining how to use the old things around me. It is my therapy. It reminds me to take my children on many adventures where there imaginations and hearts can be full. It is in those kind of places and moments where I am reminded most that life means so much–no chalk notes necessary.