My husband just didn’t get it. Why did we need to spend time and money on the “perfect” curtains for our daughter’s condo? She was in graduate school. She had a safe place to live. She had furniture, a stocked pantry and even a large, copiously shedding rescue dog named Sullivan.
So why another trip to Target for a specific pair of brown print curtains with coordinating hardware? He just didn’t get it, but I did. A girl needs her curtains. I always have. In many ways, I can recount the story of my life, in curtains.
My sisters and I are close. The three of us shared a room for most of our lives, mostly in military housing where it is difficult to create a personal space or style. Maybe that is why we loved to rearrange our furniture so frequently and to change the curtains. We would raid the linen closet and pull out something fresh and different for our special place.
Old kitchen cafe curtains sprinkled with fruits and flowers? It was our summer look. Recycled drapes from Grandma LaPorta’s living room? The formal look, perfect with our matching chenille bedspreads from Sears.
We liked to add scarves, sashes, bows and lengths of gold-tipped fringe from a giant bag of remnants that came to us by way of some cousins in New York. They had once made lace and tassels for the “best” casinos in Atlantic City. Or so we were told.
Fortunately, there seemed no end to the treasures of the linen closet. Mom had the curtain fever, too, and though our financial resources were modest, she always seemed to have stacked shelves.
I remember my grandmother and godmother sending packages from New York City filled with boxes of Italian pasta that we couldn’t get in the wilderness. The delicate blue boxes were buffered with layers of lacey sheers, appliqued panels or fringed valences that had once lived in another Italian mama’s linen chest. I still have some of the sheer panels, probably 40 years old now, but still good.
That same grandmother established my connection with curtains. In her basement kitchen in Queens, there was a blue calico curtain covering the closet that held biscotti, pink china coffee cups and expresso. This was off limits to little hands, and my brothers, sisters and I always associated the “blue curtain” with Grandma’s house, her cooking and her love.
I suppose that connection between love and curtains was tested when I washed the kitchen curtains in my then-fiance’s bachelor pad. They fell apart. Literally.
“Haven’t you ever washed those curtains?” I asked, horrified.
“Why?” he sniffed, “Why would I?”
So he got new kitchen curtains, yellow dotted Swiss, which horrified him, and a new bride, whom he tried to please by spending Saturday mornings nailing up hardware for, what else, more drapes, shades and curtains. This time for our first home.
Curtains mark the big events in a long marriage. The day we were robbed, I knew that something was terribly wrong when I came home from teaching school to find the drapes torn down from the living room windows.
The day we hung the Winnie the Pooh curtains in the nursery, with matching shades stenciled by a teacher friend, to welcome our first daughter.
The matching pink ruffles in the girls’ rooms when we moved into our new home; this time there were two sets exactly the same, for two tiny girls.
The first curtains that the girls picked out when they began decorating their own rooms — dinosaurs for one, shabby chic for another. Drapes of white Christmas lights during the holidays.
Sometimes taking down the curtains was part of the story. After Hurricane Hugo ravaged our heavily wooded property, I took down all the shades and curtains in our kitchen. I wanted to see it all — the light, the trees, the starkness of what had happened.
Curtains are a frame and not just for windows. I think of them as an expression of what I am feeling and doing and becoming at the time. The act of choosing the curtains, washing, pressing, hanging and then letting the room envelop me brings a unique sense of satisfaction.
So, I understand the sparkle in my daughter’s eyes when she sees the fabric meant to hang in the windows of her new space. The color is warm; the design bold and creative. Perfect for her new journey toward a Ph.D. I tried to explain this to my husband as he balanced on a step ladder to hang the hooks.
“Are you crazy?” he snorts. “They are only curtains.” My daughter and I share a knowing smile. He just doesn’t get it.
Dr. Linda Karges-Bone is a professor at Charleston Southern University and creator of the “Prayerful Parenting” radio program heard nationally on the Family Radio Network. She and her husband, Gary, live in Summerville.