The test

The paint can
The bottom of the paint can shows some of the colors it has worn through the years. The light blue was original.

As promised in yesterday’s post, here is the story of our paint can.

It is a newspaper column I wrote in 1998, give or take a year. I learned to never expect much feedback from columns, but this article received more than normal. It seemed people related to it.

In 2000, when I published a collection of my columns in a book titled “I Would Ask You In, But You Already Are” (now out of print, but I hope to add to it and republish someday), the paint can column was my first chapter.

The test

“Do you notice anything different?”

It’s the question a man most fears from his wife. The observance test: Do you love me enough to notice the slightest of change?

I try to look pensive, hopefully masking my terror, looking for a clue. Please, give me a sign. There it is! She waves her hand slightly around the kitchen. Relief floods me as I realize the change is something in the room. I’ll have more leeway for error there.

Still, I’m being tested. My eyes refocus and scan the room looking for something different. Only seconds pass but each shortens my life span by a year or two. I’m running out of time.

Then, there it is! The paint can is red. What color it was before, I’m not sure, but it’s obvious that this is a fresh coat of paint.

“You’ve painted your utensil can,” I say with no small measure of pride.

“I thought red would go with the wallpaper, don’t you think so?”

Good, good. That tells me it was indeed a different color. Brown, I think.

“Definitely,” I reply. “It looks great.”

The paint can. Yep, you read right. The paint can holds a position of honor in our kitchen but not just because it’s so handy at holding miscellaneous utensils. It has its value in our family because it holds special memories.

When Leah and I married we had next to nothing. I was just out of school with a low-paying sports writing job and some upcoming college loans. She still had two years to go in college. Things were tight and would stay that way for a while.

Our first home was really no more than a tiny, ancient travel trailer. My dad and I put in a new floor and paneling. I paid an out-of-work plumber to install a toilet, a bathroom sink and shower, and to rig up water and sewer lines. (It was after we moved the trailer a couple of hundred miles that we learned the guy may have been out of work because his work wasn’t very good, but that’s another story.)

Leah took charge of beautifying the outside of the trailer, which was basically silver and showed its age none too gracefully. When she got through with it, the trailer was a shiny white over blue.

Being of small stature, Leah had trouble reaching the top cabinets in the kitchen. She saved one of the paint cans from the exterior job and painted it the same blue as the outside of our new home. (I just looked at the bottom of the can. You can still see some of the blue. There also is a little brown and what appears to be an off-white shade that I believe she used in Rockport.)

Initially, the bucket served as a step stool. For years, through different homes, it always had a spot in the kitchen where it would hide in a corner waiting to be needed. I also can remember her using it to perch on while working on some project or another.

As time passed, she eventually acquired a real step stool, primarily because it was safer to stand on and also because it allowed her to reach higher. That stool is gone now, broken I believe, replaced by another.

But the paint can is still around. Leah couldn’t bear to part with it. Some years back, she painted it anew, removed the lid and transformed it into a container for odd spoons, spatulas and ladles. Ugly, some may say, at the best tacky, but they don’t see its inner beauty.

It reflects 20-plus years (now 38) of a solid relationship, one which started with little else but the relationship. Like the two people, the can has adapted as its role changed.

But it is still a paint can and, even if everything else fails, it knows it can go back to its beginnings, be a paint can all over again, and make it work.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

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