Saturday, January 29, 2011
The Green House
Our worship congregation was changing.
What used to be country and farm houses with several acres was fast becoming suburbia; farmers were selling their fields in exchange for big money from real estate developers. It was either struggle for the rest of their days to make ends meet, or take frequent vacations and live in a big house. The latter often won out.
Such was the case with Appleside Park. I watched the plowed fields go to weeds, then get re-worked into smaller sections, then become distinct lots.
Right in the middle of the real estate party, it seemed everyone with money wanted in on the well-marketed, prestigious subdivision.
I walked by each day, starting from my country cottage a mile down the road, pushing a double stroller containing my two sons. I observed every phase of the new neighborhood's process.
Homes emerged one by one, each one more upscale and intricate than the next. Eaves, gables, false windows, bric-a-brac and ornate stonework were abundant. The only thing I thought was lacking, being an artist-type, was color. They'd certainly missed it on the color.
Here were over a hundred homes, each built for a specific buyer. Yet when they had a golden chance to give it the crowning touch of tasteful hue, each had defaulted to beige or gray. It left something to be desired. The intricate landscaping helped, but in my mind wasn't any real substitute for what might have been.
People moved in. Our nearby church was soon bulging with folks from the new neighborhood. They all seemed like very nice people. I went to dinner with some, attended cultural events, made friends. Our children played together. I'd been a little concerned that they would be a problem blending country and city cultures, but for the most part, those fears were unfounded.
Until the paint episode.
We didn't have Home Owner's Associations out in the country. If you wanted to park your ancient Chevy out back, go right ahead, it's your land. Your nearest neighbor is acres away, and from that distance can hardly see it. If you have a few weeds here and there, join the club. So what.
But life's different in a posh, new subdivision. There are rules. Rules that must be followed to the strictest degree. The homeowners are paying hefty dues each year to make sure everyone gets kept within the ordered bounds.
The President of the Association is around to enforce these rules. I'd heard of extreme cases where some will actually measure the length of the residents' grass, checking to see if it's within regulation guidelines. If not, there could be a citation. Rules were rules, after all.
Appleside Park had a little problem.
It seemed that one of the residents had chosen an 'unauthorized' color for the trim of their home. Who knows, something might had gone awry at the paint store and gotten mixed incorrectly. Not knowing anything was amiss, the painters did what they were hired to do and applied the paint.
It was a much brighter green than was planned. Think leprechauns and St. Patty's Day plastic hats.
The owner loved it.
Perhaps there was a bit of a rebel in her. Perhaps she was tired of being told by others what she could and could not do with her trim, or her house, or her life. One might never know. At any rate, she decided the green would stay.
That got the neighbors talking. It wasn't like they didn't talk before, but now they were all talking about that hideously-colored trim on the lot in their midst.
Some of these were the professed Christians that had begun to attend our church.
In the months to come, sometimes when I went for a walk with some of them, we'd round the bend and see the green house. There were frequently comments on how the color either gave them a headache or made them slightly nauseous.
"What is her problem?" They'd say, "Why can't she just paint her trim and get it over with?"
I secretly admired the woman's spunk, whoever she was. That the trim color and all it represented was growing on me more each day.
The unhappy neighbors' outcry grew to ridiculous proportions. They had the HOA President send a notice of non-compliance to the 'green' trim lady. When a few weeks later there were no visible changes, they sent a warning. Still nothing. Weeks later they sent an even more stern warning.
Residents gathered to discuss this very serious problem of 'non-compliance'. The 'green' house lady was not invited to the meeting. Hours were spent trying to determine their next method of attack, discussing how they could get this rebel woman to conform to their beige and gray world. It was making the HOA Committee crazy.
All the while, the church-going HOA members continued to say hello to her, brought her cookies, and behaved in a cordial manner. I'm sure neither party was naive.
The episode escalated to the point of a petition, which the cordial, cookie-bearing neighbors signed, demanding that the woman change her trim, once and for all. The message was fairly clear: We, your neighbors, are bugged by you, your trim, and your outward rebellion.
One woman in that subdivision spoke out. Refusing to sign what she called the 'silly petition', she knew only a little of the green house lady's history. She said the woman had saved to build what had been her dream house, and that the woman had worked hard all her life, and deserved every square foot of it, green or not.
"If she likes her trim color," said the dissenter, "Then I say more power to her!"
This didn't sit well with the rest of the group, when shared. There was a momentary pause in the gossip, then the griping continued.
Months later, the HOA filed an actual lawsuit against this woman. After what must have been an exhausting ordeal, she very simply sold her dream home and moved to another location. Probably one that allowed for some creativity when it came to the selection of her trim. Who could blame her?
The infamous Appleside Park HOA had succeeded in driving another human being out of their midst. Now, that's worth the dues they paid, isn't it.
The Green House Lady story taught me more than just how to choose my trim color. It taught me how to choose my battles.
*For ideas on how to be a great neighbor, click here.