“Your teachers?” I asked.
Darlene nodded. “Ugh. TMI. We need to leave.”
I followed her down the stairs, past the nudes done by Ms. Painter—pear-shaped women with flowing mermaid hair and skin portrayed with thick fleshy strokes of pinks, peaches, oranges—and out into the hot May afternoon. We sneezed in the bright light and leaned against my minivan like stunned possum. It was TMI—too much information. Ms. Painter, a flighty flaky woman my daughter disliked, taught art and photography at the high school, and Mr. Kelvin taught chemistry. Now Darlene had seen their pitchfork cutlery, Ms. Painter’s garish nude creations, Mr. Kelvin’s shaving cup and blade razor, and the bidet. There was no erasing any of it from her mind.
At least my daughter was in college and wouldn’t show up that Monday in chemistry class and watch Mr. Kelvin slide across the floor in his Keds to pen equations on the whiteboard, knowing she had walked through his home, touched his granite countertops, petted his sheepdog in the backyard, and seen Ms. Painter’s art and the European toilet. All while he wasn’t there.
“It’s just wrong,” Darlene said as I drove toward the next stop. “Teachers’ houses shouldn’t be in the home tour.”
A No-Teachers-in-the-Fundraiser policy would’ve spared my daughter’s sensibilities and lessened the shock for other students traipsing through their home to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. Who wants to know their teachers’ toileting habits? Not my daughter. Not me when I was a student. Students think of teachers as extensions of the school. If they exist outside the classroom, it is to chaperone dances and sporting events.
Boomer was an exception. In his seventies when my daughter was a student, Boomer was the first teacher on campus to post his assignments on his own website and use PowerPoint in class. On back-to-school night he rigged an explosion to catch our attention and said he would teach until he dropped dead on a lab table. Boomer built catacombs, a castle, and a pipe organ on his property, creating a wacky small town attraction. He hosted school groups, scout troops, concerts, and community gatherings at his compound. And students. Along with hundreds of other young people, my daughter had visited his home. No one complained of extreme cutlery, outlandish artwork, or improper privies at Boomeria, but then again, student visitors had permission slips signed by parents and knew what to expect. They weren’t going to be nosing around the bedroom. They didn’t dash home feeling they invaded Boomer’s privacy or been sabotaged with TMI.
It wasn’t as if Darlene didn’t know anything about Mr. Kelvin. The first day she entered his classroom she read “I have ADHD” scrawled below his name on the whiteboard. I have no doubt he and Ms. Painter had the best of intentions opening their home for a charitable cause. Maybe it seemed unlikely to them that folks from the neighboring town would come to this event in the city.
It wasn’t the medieval dinnerware, wide nudes, or European plumbing themselves that felt distasteful; it was the shock of discovering their owners through our prurience. What if my daughter hadn’t glanced at the wedding photo on a bedside table? She would’ve said, “Those paintings are weird,” but we would’ve forgotten them as soon as we encountered the next weird thing on the tour.
If the two of them had greeted us at the door, we might’ve overcome our awkwardness with a what-are-the-odds of-this-encounter-laugh. Had they escorted us through their home explaining their tastes, my daughter and I might have mulled over the use of proportion and color in figure painting and the paper-saving aspects of a bidet. We might have appreciated their choices.
Instead we rushed from their home as if we’d been spying, as if we’d broken in and lurked behind their window curtains and seen them across the street, headed straight for us, weaving and blinking as if they had left an X-rated theater drunk.
Cathy Warner recently earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. A Californian for 50 years, Cathy now hosts a writing retreat and leads writing workshops on Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about her midlife move and remodeling adventure at This or Something Better.