The Welcomed Stranger

It’s a corner house on a street within walking distance of the university. Lush greenery cozies up next to the house: white oak hydrangeas, rhododendrons. There’s a breezeway between the garage and the main house, a hidden oasis of french doors which leads to a terraced patio and Italian-inspired garden where herbs and flowers grow in large and small terracotta pots. An invite to be transported to a world where everything is stardust and glitter.

My daughter had given me directions to the house whose paint color she loves. A color she could not describe with words: “I have to show you,” she said.

Right now she lives in a pink house. Mauve, really. A house in need of new paint. Something to set off the vineyard out back and the Japanese maples out front. We’d spent the weekend on remodel jobs. Tim and our industrious son-in-law laying hardwood floors in the bedrooms. One of which will soon be converted to the nursery, while she and I painted baseboards white and the front door a sunshine yellow.  The grey winter days of the Willamette Valley crying out for something bright.

But there it was, tucked in the corner lot, the house whose color she loves. Not quite blue. Not quite green. Something that changes with the light.

“I’ll take a picture,” I said, parking the car across the street and jumping out. “Wait here.” I didn’t need to tell her that. Ever since she found out she was with child, she’s hardly been anywhere other than to the doctors or her in-laws’ home, which just happens to be down the street from the house on the corner.

I caught a glimpse of the couple whose home I wanted to photograph sitting behind those french doors of the breezeway. The doors were open.

“Hey!” I called out. Socially-distancing, mask-wearing. “Do you mind if I take a photo of your home? My daughter loves this color.”

“Funny story about that,” answered a voice. Rising up from the table where he sat just beyond the open doors, a lean man with righteous white hair came up the walk. He told me about how he came home once to find a local entrepreneur taking a paint chip off the side of his house. I don’t know about glass houses, but if one lives in a lovely home, does one come to expect admirers doing drive by paint chipping?

His wife joined him. We chatted about their daughter who is a doctor in my neck of the woods. We talked about their garden and how much time they have spent in it this year, the year of the deadly pandemic. We talked about house colors and they gave me the name of the color they had used.

“Wait here,” he implored and disappeared into the garage for a moment. He returned hold a can of the very paint. I thought he was just going to let me take a photo of the color label, but instead he insisted I take the can with me. There was at least half-a-gallon left.

His wife who had disappeared beyond the french doors returned with an heirloom tomato as big as a softball and a brilliant golden color. Tim had it for dinner tonight, on slices of wheat toast slapped with mayo and layered with pepper bacon. He ran to the store to buy the bread just so he could have the tomato.

Is there anything more lovely than when someone offers such a gift from their own garden? An heirloom tomato?

Or from their garage? A can of paint to help a stranger’s daughter.

“Come see us when this craziness is all over,” they invited.

I miss this. These random encounters with kindly generous souls. People full of hospitality, trying to make due during a time when we are cautioned to keep our distance from one another.

I think we will come out of this, eventually, a kinder people, more thankful to gather, more grateful for one another and for the opportunity to swap stories with newly-made friends and cherished older ones.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain (Mercer University Press).


Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


Ellen Ward

about 2 years ago

I am fixated on that color which I call haint blue. They used to paint porch ceilings in the south that color to keep haints away. Ann Hite would know all about it! Love you, girl. Beautiful writing.


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

Good to hear from you, girl. And our porch ceilings got painted haint blue this summer. Did you read Hite's latest memoir? Stirring. I finished Natasha Trethway's Memorial Drive. It was powerful.



about 2 years ago

Yes our porch is painted this color and I love it. I miss you & I loves reading your article!


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

Ahhh... send pics of your porch. We loved this color. I think it is now considered a vintage color because it was popular when I was my daughter's age... I am definitely vintage.


Marian Carcache

about 2 years ago

Just the lovely story I needed today! Thanks for sharing your beautiful words.


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