Friday, September 7, 2012

The Paintbrush That Tamed A Town.

To this day it is called the Kings Highway, some 236 years after the war aimed at ridding the colonials of the road’s namesake, King George III. The road traverses north/south through New Jersey from the lower Delaware Bay to the city of Camden, a fast ferry ride over to Philadelphia, the young Nation’s first capital. An overland trip from the Bay to Philadelphia back then was much easier traveled in New Jersey because of the numerous wide and fast-moving tributaries that flow into the Delaware River on the Pennsylvania side
          Fifteen miles from Philadelphia, Kings Highway effectively cuts the town of Haddonfield evenly east from west. Named for Elizabeth Haddon, daughter of an early colonial landowner, the town, even today, still has the look and feel of a New England colonial village. Tall, two and three-story houses face the wide, tree-lined roads. Ancient oak, maple, and chestnut trees shaded the front, sides, and back of most structures.  No ranchers or track houses of any kind allowed.
          In 1985, Carla Gach bought one of those colonial-style homes on Kings Highway, a mere three blocks from where Washington actually did sleep as Haddonfield was alternately occupied by both opposing forces during the Revolution. Dolly Madison frequently slept at The Indian King Tavern where the bed she used still sits on the second floor. One may even wonder if Dolly and George found themselves sleeping in the town at the same time, but not of course, in the same bed. It has been rumored though, that Dolly Payne (name from first marriage) quizzed Martha regarding the character of one, James Madison, before agreeing to marry the future fourth president.
“Historic, old-money, quaint, and quiet” are the names most often conferred upon Haddonfield by residents of the nearby communities. Holding onto its Quaker lineage, the town to this day, does not allow liquor sold anywhere within its borders.
          So you can imagine that when Carla Gach repainted her white picket fence a hot, hot neon-orange that a few Haddonfield eyebrows raised up. Even more than eyebrows, hands skyrocketed at the very next town hall meeting where volunteers eager to help curb Carla’s desire to be so colorful. Carla needed a good lecture and Mrs. Jonathan Whitmore IV would be only too happy to do the honors. The city fathers including Jonathan Whitmore III and Jonathan Whitmore IV agreed that a first meeting should be cordial, conciliatory, and should place trust in Carla’s acceptance of tradition over her personal color preferences.                                                    
          Mrs. Whitmore IV agreed with the approach. She invited Carla over to her habitat where with a big smile, tea and genuine English crumpets, the issue of the offensive color choice for Carla’s fence was politely discussed.
          Carla proved most receptive to the request that she change the color scheme. And Carla was made aware that sooner would be much better than later. The very next day, although a little weary, Carla, brush in hand, was observed repainting her fence.
          The next day thereafter, eyebrows and hands rose up once again all over Haddonfield. Without being specific that white, not chartreuse, was the only preferred color of choice for “white” picket fences — an emergency meeting of the guardian fathers reconvened. Mrs. Jonathan Whitmore IV was invited to explain why the meeting with Carla failed to produce the desired results. Placing part of the blame on failed communications and possibly stale crumpets, it was decided that Mr. Jonathan Whitmore IV should visit the offending neighbor. And, he should deliver the message with a man’s gentle, but firm, clear and concise fashion. No manner of refreshments were brought to the meeting.
          Even more tired than the previous day Carla, once again grabbed her brush, and painted the fence pearl-ivory white. One could feel a collective sigh reign all over Haddonfield. But before she put her brush away she dipped it in a pail of pale-yellow and splashed the front of her house. Then she stepped back and allowed Jones House Painting to complete the job.
          Not since Aaron Burr had walked down the Kings Highway seeking the affections of Dolly had such a dark cloud hovered over Haddonfield. Blasphemy! This was a deliberate act of blasphemy by a Devil-woman. No more Mr. Nice Guys. It was time to bring out the lawyers with their threats of financial damages, incarceration and public scorn. Did the community still own a pillory where one’s head and hands were locked in mockery for the entire world to observe? This tool was usually reserved for adulteress but warranted in this extreme case, thought a few of the town’s gentry.
          Carla had received all the Whitmore IV’s messages loud and clear. Haddonfield was run by a male dominated, archaic city council and she was not about to bow down. King George lost but Carla would not run and could not be dissuaded from her house color choices. She voted to let her adversaries bring out their biggest cannons.
          Now the city council was not alone in feeling that Carla had violated the principals of honorable ethics, the entire, well most of Haddonfield’s residences shunned Carla. She was ignored in the stores, seemed she had to wait in line longer at the bank where her business was evidently not wanted but tolerated.
The legal threats were not without basis either. The city fathers did have jurisdiction over many properties in historical zones or for homes with verifiable historic value. There was always an outside chance that Carla’s house could be subjected to an existing statute. In addition, the idyllic life she perceived in her new home was far from reality and the “war” was wearing on her. But she held her ground like Washington at Valley Forge.
The lawyers went to work and for a small town of 12,000, it boasts 390 attorneys, more than most of any similar sized community in southern New Jersey. But the case dragged on and on. Eventually the ice-cold treatment for Carla began to melt. Even Mrs. Jonathan Whitmore IV referred to Carla, as neighbor. The frost dissipated completely after Carla held a fund raiser for the Daughters of the Revolution in her home.
One day Carla tired of her yellow house and repainted it a brilliant white. The town rejoiced. The new mayor, Jonathan Whitmore V declared a “Carla Gach Day.” Soon after however, when Carla became a little bored she got out her trusty paintbrush once again. This time she painted a birdhouse imperial purple just to remind Haddonfield that she still possessed spunk.
Carla Gach, a long-time resident of Laguna Woods, CA and member of the Laguna Woods Village Art Association painted a paintbrush which inspired this story. The historical facts are correct; the rest of the story is a fable. Carla Gach passed away in 2011 but the Art Association honors her memory by prominently displaying the painting, shown above, on its website. Note: The author lived in Haddonfield, NJ where a purple-painted house on Kings Highway actually caused such a fuss during the 1980’s and still may to this day.