Heiress and wealthy widow Bunny Mellon has maintained homes in New York, Paris, Antigua, Cape Cod, and Nantucket, as well as a 4,000-acre estate farm in Virginia. Given such good fortune (as detailed recently by The New York Times), along with her enviable longevity (101 years at this writing), and the fact that she reportedly owned several works by abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, one might think she had no need to contrive additional happiness.
Yet there was this detail in The Times story: She had shadows painted on the floor of her Manhattan townhouse to give the feeling “of sunshine perpetually streaming through.”
All of us, the social-register Mrs. Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon included, occasionally manufacture sun to see us through cloudy days and stormy times. We also do it partly, I suspect, to re-create the joy of childhood summers.
In my mind’s eye, I can see clear as day the wide cabana stripes of orange, white, and aqua that lined the bottom of our wading pool, where less than a foot of depth fostered fun with abandon. Floating with eyes open, the stripes’ brilliance was magnified by sun and water.
In the summer heat on the backyard picnic table, we melted Crayolas, rolled the soft wax into a Technicolor ball, and scrawled on paper with rainbow results.
Years pass and we grow up and into deeper waters, where sunlight dims as it tries to penetrate the darker blues. As we spend more and more time in cars, offices, and houses, our connection with the outdoors seems filtered as if by a whole-life SPF shield.
Time to take a cue from our gardens, where sunflowers turn their faces to follow the sun and roses lean, craning and stretching their canes in an effort to give their baby buds a bath in the sustaining rays.
At home, we can take a cue from Bunny, the woman who had it all but still yearned for sunshine. In a version of the fictional girl Pollyanna suspending strings of prisms to create a “glad” light show in cranky old Mr. Pendergast’s house, we can add indoor brilliance in the form of art, unexpected pairings, expansive windows, and occasional bright splashes. My first kitchen, with its taupe and white and dashes of red, made me happy. Basic geraniums in plain terra-cotta pots on the white back-porch rail do the same.
Bunny, who was nothing if not subtle in the blue-blood tradition, kept a not-so-understated 10,000-plus botanical/gardening books in the library at her Virginia farm. She knew full well that we need reminders of sunny days that will last well after the blooms fade.