Gadahlski refers to the garage door of the house I grew up in. The house was a modern rambler sitting on a hill in the pristine, well-educated community of St. Anthony Park. My parents, my sister, and I did whatever we could to fit into the mold of “the Park.” The house expressed this desire for perfection with its regularly mowed lawn, clipped hedges, and fresh paint. Even the flower and vegetable gardens were neat and orderly.
Gadahlski did not fit the mold. After living in the Park for five years, my father mixed up the most hideous concoction of green and yellow paint imaginable and proceeded to paint the garage door. The color resembled the “pea soup” the actress, Linda Blair, spit at the priest in The Exorcist. At ages eight and eleven, my sister and I protested, but my father had the final say. Months went by, and we got used to it. Then he decided to paint the trim on the house with the same color. What was happening to this perfect house, and what would the neighbors think?
In the 1950s garage doors were usually operated manually, meaning someone had to get out of the car and open it. There was always some unpleasant, but barely audible, bickering about who would get out of the car to heave open the heavy door. Barely audible because we couldn’t have the neighbors think we didn’t always get along.
One morning after church when we arrived home, complete with prayer books and white gloves, my father announced he had purchased a garage door opener. Maybe going to church had created a miracle, since my thrifty father had spent money on a luxury item.
He instructed us that the garage door could only be opened by calling “Gadahlski!” loud enough so that whatever device was hooked up to it would “hear” it and it would open. This led to several months of all four of us opening the car windows and yelling “Gadahlski!” On some occasions, Gadahlski’s receptor signals weren’t working as well so we’d have to yell as loud as we could, all in unison. If my sister and I had friends in the car, they’d have to join in as well. All the voice power was needed.
As time went on, I noticed my mother wasn’t really putting much energy into yelling Gadahlski. Then I saw it, the mechanical device my father used inside the car to open the garage door. We’d been had! We’d been sticking our heads out the window and yelling Gadahlski so loud all the neighbors could hear.
Over the years, my father always kept a ready supply of that green paint on hand. When my daughter was three, she and her grandfather made two birdhouses together; one they painted a Gadahlski green and one a soft bluebird color. For some reason, the birds preferred the Gadahlski green house and it helped raise many families over the years. It was worn and battered from use while the blue house remained almost perfectly intact.
Maybe, like my dad, the birds wanted to have a little fun with raising a family and not have to care, at least sometimes, about what others thought. I didn’t bother to keep the blue birdhouse, but I still have the old green one in a storage locker. I like it; it reminds me of calling Gadahlski!
Jane Hollis is a born-and-raised Saint Paulite. Having lived abroad, which she describes as “a bit interesting at times,” she swears she will never leave her Saint Paul roots again, except for those brief, much-needed winter vacations. She works as a clinical psychologist in Saint Paul, of course.
William Birawer was born in Saint Paul, received his BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts in the spring of 1999. William works as a freelance illustrator and caricature artist. www.WilliamBirawer.com