My Favorite Things (1)

The Banquet


Long before I knew this print was titled “The Banquet,” I knew that behind the door, long low tables were lined with friends and strangers, laughing, talking, and toasting one another—and waiting for me to join them.

I bought the print when I was 25 years old and living in Japan. I'd arrived there a year and half earlier, intensely shy and insecure, fleeing a miserable job and a string of unhappy relationships; at the age of 24, I was already desperate for a do-over in life. To my amazement and everlasting gratitude, I got one in the form of a position teaching English to high school students. Eager to show off their culture and learn about mine, my new colleagues went out of their way to be friendly, taking me to local tourist attractions and inviting me into their homes. My landlady, convinced I was too skinny, brought meal after meal to my door (I didn’t stay skinny for long); my students asked breathless questions about the United States and laughed at my attempts to speak Japanese.

It was easy to make friends with other foreigners, too; the fact that we had being foreign in common helped me overcome my shyness, and for the first time in my life I enjoyed a busy, happy social life. One foreigner in particular caught my attention; we flirted, we dated, we fell in love. Eventually, we got engaged. When I saw the print at a store in Kyoto, I felt as if it were speaking to me. The deep, gentle colors, the heavy wisteria, and the welcoming light spilling from behind the door seemed to sum up the kindness, the fun, and the joy I experienced in Japan.

I think of the print as my first “grown up” purchase. It wasn't astronomically expensive but it was more than I had ever spent on something purely decorative. More importantly, I felt I was buying it for the future. Framing it would have been a liability as it would have to be shipped back to the States when my contract ended, and there was no place to hang it in my little apartment anyway. When my mother came to visit me that spring, I sent it home with her, still rolled up in its cardboard tube, and it stayed in her attic for the next three years.

During those years, I finished out my contract in Japan, backpacked around Southeast Asia and India for a few months, came back to the States for the better part of a year to plan my wedding and get married before returning to Japan with my new husband for another ten months. Eventually we settled in Illinois and began to make a home for ourselves there. I pulled the print out of storage wondering if I would still love it as much as I had. I needn’t have worried; it was as welcoming and beautiful as ever. On our second wedding anniversary, my husband had it framed and hung it on the wall of our first apartment. For more than a decade it brought nostalgia, joy, and beauty into our home, and I never looked at it without thinking how happy I was that I’d bought it.

In the spring of 2011 we moved to the west coast. I packed up the print again, and for a year it sat in the attic of our rental house, waiting for us to find a permanent home. Four weeks ago, we bought a house and moved in. My husband pulled the print out of a box marked “Sarah's Pretty Picture,” and held it up over the mantelpiece.

“How does it look?” he asked.

It looked perfect.

We were home.


Sarah Barbour is the editor of the upcoming book, Stitching in the Stacks: Librarian-Inspired Knits. She works from home as a knitwear designer, proofreader, and child-wrangler. Every so often she remembers to blog at Please stop by and say hello!