Anyway, this is the dining room. That table and chairs has been there as long as I can remember. I don’t know how we’re getting them out of here. When I was little, I’d sneak out of my room at night. Walking creaked too many boards. So I’d crawl all the way down the hall, through the living room and into the dining room, in among the chair legs and get just the right angle. From inside that forest of chair legs, I could look into the family room and watch Hawaii 5-0 or the Rockford Files when I was supposed to be in bed.
This is the room where I sat on the table, legs hanging over the edge with my arms around my mom and my cheek on her chest. She stood with her arms around my neck and her chin on my head. I told her I wished she and my dad wouldn’t be getting divorced, that I wished they’d tell me it was just a joke, and for Christmas we’d all get back together. We both cried here in this dining room, with the kid pictures on the wall behind us.
But this dining room was also host to some of the best home cooking and festivity you can imagine, sprinkled with the kind of witty repartee that made one ex-in-law curl up in the fetal position. The potatoes and gravy, wild rice and hot rolls made their way around the table along with the crown roast of pork or the turkey or ham. My family all seemed to talk at once. It was no illusion. We were indeed, all talking at once. We could follow it, and the strong newcomers grew to appreciate it even if some never got the hang of it. It’s the perfect set-up, with the kitchen right next to the dining room, but when you cook all day, remember the thermostat is on a shared wall, backed up against the double oven in the kitchen.
The back pantry closet. It’s a great place for canned goods, although we had very few in there when I was growing up. Canned tomatoes maybe and some olives. And for a while my mom and gramma did pickles and stacked them in here. Most of the time the shelves were filled with cookbooks. Through my childhood and my mom’s life, it always had a 25lb bag of flour going, with the sifter in the bag and the bag in a bucket. That and potatoes and onions. There still might be a dusting of flour on the shelves.
This here; it’s a bread drawer. It probably won’t get the kind of use it used to get. We were so embarrassed as kids to bring our uneven slices of homemade bread for lunches. But my whole childhood, we ate homemade bread. The lunch ladies would ooh and ahh, but we were totally ungrateful. The thing is, sometimes the bread got weird. Every once in a while our leftover cereal and milk made it into a loaf of bread. Which is one thing when you had Raisin Bran and quite another when you had Froot loops.
Notice how you can see right into the family room from the kitchen, even while you’re at the stove? More than once I stirred gravy at this stove while my mom and sisters used spoons and brushes as microphones in the family room, singing along with Elvis, the Righteous Brothers, Donna Summer or the Bee Gees.
This family room, my grandpa added it to the house later, it’s not original. That’s why that baseboard heater is there. A couple of us had grid-shaped burn marks from trying to get dressed nest to that beast. Eventually it stopped working, and the forced air was added. Then we got dressed by the floor vents on either side of the room. With our blankets or flannel shirts tented up over us to catch the warm air, we fought over whose turn it was. There were four of us and only the two vents.
And fires in the Franklin Stove. You have to have fires once in a while. To come home to the smoke from the chimney, and walk in the back door to a crackly fire. It’s the homiest feeling. The times that I came home to my mom sitting in here with a fire going, her dinner on her lap and a crossword in her hand, I knew things were right with the world on those days. The rest of the house was dark, but a lamp and a fire, that’s all you need.
Back through the kitchen. It doesn’t matter anymore, that the only phone jack was in the kitchen for a long time. But we used to stretch that cord around this corner, down the hall and into the bathroom or to the basement stairs for privacy.
It’s a full bath, nothing fancy, but it served its functions. It wasn’t just a bathroom, remember, it was a phone booth, and sometimes, it was the only room with a lock. When I would cause my brother would lose his mind he sometimes chased me with a knife or a bat. If I couldn’t get him out of the house, I’d lock myself in the bathroom. A butter knife would open the door, but it was easy enough with the tile floor, to hold it shut with a bare foot.
Later, when I was a teenager, sometimes I’d be terrified to open the door after a shower. I might sit in the bathroom in a towel for a half an hour trying to convince myself there wasn’t someone out there waiting for me. And I never ever thought of my brother. Just about “the guy with the knife”. Only if the house was empty, which wasn’t all that often. And eventually, I’d brandish a hairbrush or curling iron and open the door and make the mad dash to my room. This is more than you needed to know, I guess.
The two main floor bedrooms are just 6 feet down this hall, here. It wasn’t much of a dash, really. The room on the right was my room when I was teenager. Once, I had to move in with my sister, upstairs, and my mom re-decorated my room. It was a birthday present. She had gotten the satin stuffed balloons with ribbon strings and mounted them on the wall. She decorated all the lamp and window shades with butterfly stickers and put a big cork-board on the back of the door. It was like a real teenager room, and it was awesome. Before we moved in, it had been my uncle’s bedroom I think, decorated in blue denim and red kerchief paisley.
We used to say this room was haunted. I don’t know why, except that it’s above the old well and the water meter. Sometimes something below the room causes the walls to hum for 10 minutes at a time. No real sightings or anything scary, don’t worry. The scariest thing that ever happened here was the time I walked in my sleep and woke up in that closet. Couldn’t figure out where I was and why there were walls on every side of me…
I used to sneak out that window right there at night and run around with my best friend Mary, or neck on the cement well block on the side of the house with my boyfriend. Once, after Mary and I snuck out, we came back to find the window locked. My mom was waiting inside the back door. Boy were we in trouble. I take back what I said about walking in my sleep. Finding that window closed, THAT was the scariest thing that happened here.
This was my bedroom, where I sat on my bed when I was 18 and told my mom I was pregnant, sure she’d lose her mind. She took a deep breath and said, “what do you want to do? I’ll help you.” Later in the week, I talked to my dad, in this room, on the phone we eventually had installed in here. He said the same kinds of things, and they both meant it. I stayed here until August, Zachy was born in September.
One more thing about this room. If you sit just inside the door and look out at the basement door in the hallway, you can see the form of the Virgin Mary. If the ghost starts to bother you, open the basement door so she’s looking in here, I can’t promise anything, but it should set things right.
When I was littler, the room on the left was mine. At some point my grandmother insisted on buying carpet for that room. It was bright grass-green. The walls were painted two shades of green. Lighter on top and darker on the bottom, and the trim was white. The floor length drapes had green tree silhouettes going from the floor to the tops of the windows. It was something else. I used to sit in this room and do experiments that involved melting lip gloss on top of a light bulb.
This is also the room I was in when I got my first radio. I used to fall asleep with that radio under my pillow and listen to Casey Casem’s top 40 count down. It was like falling into another world. I’d have that radio under my pillow, my light was off, but most nights the bathroom light was left on. On nights when your kids feel scared, you can leave the hall light on, but a little warning to you, the hall light is definitely bright enough to read by, into the wee hours.
Just outside this room is the laundry chute. A laundry chute that has seen more than its share of duty, both official business and some acts of malfeasance. I’m not naming names, but a few times, cats were dropped down, through this little door into the basket in the basement. Their claws sczzzzing down the sides before they plumped into the clothes pile. They make less noise in a pillow case or sleeping bag, but what fun is that?