Wednesday, November 5, 2008
What's YOUR story?!
We called it the “Playhouse.” The small saltbox shack elevated by a rotted tree stump eventually grew into a child-sized home on the firm ground built with love by the strong hands of my father and grandfather. The small roughly-sided brown house had screened windows and an antique paneled door with a large clear glass jewel-like knob that I was sure had mystical powers. Gray and green speckled shingles protected our play from the forces of Mother Nature. Our little home squatted among tall maples like a toad who sits protected under a sombrero-like mushroom cap waiting for the rain to cease. A leaning staircase led to a child-sized porch not quite big enough for a chair but certainly ample for looking out over the ground brush hoping to see a glimpse of the wildlife that lurked below. The skeleton key that granted my entry into the humble domicile wore a hole in my pocket. With a click and turn of the key the world of imagination opened before me. Two bunk beds strategically fitted with rectangular make-shift mattresses were carefully wrapped in satiny fabric that curiously matched the fire engine-esque lips of my seamstress grandmother. A lonely second hand table sat in the corner piled high with books and magazines my sister and I pretended to read. The very narrow windowsills were display shelves for the myriad of crafts that ensued in this mini mansion. Dried and crumbling play-doh creatures and pressed flower shapes cut with cookie cutters lined the cross beams between the exposed wooden studs of the walls. As night fell and we met by lantern light at the crooked table for a snack, my sister and I acted unaware of the wildlife that was surely watching us through our curtainless windows. The dim light shone on our feast of stale Girl Scout cookies and warm milk. A continuous cutting draft whistled its way through the gaps between our picture windows. Our teeth chattered between bites as the milk washed down the sweet flavor of chocolate and peanut butter. Our intension was to stay all night. We said our ‘good nights’ and climbed into our not-so-comfortable beds trying to stay warm beneath the thin red sheets. I lay so still that I could hear my pulse. The rhythmic thumping in my ears would have lulled me to sleep had I not heard a curious sound. Between gusts of wind and flailing branches, the sound of leaves crunching beneath weighted feet made my heart skip a beat. The hairs on my neck stood at attention as I watched for the mystical knob to turn. One, two, three steps up the creaky stairs. I couldn’t bear to see who or what would enter. I threw my head over the side of the rickety top bunk and let my eyes adjust to the dark only to see the whites of my little sister’s eyes glowing like two small bird’s eggs in a nest of tussled auburn hair. A moment later the knob turned and the rusty hinges creaked as the shadow of a fluffy beast stretched across the floor. Our tiny-framed mother put down the fur-lined hood of her parka and offered us more blankets. We jumped from our bunks and raced with her back to the comfort of our real beds in our real house. Now, almost 30 years later I still remember the damp smell of this “home away from home.” I can close my eyes and feel the rough hewn siding and hear every branch scrape the carefully shingled roof. I have told its story over and over to my wide-eyed sleepy ones as I remember being enthralled by the stories my parents told me about their childhood. I am certain that our minds call us to relive specific memories over and over as a means to spur us on to tell a story. Once again, I am reminded of the “front porch” as being the stage for such yarns. A warm, comforting place to listen as friends and family tell the stories what built a legacy. Fragments of childhood that may seem as insignificant as a play house in the woods beg to be brought to life through spoken word. What stories are you holding back? Who is waiting to hear them?