Monday, June 19, 2006


I dreamed Friday night of waking to a light snow falling outside my second-story bedroom window. I was in the house on 21st St., and opened my eyes to see the whiteness beginning to cover the porch roof below. Everything seemed quite gray outside, except for the delicate dapplings falling into place. So it was a lovely, quiet and simple sort of dream, and I was quietly surprised to find myself there.

Someone responded to my writing about this childhood home (fourth of seven, but the one I inhabited the longest), that "From the way you describe the house and your life in it, that sounds like a subliminal desire to go back to it with a can of kerosene and a book of matches."

I had uttered a wish for clean up of residual feeling left in me that was fostered in that place. Really that's a purification of self, not of the home. I would be horrified if something happened to it - I loved the house, as much as I feared it.

A source of great pleasure to me, the house was quite beautiful, if in dire need of renovation. It was a thing my mother tried to do, even under the constraints of a ridiculously avaricious husband.

There were coffered ceilings, elaborate wood panelling in the dining rooms, parquet floors - not the chevron pattern, rather a dark wood inlay double border around the perimeter of the floors, which geometrically scrolled in the corners. There were gas fireplaces in the master bedrooms, bevelled glass book cases, window seats, an amazing china hutch in the "Boston Style" interior of the other side, which had opaque circles of rose glass, arranged to represent an ornamental cherry tree in Spring. The architect of this home was at the forefront of the movement to incorporate Arts & Crafts style into the U of O architectural school of which he was Dean, and the house bore his mark. Even the simple fact of having the porch roof under the window by my bed was a comfort. I could sometimes sit out there with my cat, and when it rained, as it often does in Portland, the gently percussive sounds calmed me like a lullaby. I don't know exactly why, but the sound of rain was safety.

In the back yard, we had an eighty-year-old Queen Anne cherry tree, tall as our three storied home. Much like Rainier's, the Queen Anne's a pale but blushing girl, and so sweet she's often used for Maraschinos. Take a lady and make a Vegas showgirl out of her. In June I nearly took residence up there in her branches, eating fruit the birds hadn't yet stolen.

We had second-story sleeping porches on the backside of the house, where I truly did live all summer. It was like camping every night, but with a tiny Sony television, and a real bed. Sometimes, when my step-brothers visited from South Pasadena, the eldest would share the porch with me. Late night, I watched the original Saturday Night Live and Benny Hill, listened to the wind and the critters, got eaten by mosquitos, and sometimes scaled down an adjacent tree to ground level, so I could illegally scamper off to the 7-11 four blocks away for candy or a pint of ice cream. Somehow I never got caught, little as I was and late as it was. But every kid likes to play the Cat Burglar now and then, even if no one knows about it.

When the other half of our duplex lay vacant, I would play in the vast rooms, imagining all sorts of histories that must have occurred there. There was a dumb waiter from the kitchen to the cellar. Both sides contained 'hidden' panels and floor boards in closets that lifted to reveal secret hiding places for valuables. I found old stamps and coins in one. There was a working six bell system on each side of the house, so servants could be summoned to the appropriate rooms. The box in the kitchen had arrows that directed you accordingly. Things like that are thrilling to an eight year old. You could pass through doors in the attic and the basement to go to the other side - which reminded me of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and of a similar dream I'd had before I'd read the book, about a red and white postbox I stepped into, and the world I found inside. So I expected something magical each time I ventured over there, and I suspect I usually got it, even if it was only something I constructed in my head.

That's the positive symptom of the immense sorrow I experienced living there. Though I seemed natively to possess a strong imagination, the conditions of my environment forced me really to develop that part of myself. If only to entertain, if only to remain sane.

But the dream of a day or two ago arrived gray and with snow. Sometimes snow is frozen feeling. Sometimes a blanket of snow is a purification.


Citizen H said...

By the way, sorry for misreading you on the previous post about that house.

kissyface said...

no, no, no, no! no apologies necessary! it's natural, your response. to be honest, i went through stages of immense anger towards the 'adults' in my life, rage even, so i can completely relate to your previous sentiment. fire purifies. unfortunately, it takes out the good things with it. too destructive. no worries, my friend.

Citizen H said...

I understood that eventually. I allowed my past to color my interpretation of your writing.

One of the houses I was raised in should be razed to the ground if not burned outright. The house I spent most of my early years in is now the property of some s#!t-kicker with an old Pontiac on jackstands, sans engine, in the side yard; the eaves have rotted out almost completely and the roof is beginning to sag where the underlying wood has rotted out.

Of course I haven't seen the place since a trip I took down memory lane, driving around to old haunts a year ago, before I left to come out here. For all I know it may not have survived Katrina (it's on the outskirts of Biloxi, Mississippi.)

I believe that if it's still in one piece, it's a cockroach haven, and worth the can of gas to get rid of that pestilence alone(The Straight Dope once stated that there are two solutions to cockroach infestations: Borax and arson.)