Friday, February 08, 2008

Oh the Places You'll Go - Home

I never know what I'm doing with this here blog (readership of 0-1 depending on the month), but I like that it's a place I can go when I want to write. This semester is pretty light in terms of workload, and it's fun to dip into other diversions. So, to get myself writing a bit more, I'm instituting "Oh the Places You'll Go Fridays". Inspired by something my uncle recently wrote about the places he's lived, loved, or hated that I really enjoyed, each Friday I am going to write about a geographic place that has particular significance for me.

Like my uncle, I respond to places. My memories and feelings about particular people and stages in my life are inextricably intertwined with particular places and vice versa. Because this is the first post in what I hope will become a weekly series, it only makes sense to start at the beginning.

When I was just a few months shy of one year old, my parents moved from Massachusetts to Maine. There are pictures of me in the house in Maine on my first birthday, wearing a green velvet dress, suspended by someone's steady hands, my legs dangling just above the brown wall-to-wall carpeting the family room. The house is unremarkable. A grey-shingled colonial built in the 50's with dark green shutters, white trim, and an attached two car garage, it matches the dozens of others like it in the neighborhood.

Built on a hill, a large white retaining wall keeps the front lawn from spilling into the driveway. Ugly though it may be, this served as a backdrop for pictures of me with friends lined up with our bikes, a great tennis or soccer backstop, the half-court mark for pick-up basketball games, and an impromtu balance beam with the convenient safety feature of an entire lawn on one side.

When I was younger, the stairway up from the garage had a trap door-like feature that opened from the stairway into the pantry in the kitchen. By going up just a few steps, a grown-up could shove bags of groceries through the door into the pantry, thereby limiting the number of trips up and down the stairs to unload the car. Of course, instead of groceries, I like to transport myself through the door. I would hoist myself up on the dark wood banister, push up on the bottom of the door's opening and voila -- I was in a den of granola bars, spaghetti sauce, and dried beans. It was particularly fun when a friend was over, and one of us could be in the pantry while the other squeezed herself through the secret door.

The house provided entertainment in other wasys as well. The green Jotul woodstove had animals in bas-relief on either side about whom I would sometimes craft stories in my head. Other times (when the woodstove wasn't being used) I enjoyed tracing a finger around their smooth, glazed contours. The wallpaper of the upstairs bathroom provided similar diversion and was perhaps my first history lesson. Going to the bathroom meant staring at brown, gold and white images of Paul Revere, and other colonial figures and objects set in a toile-like pattern.

For a while, I was in the habit of waiving goodbye to the house every time we left. I had an irrational fear that it might burn down while we were at story time at the library, getting groceries, or visiting a friend. Luckily, the most violence that has ever been done to the house was a break-in (though I'm not sure that you could even call it that seeing that the doors were unlocked). Nevertheless, I still sigh with relief each time I turn into the driveway for a visit home and see it standing, stalwart as ever.

My parents have made a lot of improvements -- gone is the brown wall-to-wall and the trap door -- but I still know that house better than any other place in the world. And odd though it may be, I don't think it's an overstatement to say that having this constant familiarity has provided me with a great degree of psychological comfort.


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