In 1976, I was 10 years old. Like so many children that year, I wanted a bedroom decorated in red, white & blue. I can still remember the narrow space between the far side of my twin bed and the wall, a space wide enough for my pillows and lean, boy-like body. I would lie there and read. I remember the floor was uncarpeted terrazzo and usually cold on the backs of my legs. It was the year I read the Hobbit, a book I actually disliked. It was the year of Bicentennial quarters and $2 bills. I had a room of my own and I had all my little secret places.
I am reading Gaston Bachelard’s book The Poetics of Space. It has me thinking of all the places I have called home. The houses that gave me space to daydream. These houses are more than the house in which I was raised. I left for college from the only house I had ever known. It is a house, that in my memory felt larger than in reality. It was a simple 1960’s cinder block 4 bedroom 2 bath house in unincorporated Dade county. It had a Bright Coat, sparkling pebble roof and no air conditioning. My parents had an air-conditioner in their bedroom. I remember when the central air was installed along with wall-to-wall carpet. Within the walls of that house and in the neighbor’s houses and in the yards and the public park across the street, I had a childhood full of rambling and discovery. “Home” extended to the homes of my relatives in Mobile, Alabama, too. On rainy days, we were handed the broom, the bag of clothes pins and all the sheets and blankets from the linen closet. The living room would become an enormous tent, befitting Omar the Sheik. On sunny days, we got shooed outside with a rope and a bucket and anything else we could carry to make a pulley and heavy everything into the canopy across the street from my house. We climbed trees and made war and were free. So much of that freedom was protected by that simplest of houses. And there was a block of houses, from one end of the block to the other we were: The Capettas, Mr. Wayne, The Nelsons, my family, The Dorrises, The Caseys, The Croghans, The Robsons, the Welshes and the Simpsons. Behind us were the Limpickys and the Tatmans. All with kids and there were a ba-jillion kids in this neighborhood. There was no way to be bored or lack trouble to get into. It was a wonderful place from which to step out into this world.
We are fixated with the house. The house is shelter and protection. It changes a storm from something that can wash us away to something that can be relished and enjoyed. To sit within a home, we have the luxury of intimacy. So much of our intimate lifespan is afforded by the house. Sitting on the side of my mother’s bed as she curled my hair with the only curling iron in the house; sitting at my father’s work bench in the garage, with the police scanner squawking on the dryer while I made big shiny blobs with the soldering iron; hiding kitchen matches in a glass One-A-Day vitamin bottle in the crook of the guava tree that I later used to set the melaluca tree trunks on fire; sitting at the kitchen counter as my mom fed me American cheese on crustless white bread before going to the afternoon session of kindergarten…..I roll through the images and the sounds. The houses all have sounds, too. The clunking of the ironing board that hung on the inside of the hall closet door, the sound of the dirty clothes hamper lid when lifted, the sound of rain on the green corrugated roof of the back patio, the sound of the crank on the bedroom windows….vivid memories, also. I can still smell the dank, earthen scent along the slate path behind my Granny’s carport where I sat and captured Rolly Pollies. To this day, I have fond, happy memories triggered by the smell of paper mills. Paper mill factories remind me of Granny’s and Meemaw’s….creek swimming and Poppa and Mucca’s big antebellum house; the Yacht Club and 50 gallon barrels filled with live, fresh caught shrimp.
Long into adulthood, we still need spaces for daydreaming. The spaces that offer shelter and protection and that harken to those original spaces that set us boldly into the world. To have a house with spaces that encourage the dreamer is paramount to living a rich life. Now I watch my children dream. I watch the building of Lego and Bionicle creations. I watch them attend to their own rooms, each in their own ways. One is neat and one is not. Both are dreamers: creative and adventurous. And we step forth from our safe haven with heads full of visions and hopefulness. To dream of a house while in a house and then build a house that will house your dreamers and all their future dreams is the greatest dream I have. My mind doodles and floats off to those dreams.