Weekly Writing Challenge: Collecting Detail
The year is somewhere in the early 1950’s because I am not yet six. Six is the magical age I will be when we move my grandparents off their farm to live in a brand new place with us. So the details of grandmas house should be nothing but foggy distant childhood memories by now, but they’re not. They’re as vivid to me today as the view from my own kitchen window is from yesterday. I close my eyes and the pictures come alive.
Grandmas kitchen is a fascinating place with doors to somewhere else all around the room. There’s the door I just popped through from the white pillared porch, too big and heavy to pull shut all by myself. Off to the right is the door to the woodshed. I never open that door and I make sure I hurry to somewhere else when grandpa goes to fetch wood for the black wood stove so grandma can cook things and bang her pots and pans around while she waits for the fire to be just right. Beyond that door is a dark and scary place full of damp wood smells and cold still air. And maybe dogs and wild scratching cats. I don’t want to find out what’s in there.
The door to the cellar is also closed against the darkness. I am not allowed to open that one. Grandma is sure if I do I will tumble down the stairs. I am also not permitted to go through the door beside the giant radio that’s as big as me. The radio is playing and grandpa is sitting beside it halfway across this doorway like a guard, bent over with his ear up against the soft cloth part where the voices come through. He has to do this to hear it, because grandma doesn’t like it to be too loud, although she never stops talking and banging things around to drown it out, no matter how far grandpa turns up the knob. The door behind grandpa leads to the hallway and then there’s another door to the front room. Only special company can go in to the front room. Not children. Children are to be seen and not heard, as grandma is very fond of saying over and over again so you’re not likely to ever forget it.
But I know another way to get in there. I know how to be a child who is not heard and not seen either. There is an open doorway next to the woodshed door which goes into the utility/store-room, and from there another closed door that leads to the indoor plumbing. This is what grandma calls the new bathroom. Kids are definitely encouraged to use the bathroom whenever they want and they don’t even have to ask. I quietly slip in there and click the door closed behind me. There is an enormous white tub beside a tiny white sink, and off in the corner like an afterthought, the shiny new toilet, snug up between the wall and three stair steps leading up to yet another door. This is the one I sneak through and close silently so that I am standing on the landing, where a left turn leads to the upstairs.
I never go all the way up these stairs (there is no one up there to save me from whatever frightening things the second story harbors), but I like to go halfway. I am small enough to fit my head and one arm and shoulder through the spindle railing under the shiny brown banister at just the right spot. There on a flat-topped bureau below me sits a beautiful yellow-green cut glass pedestal bowl filled with luscious wax fruit. There is a golden apple with a rosy red blush on one fat round side, looking good enough to eat, although it’s not. I tried to bite into it once and was unpleasantly surprised and sorely disappointed. The marks from my teeth are still there to remind me of the experience. There is also a cluster of blue-violet grapes, a bumpy tangerine orange and a creamy golden banana. I like to look at them and touch them, pulling my fingertips across their sticky waxy skins.
Now, instead of retracing my steps and returning to the bathroom, I tiptoe down the three stairs that lead in the opposite direction from the landing and into the hallway. Slowly, silently I creep towards the front room door and at the last minute, scoot across behind grandpa, inside and around the corner where I stop and hold my breath until I’m sure no one has seen me.
Grandmas front room has the most incredibly beautiful windows I have ever seen in my short little life. They are tall and clear in the middle and they let the sunshine come streaming through to light up big bright patches on the hardwood floor. On either side of each window are small rectangular panes of pebbled coloured glass. Sky blue, sunshine yellow, and best of all, brilliant red. I press my nose up to my favourite red one (it’s my favourite because it’s the only one I can reach by balancing on the arm of the big stuffed chair) and gaze out at a crazy red world. The leaves on the trees are red; the sky, the grass, the fence and every one of grandmas flowers – everything. Magically, unbelievably red, red, red. I want the glass to swallow me up into this delicious red bubble where I can be as red as a riding hood, as red as a real apple, crunchy and sweet, as red as my red flyer wagon, spinning down a slippery red slope into a land where red never stops.
Oh oh. I hear grandma wondering in a very loud voice where I’ve gotten myself off to. I hear her go clumping away and barging through the bathroom door. In a flash I hop down off the chair, run back out into the hallway and through the forbidden door where I put my flushed cheek up against grandpa’s arm and clutch hold of his overall pant leg. He doesn’t even look up. There you are, grandma exclaims as she marches back into the kitchen. I didn’t see you. Were you right there all along? She was, grandpa chuckles. Right here beside me. Quiet as a mouse, just like always.
The big radio is a wonder, the wax fruit, the many doors and the beautiful stained glass windows – I love them all. But perhaps the best thing in this house full of doors is having a grandpa who’s as good as I am at keeping sneaky secrets.