It sat in the back corner of the house. There were two doors, one off the kitchen, and one into the boys’ bedroom. The windows were on two sides, big and drafty. In the winter, Jack Frost made icy paintings on them. I loved it. Sometimes I would lick the ice, and watch it melt.
The wallpaper in my room was from Swinney’s hardware, my uncle John’s hardware store.
I loved that store. It had hardwood floors, front to back. There were wooden stairs to a catwalk that ran all the way around the at the second floor level. The walls up there were a checkerboard of colorful wallpaper samples. Lift the flap of paper, and the rolls of paper were stored in the cubbies behind.
My grandmother chose the wallpaper in my room. It was white, with loose bouquets of wildflowers tied with trailing blue ribbons. During the paper selection process, I was asked if didn’t I like this, or didn’t I think that was pretty. I loved looking at the samples, and leafing through the big wallpaper books. But I didn’t know what I liked. I was eight. I just wanted to make the adults in charge happy; I wanted whatever it was they wanted, because that makes everyone happy, right? Then I don’t get it wrong. That’s what you think when you’re eight.
Later, I would decide that my room looked old ladyish, I was silently disgruntled that my grandmother had picked it out … though even at ten or twelve, I didn’t know what I’d have chosen. Thinking back, I can see it was a sweet, cheery space in that stark little house. I wish I could see that paper now. I’d probably love it.
One of the things in my room was a wicker desk that had belonged to the mother of my other grandmother. My great grandmother. White wicker, with a wicker chair. That little desk has followed me all over the country, throughout my adult life. And it currently sits int eh bedroom at my house that is used by my granddaughters.
I wonder if it will some day be taken, and treasured, by my granddaughter, Gabby. There’s no way to know … but I hope so.
Meanwhile, thinking back, I love picturing that little white desk in my childhood bedroom; the wallpaper of flowers and the white dotted Swiss Priscillas. It’s where I laughed, cried, prayed, slept, and dreamed.
It was my room.
Miss Honey seemed to love everyone. Her little house was surrounded by a picket fence, and the kitchen window faced the front. Perhaps that’s why the air around Miss Honey’s always smelled like fresh bread, sugar cookies, or apple pie.
Through the window at night, and in the early morning, you could see the kitchen light burning bright. And you could hear Miss Honey singing along with her Frank Sinatra records.
When the children walked home from school, they went out of their way to pass by Miss Honey’s. There were always tasty baked treats waiting for them in the wicker basket that hung on Miss Honey’s front gate.
During the Christmas Holidays, Miss Honey hung a fresh evergreen wreath on the front door, tied with a big red bow. Colored lights were swagged along the pickets, and a candle shined in the kitchen window. The basket on the front gate filled up with decorated cookies: Santas, Christmas trees, bells, stockings, and gingerbread men.
Though everyone in town felt they knew her, people rarely saw Miss Honey. She was always calling “Heeelloooooo!” out the window or “Merry Christmaaaas!” as she swooped around the corner to the market or to church.
Miss Honey’s only child – if you could call him that – was a big orange cat named Carl. Carl was the size of a small dog, and acted like one some of the time.
When Carl wasn’t playing fetch with the school kids, he was parked on the welcome mat on Miss Honey’s front stoop. In the winter when it was snowy, Carl watched the lacy flakes come down from inside the kitchen window.
Miss Honey’s birthday was the first day of Spring. Every year, on her birthday, she baked cupcakes and used colorful frosting to create flowers on top of each one. She arranged them on a platter, and placed it on a little table underneath the basket on the gate. She watched through the kitchen window with a twinkle as the school children ooh’d, aaah’d, and tore in to the delicious treats. “Happy Birthday to me,” she whispered happily.
One year, on the night before her birthday, the school children and the townspeople all visited Miss Honey’s gate. They quietly placed hundreds of bouquets of Spring flowers in the wicker basket, and on the ground in front.
On her birthday, when Miss Honey came out with the cupcakes, she saw the flowers. She sat the tray down, swatted Carl away, and opened the card peaking up out of the wicker basket. Inside it read,
“We love you too, Miss Honey. Signed, everyone.”
My altar is secret. I don’t really even have one yet, but I’m getting ready.The things I have for it are tucked away in a box. It’s a shoebox. From Renberg’s. Christmas, 1959. My father’s slippers came in it. If I lower my nose to the box, I can still smell the leather from those slippers.
The box is in the bottom drawer with some other stuff—so that no one can tell it’s something special.
A picture of Susan Van Wyck is in there. Susan Van Wyck’s been on the cover of Seventeen magazine about twenty times. Some people tell me I look like Susan Van Wyck. But she’s so beautiful, it makes me shy to think about it; I can’t believe it. But I keep that picture to remind me.
Then there’s my scapular. I got it in first grade when I made my First Holy Communion. It’s faded and the silk straps are twisted, but it reminds me of the Holy Sacrament. I like to remember when I was seven, and believed everything they told me, without question. Sometimes I sleep with it on, because I need those feelings I had back then. Innocent. Faithful.
There’s a little rock from the time we went to Roman Nose State Park. It was the summer before first grade, and the only vacation we ever took. This stone makes me think of highways, and swimming pools, and places far away.
The four leaf clover is from my boyfriend. Rick gave it to me –or should I say he walked down the aisle at school and dropped it on my desk. That’s how I knew he was my boyfriend. We haven’t talked to each other or anything, but sometimes you just know.
The scrap of brown eyelet material is from Nanny. She taught me how to sew, starting when I was five. When I was ten, She taught me to use the treadle machine on her patio. We made doll clothes all summer that year. Nanny always said, “You can do anything you want to do. Just come up with an idea, then think backwards and you’ll know how to get there.” This piece of fabric reminds me that I can do anything.
The last thing in here is a crystal heart. Daddy gave it to me before the 8th grade dance. It’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen, and it makes my own heart squeeze when I look at it. When Daddy’s having a bad night and I can hear him through my door, I take the crystal heart out and put it under my pillow. It helps me remember who he really is.