"We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike." ~Maya Angelou

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Wall

When I was in Middle School (we called it Jr. High then) my parents added a back room with an upstairs to our house.  There is a large, open living space (they were dens in the sixties) with lots of windows, a beautiful fire place, book shelves, and a Murphy Bed semi hidden behind a curving staircase leading to the second floor bedroom.

The upstairs bedroom was 'the boys' room' when I was living there and is now is a guest room.  It still boasts a huge, fantastical fire breathing dragon painted in vivid neon colors stretching all the way across the south wall above the windows. (It shines under black light. Wonderful stuff. ) You can just see two of the dragon's back claws at the edge of this picture.
     There is also an entire church, complete with steeple, made out of flat toothpicks, several lovely flower arrangments, sea shells from a beach in Mexico, a rotary phone which the kids do not know how to dial, my mother's cedar chest with all its many treasures and memories, including the great-coat my father wore in China during WWII and a wool blanket her grandmother wove on a loom in Missouri, before they moved to the Panhandle.
      In the opposite corner there is a tiny, metal toy kitchen and refrigerator with dishes and cups, and a doll sized cradle full of bears and dinosaurs.

There is also a fold-up portable playpen (they call them pack-n-plays now) which my siblings and I used when we were playpen size,
and my great grandfather's large wooden rocking chair with a woven cane seat and back and large flat arm rests.  I remember playing chinese checkers with my grandma while she sat in that chair and we balanced the board across our knees.
     All of those things are wonderful, along with the fact that you can go outside through a sliding glass door and stand on a little balcony at roof top level and see out across the neighborhood, unseen by others because of the sheltering leaves of a  looming American Elm. 
     The thing that is challenging about the addition is the fact that the staircase has no railing on the outside edge. The careless foot could quite easily step right off into space if you were to walk down the outside edge....which we never do. Ever. Years of training have drummed the possibility of such a reckless action right out of our heads. 
     There is a long standing tradition of teaching the children to walk close to the wall all the way up to the top. I can hear my mother's voice saying, "Hand on the wall. Keep your hand on the wall," as she taught all fourteen of her grand children how to make the miraculous ascent without toppling over the edge into a broken neck. Now we are teaching our grand children the same thing and last week-end it was Maggie's turn to learn. Here she is, scooting down the stairs on her little bottom with both hands on the wall. She is an over achiever I guess because one hand is really all that is required.

    The daring part comes when you reach the final curve near the bottom, when the stairs curve away from wall and you have to go down the last eight or nine steps with no wall and no railing.  (You could, theoretically fall off either side at this point.) You can see in the picture that Brendan is almost there. 
     That little nook where the steps curve away from the wall is where the encyclopedia live.  The finish on the wood floor is worn thin right there because at our house, when we were growing up, most questions were met with the famous phrase "look it up".  It is possible that by having put this into print I have moved the custom of learning to climb up and down the staircase safely out of the realm of tradition. Why is that? What exactly is a tradition?  Look it up.

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