At the end of a narrow hall, on the right just past the bathroom, behind a brown door with a metal knob was Jenny's room. When you opened this door in the Seventies, you would see pink walls, red carpet and a white canopy bed decked out in pink and white gingham ruffles. There were two windows, one facing the east, one facing the north. This room had a small closet with a hinged door, so that it folded out when opened. Inside the closet hung a row of dresses handmade by my mom and pressed with care. On the closet floor there were three pairs of shoes: a sturdy and practical pair made of brown leather with flat laces, my favorite black and white saddle shoes and one white pair of dress shoes from Easter Sunday. In winter, I just wore boots which we stored in the basement.
In this pink room, before it was moved to my play area in the basement, there was a child sized table and chairs that had belonged to my mother. It was made of a beautiful golden colored maple, with corners that had been angled and shaped into a hexagon so that tiny children would not walk into a sharp corner. On this table, my mother and I would host tea parties with a set of small blue and white china dishes that she saved from her childhood. There was a little tea pot, a creamer and sugar, beautiful tea cups with saucers and plates. My mom would make real tea for the pot and fill the sugar bowl with real sugar. Sometimes my brothers would have tea with us, and then it was like a little holiday feast. We took nibbles of Saltine crackers and sipped the tea, which none of us really liked, even with sugar. But having something real to play with made this imaginary game a sensory experience which stayed with us. It felt special and important to be trusted with my mother's miniature china set. With those dishes, I learned the meaning of fragile and how to be extra careful with something valuable. A crushing memory of my teen years shows me slamming my bedroom door so hard in my mother's face that some of the peices of her little china set flew off their perch on the corner shelf in my room and were broken.
Before I was an angry, sullen and independent youth, I kept my dolls and a few stuffed animals in my room. I had a large stuffed turtle with yellow legs and a big floppy head. He had a red and white shell that was big enough to "ride." I had a Raggedy Ann doll with a music box buried in her chest that played Brahms Lulaby. I wound the little metal loop on her back to start the ticking clicks and tinny notes that sounded as if they were being played far away and in some mysterious and faded past.
There was a framed prayer hanging over my bed, the classic "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep," crosstiched in pastel threads with outlines of a butterfly and a child resting on her knees, palms together, head bowed in pious reverence. There was so much to pray for, even as a young child. I once cried myself to sleep over the sad story of how my friend came to own her Raggedy Ann. The story was that while driving home in the rain one night, they saw something laying on the side of the road. When they pulled the car over, there lay this red headed rag doll, with dirt on her face and her dress torn. They picked it up and brought her home with them. I remember crying over the thought that this doll had endured such a trauma. As I grew, my prayers took on more desperation as I began to learn about the world. Once while reading my mother's Bible called "THE WAY" I read a story (inserted among the scripture passage) about a family in Ethiopia who were starving. The story included photographs of a child with a distended stomach and no clothing. I remember praying for people who really had nothing, feeling guilty and ashamed that I had so much comfort.
As I grew, the little table and chairs were replaced by a sturdy student desk which my father made down in his dirt-room workshop. It was heavy and made with a hinged top that I had to be careful not to drop on my head whenever I was cleaning out the old papers and coloring books inside. One winter day, after I had been sick, my mother cleaned out the desk and discovered a long row of little pink chewable tablets that she had been giving me to help with my fever. Instead of standing over me while I ate my plain toast and drank my disgusting glass of bubbly Vernor's (ginger ale), she trusted that I would naturally want to feel better, and expected that I would obediently take my medicine. Being stubborn and sneaky and not wanting to taste that powdery little pill, I hid the tablets in the farthest back corner of my desk, behind papers, crayon peels and pencil shavings.
Being the only girl in our family meant that I didn't have to share a room. Once my parents decided to move Roger in with me while the room he shared with Ken was being repainted. I remember how exciting it was to have a roommate. We jumped from bed to bed and kept eachother up late talking about silly things. At the end of the week, Roger moved back into their freshly painted room, and I was alone. For the first time, my bedroom felt like a lonely place.
Maybe that was what happened as I became a teen. The little pink room with the sunshine streaming in through that eastern window just became lonely. I had a need to be out and to grow up, to make my way in the world with new people. It was natural that one day I would leave. It was natural that one day I would know what it felt like to be the one to have an empty room at the end of the hall, just wating for a daughter's return.