The hall window in the house where I grew up is at the top of the stairs, immediately upon reaching the thirteenth step, and to your right. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and it occurs to me that after some thirty years, it could be permanently closed. Stuck in the “lock” position or even painted shut.
But the mind, the memory, provides the opening.
It is the summer of 1974, and I’ll be eleven in October, but for now it is hot enough to suck sweat beads from the nape of your neck before you reach the last step. Ours is an old clapboard farmhouse with no air conditioning, low upstairs ceilings and plain board floors warm beneath bare feet.
The roof is our haven.
On a clear August night, my siblings and I are camped there by ten o’clock , eschewing beds for the damp evening air. You can straddle the peak of that roof and ride the prairie like Captain Hook in the crow’s nest, with the darkness spread above and below. Yard lights, far away and isolated, glitter like scattered moon beads and the stars are a glory, but otherwise the blackness is complete, thick and heavy.
We spread blankets on the porch roof and lie down to inhale the bouquet of ripe field corn and wet earth. Farm kids – our noses fail to register the stink of hog manure, gleaning only the riches from the night. My sisters discuss boys and a future shrouded in the mists of unreality while the transistor radio murmurs assurance that the lion sleeps tonight. My older brother can sing like that, but it is rare that he does, and the little brothers are pests that we chase from our domain until we tire and they prevail. Watergate has scandalized our nation and America ’s youth are bleeding in Vietnam , but the distance to that place is mind-boggling; we are insular, contented in our isolation. And I, the happy middle child - frosting in the Oreo - lay back and watch the stars. Sometimes, if you look long enough, they suck you out of yourself until you are floating, impossibly small and insignificant, among them.
There was a tranquility in that moment that I haven’t touched since.
We were closer to God on the porch roof, but we wouldn’t know that until we climbed down and grew up.
I don’t remember the last time I was there. In the way of so many life events, the date passed unmarked, and I found myself with a job, a mortgage, children. It was always my intent to show them our spot, but they had places of their own – creek, sidewalk, front porch swing – and on the rooftop they may have seen only faded and peeling shingles, the magic dried up like dew before the sun.
In the end, it seemed that time belonged to only to those of us who had been there, shared and understood – a link best left to siblings alone.
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