A Room in Full Color

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Lainie picked up a large striated rock and lugged it back to our car.  This would be the memento of our pilgrimage to Dobbs Ferry and now is a door stop in my home.  Andy, Lainie and I went on a journey to our earliest home we shared. They remembered it vividly and I, not at all.  I was one or two when we left that idyllic place that never became my home but remained always my place of birth.

For a brief time, I lived within an hour of that house.  It must have been at my instigation. When we arrived, my older siblings leaped out of the car in anticipation. Recollections stumbled out of their mouths. Neighborhood kids, a bike, our car, the schools they attended. I was quiet and took it all in.

The grand old fake Tudor stood in the acute angle of South Lawn Ave. and River Street. The garage was under the house and the driveway opened on River Street. But the change of grade was so great that the front door on South Lawn was way down an entire flight of stone steps.  The house was poised between two streets at two very different altitudes. We walked around the property and lingered at the meeting of the two streets where we could look through the trees into the garden area.  I recognized a doorway—not from actual memory but from photographs taken. There I re-imagined my father holding me in his arms. Who took the picture? In the garden, another photo came to life. I sat in Janet Artel’s lap under that tree.

When we had seen all that we could see and stood looking down at the front door and almost straight into the second story windows, one of us asked, “Should we ring the bell?”  “Yes,” the others answered quickly and down the steps we went. Andy rang the bell. A high-pitched older woman’s voice called out, “Hello, who’s there?”

We three looked at each other bewildered.  What to say? I took charge and used my full name knowing that if this woman knew the former owners of her house, she might remember my last name.  My sibling have a different father and therefore different last names. It worked. “Just a minute,” came the friendly answer.

The front door opened and there stood the current resident of our home.  We blurted out the purpose of our expedition. She was amused and graciously invited us in.  As we walked around each room, anecdotes spilled forward from Andy’s memory. We ended up in the living room, sitting and talking like grownups.  But my brother was eager to be 12 again and my sister was a well-behaved 5 year old. I, the baby, was still and focusing on details. All my first-year-of-life photos were taken in this room and now, I could finally place them… the very wide window sill where my mother’s hands held me as I looked out the window, the built-in bookcases where my sister was posed with her new doll—a reward for losing her place as youngest, the metal garden door with many panes of glass as the background for my father’s stance. There was my past; or at least two-three pages of my oldest photo album.

The woman’s chipper voice suddenly asked, “Do you want to see upstairs?”  We all said yes, at once and a bit too loudly, and jumped to our feet. Again, it was my siblings who led the way. I felt more like a tourist in my own story. They could actually remember things. We followed our talkative guide up the staircase.  My brother first, then me and then my sister. As we passed a doorway on the landing to the right, my brother, announced over his shoulder to me, “That was your room.”  I stood transfixed. My sister pushed past me and added, “Your crib was here” pointing to a cabinet door. I looked at her and said, “Here?” But she was gone. Andy and Lainie were rushing to their childhood bedrooms.  I was left to stare and ponder. What was this strange little room—my room?

I took it in very slowly.  I opened the cabinet door. It was a linen closet.  There was another door on the back wall. This was a linen closet with two doors.  A dormer window was in the center of the longest wall. Opposite the closet and my crib, I instantly recognized the tall very narrow door of an old-fashioned built-in ironing board. I was standing in the ironing room of this grand old house.

As I took in the shades of warm light glancing off the various angles of the dormer, the shadows of the window muntons tracing along the wall, I could hear the soothing, repetitive sounds of ironing…the steam escaping as it hit the cloth…the utter peacefulness, as I fell off to sleep.  Not now—then.

I had a camera, but forgot to take a picture.  But my memory holds that room intensely. When I got home, I drew it in full color– that was not really there.  It was the coloring of my child’s memory—of meeting the world and life in my first environment. It was the only time I lived with both my parents.  My own Garden of Eden. It deserves magically bright colors.

But when I tell the story of that visit, what I entertain people with is my discovery of why I have always loved ironing. Mysteriously—but no longer—it has always been my meditative activity of choice.  The garden of Eden is closed to us but the effects endure