first published 6/30/09
Houses with steps are lots more fun than houses without steps. This was pointed out to me by the Big Cuter as we were moving from a multi-level home where his window opened out onto one of the rooftops. How, exactly, did I propose to provide him with a similar opportunity in our new digs? Granted, the chance to scare your parents half to death while you know you are perfectly safe is one of the true pleasures of childhood. Still, I can't say I was all that sad to remove the temptation.
Houses with steps can have closets hidden underneath the staircases. Not front-hall closets or linen closets or clothes closets, but closets that hold treasures. Nannie and Grandpaw's was stuffed with carefully folded wrapping paper from celebrations held before the Cuters were born. But in and around those stacks of paper were board games we'd never seen before in boxes which had been repaired with glue and tape and string by Nannie's mother. There was a bag of marbles. The pick-up stix were made of polished wood and had a lovely heft within their slenderness. The smell of the musty toys and the wooden shelves was an instant smile.
Sometimes, houses with steps have attics and basements, too. Those staircases are often steeper and narrower than the others in the house. The stairwell is tighter, and there is always a railing. You might have to be careful walking up or down; these steps seem to accumulate things that need to be put away or brought up/downstairs. Laundry's tossed down the basement steps in a way nothing else is tossed anywhere else in the house. The attic might not have a full floor, and you'd have to be aware of where your feet were going or you'd end up like G'ma's friend, who, in 1960-something, took a misstep in the attic and fell through the insulation into the garage and onto the roof of her Cadillac. (It's ok to laugh - she was fine.)
A "finished basement" was a really big deal when I was growing up. One Sunday, while G'ma was out of the house, Daddooooo led a kids' painting party so that we could have one too. G'ma returned to a pastiche of colors. I learned about wainscoting that afternoon; that was Daddoooo's description of the fact that some of the painters couldn't reach higher than 2' from the floor. She tried, but she couldn't be very mad for very long. It was the basement, after all.
The attic held mysteries beyond comprehension. Portraits of scary old people in dusty oval frames leaned against army cots and old ice skates. There were stacks of Playbill 's and 78rpm vinyl records and clothes I'd seen in pictures of G'ma and Daddooooo but never in real life. The attic was a window into the past. And soon my past was ensconced there, too. A trunk held my costumes . The can can girl with the real ostrich feather, Robin Hood's green shirt and hat, my toga - they were all there, wrapped neatly but not so perfectly that we couldn't open them up and put them on. Or just look at them and remember.
I once asked an LA born and educated friend living in Marin what she did with the artifacts from her past. She showed me the shoebox which contained all her treasures. All of them. In one shoebox. OK, it was a pretty big shoebox, but it was still a shoebox. This, I learned, is what comes of living without attics and basements. You save nothing.
I'm glad I had both.
And I miss them.