From a writing presentation by Karen Bristow, “A Slice of SAWP” July 3, 2007
I was ten that summer. I didn’t really understand why we had to move, nor did I understand why my mother was so angry. I remember going with her to look for places to live. Nothing that we found, even though some were very nice, suited my father and he made the final decision.
We moved from a big, roomy, white house with seven rooms to a small cramped house that had neither hot water nor a bathroom. Now that I think about it, the “new” house did have six rooms, but when it comes to houses where seven people would live, size matters. There were only five of us children left to make the move, as my oldest brother and sister had long before made their own way. Then before we moved one of my brothers enlisted in the Navy and one of my sisters got a college scholarship and only later came to live with us for a short time.
The bedroom my sisters and I shared in the white house was big enough for two double beds and plenty of additional space for a dresser and bureau, and even a vanity we had fashioned from two orange crates with a board bridging it to make a knee-hole. My sister made a curtain-like gingham skirt to cover the front. We thought we were pretty clever. My brothers shared an even larger room, with their two double beds on one end with additional space that could have held two more double beds if they had been needed.
In our “new” house, my brothers’ bedroom was almost the same size as one double bed. If it weren’t for the chimney that passed through the corner of the room, there wouldn’t have been room for the dresser. Even so, you couldn’t open the two bottom drawers because the bed was in the way. Changing the sheets was an exercise in crawling on the sheets even as you pulled them into place—there were no fitted sheets in those days, either.
Our bedroom was large enough for two double beds placed end to end with a short open space between them. There was also room for our dresser and bureau. The only closet in the house was a small, dark space under the narrow, curving stairway that led to the upper floor. My parents had to put their dresser out on the landing, and my mother jerry-rigged closet space by hanging a wooden bar across one end of her bedroom. Beneath the hanging clothes and coats were all of the boxes of stuff that a family needs or accumulates: extra sheets and blankets, Christmas decorations, picture albums, and whatever my mother could not part with, even if there was no room for it in this house. The twin beds, which consumed most of the remaining space, was evidence of their deteriorating relationship.
The three rooms on the ground floor were reasonably sized—the living and dining rooms being directly under the second floor rooms. The kitchen was a lean-to structure attached to the back of the house. Its roof was just outside of our bedroom window. There were times when I climbed through the window and sat out on the roof in search of solitude.
In the side yard was a huge boxelder tree, its double trunk becoming my place of refuge.