It’s the first house I remember, though I no longer remember the entire address. Just the street.
Maple Street, right off the main drag of 13th and Vine. When I drive past now it’s so tiny though I imagine back then I thought it pretty grand. Like so many others in small town Kansas, it’s modest and plain. A basement but no upper level or loft space or bonus room. Three bedrooms, one bathroom, I think. Maybe it was two bathrooms, though I don’t remember one in the master.
There was no entryway; the front door opened right into the living room. I remember the thick, boxy TV on legs, the large, oval coffee table and the crunchy velour chair in which my mom would sit, smoking her cigarettes and reading her Harlequin romance novels.
I remember the kitchen with the Formica counter tops and the rotary dial phone that hung on the wall. Back then we only had to dial four numbers to reach someone else in town, and sometimes I’d pick up the receiver to call my grandma or my cousin and find that a stranger was already on the line, having their own conversation. I’d have to hang up and try later.
I remember one dinner at the little dining room table in the corner of that kitchen. There was bologna and some kind of tomato sauce, and I found it disgusting and said I wouldn’t eat it. I had to anyway, and I got sick right there at that table. To this day the smell of bologna makes me gag.
My room was immediately off the living room entrance; walk in and turn right, and there I was. My favorite part of that room was the closet that connected to the closet in the other room. We could run back and forth, and I fancied it some type of secret passage way that only we knew about.
That was the room that I called mine when I started school, and I remember getting out of bed after the lights were out, changing into my school clothes—complete with shoes—and getting back into bed, under the covers, and trying to lay so still on my back I wouldn’t wrinkle my clothes.
I loved the lilac bushes that lined the alley in the backyard, and would find reasons to go outside, even in the sticky stench of summer, because of the lilac smell that hung in the air most mornings. I remember our neighbors on the corner, right next door; the older girl who undressed in front of her Bay City Rollers pictures and kissed each face through the glass before she went to bed and the other who was my first best friend. Their dad butchered a chicken in the backyard, and had us watch the bird run around after he chopped off its head. I had nightmares for weeks filled with squawking and erratically desperate chickens.
It was in that living room that I first saw my sister Laura when my parents brought her home from the hospital. I don’t remember who was with me at home, but someone was because I was only five. It was a strange April, one in which mom had gone into the hospital wearing shorts and then needed a coat because it snowed. At least that’s the story they told me; I only remember standing in the living room and suddenly going from only child to big sister, but not really knowing what that meant.
For all the years I spent there, though, my strongest memories are elsewhere, with my grandma or at my aunts’ place, at school or at Massey Park. Maybe that’s a sign of the times; the world in which I’m raising my kids is less open. It’s peppered with Amber Alerts and offender’s registries and excessive vetting of sleepover invitations.
Or maybe it’s a reminder that four walls don’t always make a home.