"You Have Your Own Room Now."
The end of July, and I am returning from a month at summer camp in New Hampshire. In September, I will be a sixth grader. When we arrive home, a two-story, three-bedroom tract house in the Boston suburbs, my father helps me carry my trunk upstairs. But on the landing half way up he opens the door to the room above the garage. “We fixed this room up for you, so you could have your own room now.” What a great surprise. I am thrilled. And it gets better as I see how cleverly they had turned this unfinished storage space into a pleasing and comfy room. The new, bright red bedspread captivates me. Then I’m sitting at my own desk, turning the new desk lamp on and off, and discovering all their touches to the place. My little brothers and sister pile in and are jumping on the new double bed. Now I am hugging my parents and thanking them for this wonderful gift. I have never had a bedroom I cherished as much and I still have the bedspread.
A preppy beginning
I used to joke that we had the preppiest kitchen in Connecticut. Now, this was Connecticut during the 1980s so the competition for that coveted title was fierce, but I suspect with our pink and green asparagus wallpaper, we were certainly in contention.
I do not remember my room when we first moved into the house, but I do remember going to pick out wallpaper with my mother not long after she had plastered the kitchen with green asparagus tied with pink ribbons. The whole world of preppy appealed to me, with the graphic designs and the bold color, and being something like 8 or 9 years old, I thought there could be nothing better than bringing all that color into my bedroom.
At the end of the hall, across from my parent's room, my room was a basic, standard box. 10'x12' and boring, or so I thought of it. But color! Color might make my cage a little more attractive. We must have spent literally hours going through books of wallpaper. Nothing seemed right. That was, until the sales person, assuming her commission on this sale was going to be extremely well earned, brought out the mother lode of preppy paper: the Laura Ashley catalog!
Flowers upon flowers with colors as bright as spring was a feast to the eyes! I could barely contain my excitement, and would have loved to end up with a veritable patchwork quilt of wall paper! There was simply no way I could choose. So I left the decision up to my mother, or quite possibly she simply took the decision making power away from her indecisive pre-teen. However that fell together, I found myself soon there after, surrounded by pink and red flowers with tiny green leaves everywhere I looked. The walls, the bedding, the curtains all matched. There were coordinating gingham throw pillows on each of the twin beds. I was a Laura Ashley addict's heaven. And my little 8 or 9-year-old self was as happy as a pig in a poke.
A Small Roof for a Small Boy
My room was growing up was the smallest one in the house, but I was also the smallest person in the house, so it all makes sense.
It was a rectangle, maybe three times as long as it was wide, and just wide enough to open the door without hitting the bed. There was a closet at the far end of the room that ran the width of the room and which, as a young boy, I never fully appreciated. I don't remember having a great number of clothes, so I can't remember what all was put in there.
It was "my room" until I was twelve or so, when I moved into the much larger room that my sisters shared before they both moved out. While my room had both a door and a window, their room had two windows.
I can't say that I remember the color of my childhood room, nor any of its furnishings, all of which I imagine were my mother's doing and responsibility. The only feature that I do remember was a mural my artistic aunt painted on the wall behind the headboard.
That mural, much to Disney's lawyers consternation, feature five or six Disney characters, from Mickey to Thumper, and I'm gonna say my aunt painted them in the early 1950s.
She did a very good job, and I hope my photos of them are still around somewhere.
Beads and a shag rug
My mother was an only child, so naturally thought that my sister and I would be delighted, as she would have been, to share a bedroom with each other. This was not the case.
Our room for the better part of my childhood had yellow beads hanging down the middle, with a green shag rug. It also had two matching beds, desks, closets and bureaus. Matching everything except sibling sensibilities.
The string of beads, the tiny beads every shade of yellow, hung from the ceiling, a divider a la the '70s hippie style of beads that in other cases would have meant free love and incense but in my case meant Keep Your Stuff on Your Side of the Room.
Matching the beads in sensibility and taste was a thick shag rug of bright green that my parents let us pick. Wall-to-wall greenness, long strands of, again, every shade of green imaginable. Even today when I walk by places that sell rugs and carpets, the smell is like the madeleine: my memories of things past is the fond nostalgia for the fact that my mother let me pick a thick green rug though she must have known it made the room look like a football field.
Memories of the yellow beads hanging from one side of the room to the other are another story. Thinking now of the beaded room divider reminds me of the fact my sister and I did not have the shared bedroom experience my mother thought we would.
But she did have her own choice...and it was to move to her own room. Which made us both happier.
I was in about the fifth grade when my parents bought a summer house on a lake nearby. It was a big enough to be a regular house, but not very warm in the winter and not in our school district. One the second or third summer there I got to decorate my bedroom, which was smallish, but had the advantage of having a sliding glass door out, whereas my younger sister had a very big room with no windows at all. This was Ohio, after all, where building codes apparently did not require fire exit routes from bedrooms.
The room was a blank slate with tan carpet and a modern wood-framed day bed with giant drawers. I began with a zebra-striped comforter. And from there the modern jungle theme took hold. I got a mesh hat that was shaped like a pith helmet and hung it up. I ordered three bookcases, and I remember having my parent's old stereo on them, and a poster of "The African Queen" hanging above.
When I was a bit older, my family went to an estate sale/auction. It was packed. Fred Gelsenleiter had lived to be over 100, and everyone in the county it seemed was there to see what was being sold off. There were three auctioneers working.
I strolled around to the back of the house where there was a second garage, and tools and lawnmowers were being sold off. That's where I bought an antique steamer trunk, with Fred's initials on the leather handles: FAG. I still have the FAG trunk.
The Mess I Left Behind
One of the most interesting things about childhood is how narrow your perspective is. My childhood bedroom seemed totally normal to me at the time, but looking back it was anything but.
I mean the fundamentals were all there—I had a twin bed (with race car bedspread), a hand-me-down desk and dresser that I believe were from my mom's childhood room, and, very excitingly, a 19" TV and VCR were added at some point.
My parents had left the wallpaper from the previous tenant intact in the theory that a young child would just mess it up anyway. The early-70s yellow, orange, and red floral print was an assault on the senses, and I should have - in retrospect - done a lot more to fulfill my parent’s expectation that I would destroy it. When I was about 10, they replaced it with a calming blue pattern that is still on the walls, though its colors have faded.
My parents are both what could be described as collectors or pack rats and that was passed on to my brother and me. We collected a lot of detritus - more than our rooms could hold - and they became messier and messier as the years went on. I can't vividly remember the color of the carpet, because it was almost always covered in strewn clothes, half-solved puzzles, and other junk--for lack of a better word.
My parents usually took a laissez-faire approach with us, and though they'd complain about the mess, it was ultimately considered my room, and I was welcome to live in it however I wanted. Whether intentional or not, that has led to the proverbial locked-in-a-closet-with-the-box-of-cigars situation, where I now keep my apartment 100% free of clutter at all times.
For all the mess and disarray, I spent a lot of time alone in my room: playing, thinking, and being a typical in-door kid. I was lucky enough to have my own room--which I learned later would also set me apart from most other people in the world.
Even today, I choose to live alone, and I relish in being able to close the door behind me and shut out the noise - and the messes - of the rest of the world.