Middle of the Block

Day Eleven: Size Matters (In Sentences)

Today’s Prompt: Where did you live when you were 12 years old?

Today’s twist: pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium, and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.

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Oof. This ones a bit rough and rambling. But I’m not going to edit. It was fun to write and is a glimpse into my awkward past.

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I had a lovely childhood. Not perfect. No one has a perfect life. Sometimes, the imperfections add interest and character without destroying the beauty. That’s how I feel about where and how I grew up.

It was a big town for a sparsely populated state. As a kid, I thought we lived “in the city”. (Those quotation marks were present in my head whenever I considered our home town. I thought in quotes. Weird.) To me, it was a huge, exciting place full of amazing things. And I wanted to see them all.

From my perspective, being a “city girl” helped explain why I was so different from what I learned to believe the world expected all girls should be. I lived in a big city, so I had to be tough and ready for anything, not some frilly princess. My jeans and rough sneakers and ratty t-shirts were armor, they were my first layer of tough. I believed I would grow the tough inside to match my clothes, if I worked hard enough.

Never mind that I lived in a perfectly lovely, ranch-style house in the middle of the block on a bucolic street in a Beaver Clever town. There was little that I had to be tough against that didn’t live in my imagination. But that’s how I thought of myself, a tough city girl in a big city.

The reality, looking back with 34 years of life between me and 12 year old me, is very different. Not better or worse. Just different. I imagine I have a clearer sense of what reality was back then, because I have grown and matured since then. But, I’m not going to pass judgment on the quality of my 12 year old assessment of her then-reality. What I believed back then made sense for who I was then.

At 12 years old, I was the epitome of the grubby, awkward, tomboy so often depicted in movies and literature. It’s hard now to decide if I came by it organically or if I was heavily influenced by those media tropes. Whatever the origin, that was me. Even then, perhaps especially then, I was out of sync with my surroundings.

My house in the middle of the block was neat, with trimmed grass and big, shady trees in the front yard. It started off an oddly aqua colored clapboard house with a big screen porch. Then, at some time in my childhood that I can’t pinpoint, my parents had aluminum siding put on, turning it white with black shutters. They put in plexiglass windows on the porch, though left the corrugated fiberglass roof of the porch a jarring, mis-matched green.

Despite the odd porch, our house in the middle of the block was nice-looking and welcoming. It matched the other houses on the block, mostly. Each one had at least one small oddity about it. The brick Tudor-esque house across the street was tidy, but had foil on several windows, instead of curtains. The house to the right of ours was occupied by a wonderful elderly couple, yet had a speedboat parked in the driveway most of the year. The house to the left had the meanest dog in the world, even though it didn’t weigh 10 ponds. And the house at the top of the block was scary, as much because of the heavy traffic that flowed past it constantly on a busy thoroughfare, as because of the barren yard with twisting, exposed tree roots that seemed to magnetically attract balls and other toys that were brought too near.

Our block was split by an alley that ran behind our house, separating my side of the block from the other, where lived the boy who was my most frequent playmate. Only half a block, but a foreign world to my youthful eyes. I always felt a stranger in a new world when I rounded that corner on my bike. But I grew to love that street as much as my own, even though it wasn’t home.

The house directly across the alley from ours was basically a junk yard. There was such a huge mess of rusting metal and unidentifiable debris, I always marveled that the inhabitants could find their way to the alley to take out the trash.

At twelve years old I yearned constantly to explore that junkyard, but (a) I wasn’t allowed to speak to those people (some long forgotten feud that I never understood); and (b) I was terrified of their dog ripping my head off if I went in uninvited. So I’d hang out in the fort I built in my back yard and plot endless excursions to the junkyard that went unfulfilled. Daydreams of an awkward kid in a play fort.

You might think twelve is a little old for forts and such. But it was so much more than a play place. It was my own world. I didn’t actually build it. Nature did. But I made it my own with cool stuff scavenged from hither and yon on the block. A wooden cable spool was both chair and table. An old school desk was there for a while, until I nearly cut my finger off with the lid hinge (a story for another time). A secret cache for treasures, and toys and gizmos of every type made my fort the best, homiest place I knew.

It was just a hollow space formed by massive lilac bushes growing along the fence line, creating a pocket behind themselves at the far corner of the yard. But, to my pre-pubescent mind, it was a magnificent sanctuary.

At twelve, amid my awkwardness in my eminently normal family in our lovely square house in the middle of the block, I often craved solitude. My fort provided it. When the pressure of being too odd, too big, too loud, got to be too much, I’d head out to my fort where I could be myself without anyone looking at me funny. I would sit on my spool and read leaning back against the trunk of a tall elm tree growing through one of the lilac bushes. Or else I’d listen to the birds and be so still, willing them to come visit. They never did. Sometimes, I’d just go there to think. Always the fort was my own oasis.

When I couldn’t be out in my fort, I hung out in my room. It was less oasis and more chamber of opposites.

Our house in the middle of the block started off as a three bedroom house with an unfinished basement. My folks semi-finished the basement, forming bedrooms for my brothers and a rec room with the bulk of the space. Upstairs, after my sister left home, they took out the wall between their room and hers, making a large master bedroom. But everyone had a spot of their own.

Around about my eleventh birthday, maybe a little before, my parents made what would become a last-ditch effort to make me more of a girl. They remodeled my room, painting it dusty rose and cream, giving me a lace canopy bed and a fuzzy pink rug. It was everything I was not. But my parents worked so hard to give me something lovely, I couldn’t reject it. So, even though it was a place that I felt completely disconnected from, it was my own. I spent a lot of time in there. Study, play, quiet reading time were all my occupation in that prickly pink room. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was private.

The rest of our house was more comfortable to me. Lots of places to sit in a big, open living room. Shag carpet and long curtains made it quiet and pleasantly dark or light, as one desired. There was space enough for everyone, though we didn’t often test the limits of its capacity.

The dining room at the back of the house was an addition before we moved in and was constantly freezing in winter. But the tiny galley kitchen, though cramped, was the hub of life in our house. It served as intended, to prepare meals. But it was also the messaging center with phone and note space on the wall next to the stove. It showcased achievements in pictures and ribbons and report cards on the fridge. And if anything was ever missing, checking the kitchen catch-all drawer or the freezer (I said I was a weird kid), usually found it fastest.

Our house in the middle of the block was as never the height of fashion. It was furnished with big, heavy, western style wooden furniture in durable fabrics with busy prints that stood up to wear. The massive couch and swivel rockers invited you to sit and enjoy each other’s company, despite the busy fabric pattern. But whatever it looked like, the home was only a home because of our family.

We were a family that strove to project an image of middle class values and normalcy. Despite being the token interracial family in the neighborhood, I think we succeeded pretty well. We were busy, active and private. We had friends and acquaintances who visited occasionally, but we kept to ourselves, mostly. We checked in with each other, helped each other, argued and made up with each other. And at the center of it all was our square house in the middle of the block, where we lived and loved together as a family.

Love lived in that square house in the middle of the block. That’s what I remember most about where I lived at twelve years old.

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