Monday, February 11, 2013


I just registered for a historical fiction course at Columbia College.  For our first class assignment, we were asked to describe our childhood bedroom.  I had many, so I chose the one that brought me the most joy.

           My ten-year-old bedroom was a palace of sorts.  I created an imaginary world where my immigrant ancestors were royalty rather than dirt poor and drunk with their own religious convictions.  Without understanding its power at the time, I needed this room.  With its mismatched items and almost sickly display of colors, it became one of the best and most important gifts my mother ever gave me.
By the time I lived in a real house (rented, of course,) Mom was working three jobs, going to school and engaged to a guy with kind eyes and wide, black curls that reached his shoulders.   They pooled their monies together and we set off to raid the local thrift shops for couches, dressers, curtains and bedspreads.
Mom let me choose every stitch in my new domain, provided I could keep it within a ten-dollar budget.  Lucky for me, my new bedroom floor was already two inches thick in rough lilac shag.  I only needed to find matching items to complete my royal purple paradise.  Never mind that the walls were sky blue.  The right accessories would bring out their inner lavender.  
In the sweaty scented bedding area of our local Salvation Army, I struck out on the perfect Color Purple but was delighted to find a lime green comforter with a thick white ruffle, trimmed in eyelets.  At two dollars, it was mine!  Heart thumping with joy, I stuffed it into my cart.
            Next, I made a beeline for the toy department.  For a nickel each, I could line my new shelves with vibrant array of previously loved stuffed animals.  This would add a splash (or splatter) of color to the room and make me the envy of every ten-year-old girl in town.  My little sister slowly pushed her own cart nearby.  Hers, was conspicuously empty.  Leah's new room would be kiddie corner to mine and we would sleep apart for the first time.  Thinking back now, I ache at the image of her bewildered and lonely as I gleefully rushed through that store.  
           But back to that pile of once fluffy toys, which had to be carefully pawed through to find ones that didn’t smell like urine or have crusty black edges.  I unearthed a collection of ten, but the best of the lot was a three-foot long, rainbow-colored snake!  A heady squeeze across his belly and I could feel the tiny Styrofoam beads inside squeaking against each other as they squirmed.  I pictured him draped over the edge of the lowest of three shelves, jutting from the east wall.
            Last, I made my way to where window treatments were heaped onto metal shelves.  My eye caught on a pair of purple gingham café curtains with white eyelet trim, a flawless companion to my new bedspread!  And at only one dollar for the pair, I’d still have plenty leftover to raid the formalwear area for stained prom dresses to hang in my two by two closet.
            When we got home, I set to work right away.  Mom hung the purple curtains on my tiny, northern facing window that overlooked the huge willow tree in the backyard.  At the same time, I lovingly spread the new comforter across a twin mattress and box spring, tucking in one corner where the trim had ripped at the seam.  This used bed was a soft glory compared to the lawn chairs my sister and I had slept in before the move.
The sky darkened around our new home as I worked to arrange the rainbow of stuffed toys across the long shelves that ended just before my small closet full of someone else’s discarded formalwear.  I remember taking a warm bath before sleeping in the room for the first time, my toes curling with pleasure under a sea of white bubbles.
            For the next two years; after the tragedy that sent us running from California with a profound sense of the world’s dangers, this would be my safe haven.



  1. Wonderful memories! I find that these 'hard' times tend to carry more importance and wonder than any expensive, 'in' purchases ever could. Enjoyed reading this.