The Corner Lot
The six of us were squeezed into a nine- windowed, one-story home with 800 square feet of living space. My house was a theater, library, greenhouse where family members created and imagined and sacrificed.
My sister and I shared one bedroom, my two brothers the other. We kids slept on bunk beds — brown, metal, and durable — cast off from the local college dorms. All of our clothes, much of my lot given to me by an older cousin, were jammed into the sole closet, which was in my bedroom. Dad’s suits, Mom’s dresses, my jeans, my sister’s play clothes, all hugged together to form a block of colors. Various shoes scattered the floor like discarded candy wrappers in a waste bin. My parents slept in the living room on a pull -out couch, where the mattress underneath the cushions unfolded and sat upon a metal frame. That flowery velvet piece of furniture, adjacent to the bookshelf full of The Golden Library of Knowledge Books of every subject imaginable, transformed into their bed by night.
What I called the backroom of the house, space the width of an arm span served as both basement and attic. Open shelves held photography equipment, the turtle aquarium, dad’s painting supplies while the cupboards concealed dishes and canned goods. In December the bottom cupboard turned into a hiding place for Santa Claus presents. Skis and ski poles leaned in corners next to the shelves. All recreational activities found a place here.
The kitchen was rudimentary but functional. Usually, only two kitchen stove burners worked at a time, but my mom always managed. One Thanksgiving she cooked an entire turkey dinner using one burner. There was no counter in her kitchen, so Mom used the top of the washing machine as a makeshift table. She would lay a towel atop the washer so no food would drop through the sides of the lid into the basin, and here she would prepare meals to be served on faded, green plates discarded from the college cafeteria; Cool Whip and margarine bowls were the perfect sizes to hold salads and warm vegetables. Our dinnerware was a hodge -podge of plastics and labels, but they served their purpose.
The Sears & Roebuck oak dining table dominated the center of what we called the middle room (named such because it was between the living room and kitchen), the mecca of the house, around which we did homework, wrapped presents, cut sewing patterns, folded laundry. Occasionally, during dinner, we children, without parents in the room, launched peas off our spoons across the dining room onto the aluminium pan of water (needed for moisture in the dry, winter air) sitting on top of the floor heater. We muffled our giggles at the plop, sizzle each pea made as it drowned in a bath of hot water. Though the throwing span was short, some landed instead on the floor to be licked up by the dog and others into the front vents of the heater, stuck like gum under movie theater seats. The green orbs floated lightly like beach balls.
Our father had a knack for gardening and in our tiny, triangular-shaped backyard, flowers and vegetables thrived abundantly in every available space. Sunflowers towered over the picket fence. Morning glories entwined the clothes pole. We picked green onions daily, always sprinkled with salt, eaten in the yard as they never made it to the kitchen. Carmine rose bushes filled the top corner of the yard where two streets met. Pussy Willows, Mom’s favorite and a Polish tradition to display, favored the inside of the house.
The living room was our theater (when not my parents’ bedroom). In the evenings the family listened to records borrowed from the library and watched movie reels about famous painters, which dad showed on a white bed sheet hanging from the ceiling. On Sunday nights we gathered around the black and white TV set, with just enough floor space for four kids to sprawl out, to watch The Wonderful World of Disney and eat popcorn from the big, pink speckled bowl. Dad conjured up treats for that special night-Cream of Wheat cereal sprinkled with cocoa baked in the oven and Crepe Suzettes, a rolled pancake oozing with jam and doused with powdered sugar.
Bamboo shutters enclosed the front porch, small space of refuge for us children, where we built tents out of blankets and slept out on warm summer nights and played Monopoly during rainy days. My neighbor Linda and I played dress- up there, using bobby pins to clip pink and blue scarves in our hair like hair extensions. We wore our mothers’ old prom gowns and reenacted soap opera drama, he’s mine, you can’t have him. But I love him! and air-kissed the imaginary boyfriends.
Years later, the tiny house was torn down for additional parking (which never materialized) for the hospital, which was across the street. Whenever I drive by that empty yard, thinking about my parents, gone too like the house, I still see my mother in her blue slacks, tennis sneakers, and apron swinging open the back screen door, yelling “yoo-hoo,” calling us in for dinner, and dad in his white tennis shorts and white T-shirt tending to his garden, his place of respite, in the backyard. I still see forty toes scrunched together touching the living room rug as we watched one of three channels on the black and white television; still feel elbows bumping and nudging at the table as we all joined together in a meal; still, hear the gentle breathing of six people safely tucked in for the night.
I learned at a young age that the size of the home doesn’t matter; our happy memories outweighed the physical size of our house.
My space is small but my life is big. Graham Hill