July 2, 2013
A Room of my Own
The summer after I graduated from high school I took a train from Revelstoke to Winnipeg to spend the summer with my sisters who lived in that fair city of the Canadian prairies back then. That summer of '87 was filled with touring around the city visiting sites and cafes, and of staying up late on humid nights. Of looking after the house plants of a friend of my eldest sister and riding my bike down Portage Avenue using hand signals to change lanes in the not-too-busy traffic. Of helping my eldest sister Monica cook - she was pregnant and ill at the sight of any meat whatsoever. Of keeping the attentions of an older guy named Garth at bay: 'No thank you' said with a smile.
Monica and her husband and daughter were moving back to our hometown in BC at the end of August, so, after my summer away I returned home with them. In those days you could just show up to our local college at the end of summer and register, so on the advice of my Dad, I did just that. He put a quick stop to my ideas of taking a gap year to 'you know, just work' saying: you will be bored.
I was the youngest of six children in a three bedroom house and now that the last of my siblings had moved out I finally had a room of my own. My mom suggested we redecorate it in the weeks before classes would start. We went down to the hardware store and chose a paint colour called Apple White, which was a pale, pale shade of green like the Transparent variety of apple. It took four thick coats to cover the wallpaper - taking it down would have also brought the plaster down so we didn't dare try - and I brushed and rolled on those four coats accompanied by a cassette tape of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony which echoed in that empty room with its Victorian era high ceilings. The floor of my room was hardwood in need of refinishing, so instead of undertaking that multi-stepped process we simply scrubbed the existing dark brown carpet on our hands and knees and brought it back to soft and fluffy life. I had inherited a very pretty glass topped antique white dresser from my Granny, I had a double futon bed from who-knows-where and a little painted desk. I put up art posters and dance posters, china masks and a little curio shelf also inherited from my Granny. White and muted green curtains framed my window which looked out on the back yard cherry tree over the kitchen roof. When the work was done, I sat on my bed with the blankets and pillows arranged 'just so' to view the final effect - and saw that it was good. Not too cluttered, bright yet calming and airy. Just right for a girl starting her post-secondary education.
I wrote countless essays at my desk in that pale green room, dreamed my girlhood dreams, cried my girlhood tears, ached my girlhood heartaches. My room was at the top of the winding staircase, next to the bathroom.Often, on their way up the stairs members of my family would poke their heads into my room to make a favourable comment about my new decor or to ask me something. Kiko, our black cat with the little white patch under his chin made many visits to me in my room, looking for someone to curl up with. My Quebec exchange student partner, Nadine stayed with me in that room as well as my sister Clare when she returned home temporarily from a four month trip to New Zealand and Australia, waking me up from my customary deep sleep to surprise me. One fall I gave my room over to my eldest sister Monica and her family while they stayed with us between houses, my cherubic little niece Gisele's white-blonde curls glowing in the sunlight from my window.
When I left home for good, my parents put a new green carpet, a few shades darker than the walls, in my room and turned it into a library/study. It also serves as a guest room for single guests sometimes. Sadly, the cherry tree which bloomed into glorious pinky whiteness each spring had to be taken down. Its former ground is now a part of my parents' large and productive garden, the view still lovely with climbing roses on the fence and honeysuckle against the garden shed.
Last summer, my eldest daughter also got a room of her own. We chose a pale shade of sky blue for the walls and rented a carpet cleaner to give new life to the cream coloured wool carpet. She has decorated her room in her own style, which is somewhat similar to mine but updated, of course, and with her own treasures. My youngest daughter also has her own room now. Slowly, with her sister's help she is making it into her own little space in which to dream, read, and practice her lines. Hopefully, the girlhood tears and heartaches will be at a minimum, but I'm not counting on it. Apples don't fall far from trees, as they say. However, when they do happen we will be here with comforting words, guidance and cups of tea, just as my family was for me when I was growing up.
The delightful painting above is: 'a girl writing' by Henriette Brown (1829-1901). It lives at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.