The diamond-shaped window was the keyhole to my new life. The only problem was, I was too small to see through it. After driving for God only knows how many hours and miles, we pulled up to a big, two-storey house on the corner of 9th and Garfield and gaped through a veil of lethargy. The journey had lasted more days than a four-year-old could count. We were tired, grimy, and grumpy. But mother was eager to see what she’d bought.
I wonder what she had envisioned. Had she seen a photo of this house that she’d purchased sight-unseen? The pink and white stucco septuagenarian met all her conditions: three-bedroom, older home, near a school, with ample lawn. We trudged up the front walk, darkened by the shadow of an enormous, overgrown lilac tree, and stumbled up two concrete stairs to the covered porch for a first peek at our new home.
My sister had been a grumpy travel companion. The voyage across the country had not been her idea. At 13, she was outraged at being ripped from the fabric of life as she’d always known it. She was leaving friends behind and trading a life in New York City for life in a hick town in the middle of nowhere. She’d grumbled about the twister in Kansas and moaned through the heat of Nebraska. Now she peeked through the triangle and umphed. I bounced fretfully, pleading for a glimpse. My sister dutifully hefted my scrawny frame until my eyes were just level with the bottom of the triangle. All I could see was a red Victorian banister guarding a flight of stairs directly in front of the door. As the late summer evening crept toward us, we returned to our motel room for much needed rest. In a fever of anticipation, I traveled that vague staircase throughout the night.
The next morning, we met the moving vans in front of the house. Flying up and down the stairs and in and out of the door in real time now, I made a nuisance of myself, careening between pairs of men burdened with mother’s ungainly antique furniture. My unrestricted comings and goings were like the first taste of forbidden fruit. Till that day, I’d never left my mother’s eyesight. Going outside had entailed a hand-in-hand escort by my mother and my sister, down the elevator, past the doorman, around the corner, and down the street to Riverside Park.
My mother spent the next 10 years unlocking the mysteries of what made that old house tick. The first improvement was a three-foot high chain link fence which served to define my boundaries, as well as, enclose the ever-fluctuating menagerie for which we became famous with the school kids: bum lambs, an orphan palomino filly, a goat, a coyote, and an endless stream of puppies and kittens.
Although my mother was annoyingly restrictive about my activities and friends, my sister loved to remind me of how lucky I had it. She had never enjoyed the freedom of dashing in and out of the house. Being the first-born, she juggled the opposing forces of worshipful grandparents versus our mother’s banal first-time-parent discipline. It is true; I did have more freedom than she’d had. Nevertheless, when the time came, I was eager to leave that old house and my turbulent and frustrating childhood behind. Even so, a front door with a diamond-shaped window always flings my mind back to the unfathomable promise of that first glimpse of the red banister.
The photo was taken on my 4th birthday about 5 months before my mother, my sister, and I moved to Laramie, Wyoming.