An assignment from my narrative nonfiction class:
At the time very little about my childhood seemed untraditional. I didn’t live abroad or speak another language. Tragically, I didn’t go to Hogwarts, and I was terribly mediocre at both ballet and soccer. It wasn’t until college that I truly realized, and appreciated the quirkier aspects of my upbringing. Rather than being surprised when people had siblings, I learned I should be surprised when they didn’t. When I met another only child, like me.
About the time I made this discovery my parents were preparing to move out of my childhood home, an unconventional California home. As we sorted and packed the many belongings we’d accumulated over the years I pictured the many ways my childhood was far from “normal.”
When I was three my parents designed and built a custom home on a sandy lot at 8 Killarney Place, just one row back from the shores of the San Francisco Bay. At the time they weren’t married yet. In fact, they got married in our downstairs living room when I was five. I was the Maid of Honor.
As a child I visited the construction site often with my father. One day they poured the concrete for the garage, my father told me to put my hands in the fascinating grey soup. It was shockingly cold. Below my handprints he took a key and carved out my name, “Cara” and the date “4/12/1994.” It was my mark on our house.
The house was three stories tall, called an “upside down” house by many because the kitchen, living room, and dining areas were on the top floor. This made the most sense to my parents. They wanted to enjoy the view of San Francisco the location provided. They did not want to enjoy it while they were sleeping but while they went about their day.
Continuing to thwart convention the upstairs was very open with high ceilings and large windows. However, the architect required a column in the middle of it all for structural support and to comprise, they made the column larger and fit a pantry inside of it.
As you arrived up the stairs (possibly out of breath), you would turn slightly to the right and see the priceless view of San Francisco with the Bay Bridge, depending on the fog. Sometimes you couldn’t see anything, but the promise was still magical. If you followed your gaze and stayed to the right of the column, the living room and window seat opened up and greeted you.
Turning left, you entered into the long kitchen; with more counter space than many ever dream of. Running the length was a daily, unnecessary activity for me. Finally, turning left halfway down the length before the refrigerator and stove you’d complete your circle and face the stairs that had first tuckered you out.
Each side of the column anchored the room it faced. On the dining room side my mother’s beloved china hutch with its mirrored door and magical old fashioned key stood in a spot designed just for it. Facing the living room our beloved and well-used round kitchen table sat with four chairs, one especially well worn. Here my father or grandmother would sit, often with a snack and a Coke and just stare out the window, enjoying the view.
On the side directly opposite the kitchen table the wall was bare, really just part of a hallway between the kitchen and dining room. Still, this wall was home to the thermostat and security system, essential and practical controls that I was not allowed to touch. Lastly, and most importantly, was the side of the column that faced the kitchen. It had a door on it and to my young imaginative mind this door could lead anywhere I please, but for everyone else it lead to the pantry.
It is a simple fact that only children spend far more time playing alone than other children, and I was no exception. The pantry was a perfect escape that was still close to my family. When my mom would return home from work I would run downstairs, greet her, and then dash upstairs to tell my dad about her arrival. From then until dinner, served at 7:00 every night, I would play in the pantry.
Sometimes I was the manager of a general store. Other times I might be hiding from an unnamed enemy. When National Geographic arrived I was most likely taking part in a super space mission with my rocket ship and all the supplies I needed to get to the moon.
There was a short step stool in the middle of the pantry, not even my dad could reach the highest of the high shelves, and this was my center stage. I would open the door with its wonderfully crooked handle (brass) and sit down on the stool. Closing the door behind me, but leaving it cracked just enough so the light would stay on, I entered my own room with my own imagination.
Occasionally someone would pop in for an ingredient, napkin, or just to say “hi”. Sometimes I welcomed the intrusion, other times I rushed them away. My mother would come upstairs after changing out of her work clothes and I would listen while she and my father talked about their respective days. If it was important enough, I would chime in from behind my pantry door, my parents found that annoying though.
As dinner-time came closer my mom would tell me to set the table, or come out and help pour water. I would ignore her as long as possible. My father would remain silent; focusing on his cooking and giving me a sweet, small smile anytime he intruded. Finally, I would hear my grandmother get up and begin heading to the table, the clacking of her walker sounding her approach. Despite the extra distance she would come and crack open the pantry door, “Dinner time, Wee Cara.”
“Ok, ok,” I would respond, never as sweet as I should be. I returned everything to the shelves it had come from, slide the stool towards the back of the pantry and grasped the wonderfully curved handle to head out. I entered the bright kitchen to whatever delicious smells that evening’s dinner dished out. I closed the door behind me, all the way, causing the pantry light to go out, until next time.