Originally posted on Associated Content, March 2008
The room that I slept in as a child was adjacent to our living room. That meant that I was the only person who had to sleep on the first floor of our run down old farmhouse. Outside, the paint was peeling and the shutters banged against the house when the wind blew. The gate into our “yard” squeaked as it rocked back and forth in the breeze and the yard itself was little more than a dirt patch holding the last struggling blades of grass aching for moisture in the dry cracking earth.
Inside the house wasn’t much better. The wallpaper in every room was water stained and dirty, peeling and bubbling from the walls in some places, missing completely in others. The pipes always hissed with air before the brown water gurgled its way into the basins, and we always had to let it run until it became a light shade of gray before we could use it for anything. It never did run clear.
The heating in our house came from the wood stove in the corner of the living room. In the winter we all brought our blankets and pillows into the living room every night and slept “camping” style just to keep warm while the cold winter gales blew through the window frames and the kitchen cabinets when we opened them to retrieve dishes or glasses. It was little more than a miracle that the house didn’t just up and blow away…or catch fire and burn to the ground at any moment of any season.
We didn’t have much money back then. Truth be told, we didn’t have any money back then. Papa worked our little farm and grew corn, potatoes and beans. My older brothers Jr. and Tag helped with the plowing, planting and irrigating (carrying buckets of water from the stream behind the barn and pouring them carefully on top of the seeds). Everyone helped Papa with harvesting. Mama and I did our fair share of the work as well as helping Grandma make dinner, wash the clothes (in a bushel barrel with a washboard by the stream), and keep what there was of the house clean.
We all got to take the crops to town to sell them. With the little bit of money Papa deemed “extra” , Jr., Tag and I were allowed to go to the mercantile and get a small paper bag full of candy to share. Mama splurged on sugar (this was a much anticipated purchase), Grandma bought fabric to make our clothes and Papa had his worn out and/or broken tools repaired. In really good times the boys and I got new shoes – always two or three sizes too big because the “good times” didn’t come around that often. Most of the time we were barefoot and overly aware of the fact that if we weren’t careful our shoes would wear out before we outgrew them (or even grew into them).
Since the boys were helping Papa with the farm, I (Papa’s only girl) was the only one who had the privilege of going to school all year like the town kids. So, in addition to helping Mama and Grandma every day I also had homework and the two mile walk to town and back every day for class. When time allowed before my bedtime I tutored Jr. and Tag in what I had learned that day. Papa didn’t want any of us to stay the poor unlearned kids that the town people made fun of.
When it wasn’t harvesting time I took care of the animals. I fed the chickens, our dogs, and our two horses. They were as close to having pets as I ever got til I was older. Most of the time I did what I had to do and kept my head down and didn’t ask questions. “Hard times” meant that chickens became food instead of food providers, and one year, after a really bad couple of years Papa had to shoot the dogs because we couldn’t afford to feed them.
The room that I slept in as a child was adjacent to our living room. Mama and Papa slept in the big bedroom upstairs. My brothers shared the next biggest room upstairs, and even though it was big enough for me too, Grandma got the third bedroom all to herself. My bedroom wasn’t even a bedroom. The boys liked to remind me of that when they could. It hurt more as I got older and became conscious of what my school friends had that I didn’t and wishing we could live like the other kids I knew. Instead of having my own bedroom filled with store bought furniture from some big city I lived like an afterthought. The few possessions I had were crammed into the small room next to the living room. I was the only one who slept downstairs. That made me the only one who heard the people breaking into the kitchen.
If only we had had a telephone I could have called for help. If only we had neighbors I could have maybe run for help. If only I had been older I might have been braver or stronger. If only. If only any of those things my family would still be alive today.
Today it’s just me because the room that I slept in as a child was adjacent to our living room.
Tags: Elisa Ashley, fiction, short story