I’m currently part of a group of teachers attending the Keller Literacy Institute through a project called Abydos, formerly known as the New Jersey Writing Project in Texas. I have to say, though the first day of training a week ago had us all wondering why we agreed to 12 days of this (8 of them in the summer), yesterday was awesome! The purpose is to learn writing and pre-writing strategies for getting our students to write more. Two of the writing sessions yesterday gave me great thoughts as well as time to put them on paper. Part of this came from one of those sessions.
When my family moved away from the house at 1717 Wickersham Drive after 10 years of our lives were lived there, my sister and I started this fight over which of us was going to move back there and raise our family first. Everything was and still is a competition for us. Needless to say, the neighborhood that raised us went down hill in the years that followed and neither of us went back to buy the house. I’ve taken my own children down the street and told stories about the fruitless Mulberry tree in the back yard where Uncle Darrell and his friend Robert used to sit for hours and play in its large branches that overlooked Robert’s yard next door. I’ve told them about playing in the creek down where the street used to end, and looked in awe at the new road and houses that are now sitting on that land. I’ve described the huge sand pile, not sand BOX, that took up one-fifth of our very large back yard and how they had to drive in from the then vacant lot behind to dump all that sand that once housed the white and blue monkey bars that broke my shoulder. We laughed and talked about my memories of the creek flooding and water coming in the back door of the kitchen as we planned where we would ride out the tornado they expect to be headed our way. I pointed out the spot where I fell on roller skates, breaking my wrist in two places, and how my sister ran to the door of my hospital room when I screamed as they pulled my arm back into place before casting it. I looked longingly at the houses where Ronni and Travis lived, as well as Donna and Stacy. We were always the best of friends and the worst of enemies in the same week. I will never forget the sound of my mother’s voice yelling “girls!” down the street when it was time for us to come in. I swear we could hear her inside the neighbor’s house 3 doors down. We weren’t rich and it wasn’t perfect, but we have great memories.
Until yesterday I hadn’t really thought much about that house or those memories in a long time. Ronni now lives in England, Travis in another part of Texas, and who knows where Donna and Stacy ended up. I remembered how I was so excited to finally get a room of my own and not share with my sister any more. Some days it was bad enough I had to drag her along to my friend’s house, I certainly didn’t want to share a room with her any longer. I must have been 8 or 10 at the time I moved into the once guest room, and it was all mine until we moved out after my parents divorce when I was 12. I remember the furniture from JC Penney, my mom’s favorite store. It was antiqued white with blue and yellow flowers painted on it. I remember laying on my big double bed staring out the front window of the house watching friends play on days that I was grounded. My sister’s room only had a view of the sand pile. Mine was so much better. My brother and I would each lay in the doorway of our rooms, which were across the hall from each other, when mom was taking a nap and we were supposed to be doing the same. We would play cards and dominos in the hallway, but still in our rooms where we belonged. My sister was down the hall around the corner, she couldn’t see us and would have to pass moms room to get to us. Just one more reason my room was better. My cat would come to my window at night when she wanted in, and even though I changed rooms, she knew where to find me. The best days where when I came home from school to find my grandmother and our house keeper, Paula, had cleaned my room and done the laundry. Is there anything greater than a fresh clean room with clean sheets, freshly made bed and laundry already put away in the drawers?
Until I finished this writing exercise yesterday I really thought my best memories were in MY room, but what I realized is that there were better ones around the corner down the hall. When I shared a room with my sister we jumped back and forth from one twin bed to the other until my sister fell and broke her arm one day. We played Barbie’s for hours in our Barbie dream house, pulling the string to take the elevator up and down again and again. When we were grounded to our room we had each other or we could watch others playing in the backyard sand pile though the window. I remember having a Raggedy Ann and Andy alarm clock that said “Andy, Andy please wake up! It’s time to wake our friend.” That was enough to wake me up, but my sister could sleep through a storm. I had to wake her up by jumping on her bed and throwing pillows on her. It was my sisterly duty of course. I remember her sleep walking into the closet one night and telling mom that she was in there because she needed to use the bathroom and I was in the other one. The funny thing was that I was sound asleep and no one was in the bathroom. I’m just glad someone woke her up before that one got ugly. I remember taking all of our toys out of the large green plastic frog toy box in our room so we could hide in it, as if all the toys on the floor were not a dead give away. I remember my Dad taking a white ceramic brush set with pink flowers painted on them that I received as a birthday gift and breaking one of them by slamming it on the bed to make my mom think he was spanking my sister. By the time it was all over, she was laughing and I was the one crying! That was my sisters strategy though, I was to blame for everything she did wrong as a child. She would hit me or take something from me, and because she was younger, she could start crying and make mom believe the opposite had happened. My mom would take the yard rake and sweep everything on the floor into a big pile when it was time to clean our room. Then we would take turns claiming nothing it that pile belonged to us. It was a long and painful process for my mother, I’m sure, but it was our room and one way or another we got it clean.
We were the kool-aid house on the block. Everyone came to our house to climb the trees, play in the sand or have a water balloon fight that eventually broke the window over the kitchen sink where we were filling up balloons to throw at our friends in the front yard. We, and by we I mean my brother, had a pool table and pinball machine in the garage. Of course us girls were not allowed the scratch the pool table, which to my brother meant, girls don’t touch it! We climbed on it and played under it instead. It was the least we could do, being the little sisters and all. My brother would have just as soon been an only child than to deal with the two of us. We were quite a pair. When we asked him questions about things his answer was always “so stupid little girls like you will ask questions.” No wonder my sister and I stuck together like twins. Back then, brothers were the worst! They chased you with craw dads, they didn’t let you play with their cool stuff and they called you stupid.
My sister and I have not always been the best of friends or even the best of sisters, but we have always leaned on the fact that we are family and will be there for each other when the going gets rough, no matter what. We formed that bond beginning the day she was born when I was just over two years old and we moved into the house at 1717 Wickersham Drive. That house, the neighbors, the streets, the creek and the memories were and always will be a part of who and what we are today; the good and the bad. It’s all there. Where we go from here is all up to us. Our memories keep us strong and our faith takes us forward, but that home will always be where our hearts live.