My Childhood Bedroom

The walls of my childhood bedroom were the warm honey color of knotty pine paneling that was so popular in the early 1950’s, especially with people who could not afford hardwood paneling. My father put those bedroom walls up with his own hands, probably at the “gentle” urging of my mother. She gently urged him to many such projects around our small fixer upper home until they eventually divorced when I was almost thirteen years old.
I must have been around 4 years old when my father created my bedroom using half of the room we once called the dining room. My mother had decided that the brown-eyed, tow-headed little girl she had so fervently wished for needed some privacy and a place to retreat from the insults and blows of her older and younger brothers.
I learned early on how to hold my own with my brothers and later to best them at almost everything, including wrestling, and learning Morse code. I think my mother was sorely disappointed that her only daughter was such a tomboy.
She tried really hard for a long time to create the illusion that a feminine little girl lived in that small bedroom. She painted one wall in my bedroom an extremely bright pink, which I despised! She also gave me, of all things, dolls, Madame Alexander dolls, for Christmas and birthdays. For the most part they were untouched by me and remained on display on a shelf in my bedroom. Although as I grew older I did finally come to appreciate one doll named Bennie who had a large wardrobe of clothing my mother made for her.
One of my fondest memories of my childhood is lying in my wall to wall bed and listening to my mother singing in the kitchen as she prepared breakfast for us every morning. She had a beautiful soprano voice, and sang in our Methodist church choir. Everyone teased her about having the voice of an angel. She sang hymns, country western songs, and love ballads, all with great feeling and clarity. A few of her favorites were “The Old Rugged Cross”, Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line”,” It Had To Be You”, “You Are My Sunshine”, and “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?”. I still know the words to most of those songs by heart because she sang them all so often. As I lay listening to her singing I would look out the two large windows that were set into that uncomfortably pink wall and watch the clouds drift by, smell the bacon and eggs that I knew were sizzling in the skillet for me, and begin to wake to the day.
When Dad built my room he used a corner to create a small closet. I am sure he had no idea when he built it that Roy Rogers and Trigger would be living in it, but they did. Sometimes, in the middle of the night I would be wakened by those unseen, indescribable, but evil creatures that lurked beneath my bed; and since my Dad worked most nights I couldn’t go to him for help, so I asked Roy. Sometimes he would come alone and other times he would bring Trigger, but he always came and chased away those strange creatures with great speed. He took my fears seriously and would sit on the side of my bed and sing to me until I fell asleep again. He never complained and he never failed me.
Other times I would wake in the early hours of the morning just to listen for my Dad coming home from work. Those times I would crawl to the foot of the bed under the covers with my book and flashlight and read until I heard his car drive up out front and then wait for the sound of his key in the door. I would hastily crawl back to the head of my bed and pretend to be asleep when he looked in on me. Sometimes I would be so engrossed in my book he would catch me reading, and scold me for not sleeping while giving me a hug and a kiss and tucking me back into bed. I remember he always smelled funny because he worked at the chemical plant at Eli Lilly & Co., and until he showered he would smell like an open vitamin bottle or worse. But I loved him no matter how he smelled, and in those early morning hours he was all mine….it was one of those rare times when I didn’t have to share him with anyone.
I have so many memories of the years I lived in that room. I remember kneeling to say my prayers in the light of the full moon…reading my catechism book and wondering about the God-Man Jesus… the falling star I watched fall right outside my window, and to this day wish I had gone outside that same moment to pick it up off the ground where I saw it land. My younger brother coming in to play cards with me on my bed when I was sick…or the time he and I were at our usual rough-housing and I pushed him to the floor breaking his two front teeth neatly in half. My mother sat on the floor and held both of us and cried with us because we were so upset. Gene because he was in pain and me because I couldn’t believe what I had done to him…and then there’s my first grown-up dress for Easter, the twelfth, and last Easter I would spend in that room.
The dress was a short-sleeved aqua blue silk with a chiffon overlay and a silk flower sewn into the waistband. When I twirled, the chiffon moved over the silk and it felt as wonderful as it looked. Mom and I had seen it at Strauss department store and knew we couldn’t afford it and shouldn’t try it on…but…I did try it on and we both loved it! We decided we would have to go home and use our feminine wiles, well Mom’s feminine wiles, and my cajolery, to convince my father that he should feel privileged to buy this dress for me.
Until this time my mother had sewn all of my dresses and this was the first purchased dress I would even consider because my mother was a talented seamstress and I loved everything she sewed for me.
My father finally agreed and so the very next day Mom and I went back to Strauss and picked up the dress and shoes and hat and gloves, and my very first garter belt and stockings. No bra yet….that came much later!
That evening after a great struggle with the garter belt and stockings I emerged from my bedroom holding my breath and wondering what sort of reception I would encounter, especially from my brothers. They were both stunned by my girlish appearance, and I think my father was too. As I twirled into the room, confusion was written all over their faces; but they recovered well enough to tell me how nice I looked. I twirled again and ran back into my bedroom, feeling that I had embarked on a new phase in my life. I was twelve years old and becoming a young woman.
Unfortunately, later that same year my parents would divorce and I would lose the security of the home my parents had created together and shared with us for so many years. A new phase had indeed begun and it would be many years before I would recover those feelings of safety and security I felt while growing up at 2621 N. Chester. However, I still hold dear all of the memories I have from the years I spent in the bedroom that had been built just for me. 

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