Friday, 11 January 2008

Significant doors ... and other things, part 2

Another door I can't recall is the kitchen door to our house on Island Road. I recall some things ABOUT that door, but not the actual door. For example, that door was only locked at night after a strange man came into our kitchen and rummaged through our cupboards while Daddy worked the night shift at the high school as janitor and night watchman. I vaguely remember peeking at the intruder from behind the beige accordian vinyl door that separated bedroom from front room . I didn't recognize him.

People who knew us came to, and through, that kitchen door. Let me take your coat, we always said, then the visitors marched through our house and deposited their own coats on the bed in the bedroom. They never used the perfectly good coat rack just inside that door.

Uncle Eddy used to walk right in and call "put the kettle on, tea time!" The kettle was always on already because his Wednesday afternoon visits were a given. I loved Uncle Eddy's Wednesday afternoon visits because he brought "store-bought" bakery treats for tea, and toys for me from Ben Prince's Store in Oroville. Small black wooden dollies with elastic band joints and three pony tails on their heads. Yo-yos. Plastic launching helicopters. Uncle Eddy was a character with a history. We always called the Anarchist Mountain Lookout "Eddy's Point" because, long before I was born, he was left for dead there over a bootleg liquor deal gone wrong . My teetotaller Gramma always put out the good china tea pot and tea cups when he came to visit, even though he had been a bad bootlegger.

Auntie Minie used to walk right in and sing out "hello this house" instead of hello to us, the people. Like Uncle Eddy, Auntie Minie was not actual blood kin, but I didn't know yet that all my many aunties and uncles and grammas were merely a network of friends and acquaintances. Children didn't address adults by name only then.

I grew up in the days of home deliveries and door-to-door peddlers. Art the NOCA milkman who brought glass jars of whole milk with clots of real cream floating at the top. The Fuller Brush man who brought tins of stinky liniment for sore muscles. That entertaining peddler who drove a panel truck and sold sewing pins and needles and velvety wall hangings. You be good now, or that gypsy peddler will take you away. I never looked too close at the amazing treasures in his panel truck just in case.

The Dutch bread man was a regular through our kitchen door. I printed the words (all correctly) "GO OUT DOOR" on my easel blackboard and showed him that message because he teased me about being too young to read and write. After he left, I got a spanking for being rude. Good children didn't tell adults what to do then.

People who didn't know us came to the front room door. Generally, they were unwanted and unwelcomed guests. Electrolux salesmen when we already had a perfectly good Electrolux vacuum. Jehovah's Witnesses when we already had a perfectly good pastor and church community.

Outside the kitchen door I can't remember, Daddy laid a square cement patio. He mixed, poured, and smoothed that cement by hand. Somewhere along one edge, he pressed my tiny child hand into the thickening slodge and left a forever hand print. Our cement patio was bordered on the north and south by tall wood 2 by 4 frames and cotton twine supporting hop vines. Daddy also planted a few scarlet runner beans in between the hops because their brilliant red flowers attracted the vivacious little hummingbirds that Darky and Kitten, our consecutive grey tabby tom cats, could never catch. Once a sand storm blew down the valley and the wind actually picked up my skinny child body and threw me up against the hops on the south side. The wind lifted me so far up from the ground, I was afraid I would sail right over the hops and end up sailing down the valley and clear to China.

Our root cellar was on the southeast side of the patio. Kelly and Kevie's family next door had a sod root cellar, a small earth hill with a door in its side, but ours was a real little house with a regular door and roof. I stepped down into perpetual chill and onto a bare earth floor when sent to fetch jars of home-canned peaches or tinned "tommy-toes", or "spuds" with creepy long white sprouts. Our root cellar smelled of sauerkraut and ripe apples and river water.

On the northeast side of the patio, the hops were broken by a white-painted wooden arch festooned with pale pink tea roses. Daddy's favourites. They reminded him of wild roses. Wild roses don't transplant worth beans. There were no beans on Daddy's tea roses. The rose arch led from house to woodwork shop and garage, and also to our chicken coop, bath house, and outhouse. There was absolutely no avoiding that arch. It was the only patio exit and we had no indoor plumbing. Passing through that arch scared me half to death because the tea roses were host to huge speckled spiders. Why are you dancing around like you're about to piddle? 'Cuz those spiders SCARE ME! Scare you? Have you never REALLY looked at them? So I did. I started watching them for hours on end. I even witnessed a life and death battle between one of them and a bee -- the bee lost. I was never scared of spiders again.

Out on the patio, and immediately left of the kitchen door I can't recall, stood our wash stand -- pronounced "warsh - stand". Gramma was American by birth. The wash stand was a green-painted wood cabinet where our chipped enamel "warsh" basin -- white with a narrow band of red trim -- sat beside a bucket of cold well water and a blue enamel dipper for drinking. Island Road well water tasted like nose bleed, and basin, bucket, and dipper all bore orange-ish stains from its high iron content. Island Road well water was the BEST drinking water, especially compared to "town water" that tasted like nothing. Island Road well water tasted delicious, but proximity to the river sometimes meant a high water table and contaminated well. Once I was so badly "jaundiced" -- inflicted with hepatitis -- that the whites of my eyes turned bright yellow. Yellow as a duck's foot. I was fed pureed egg yolks and calf's liver to heal my inflamed liver. How that hideous yellow muck was supposed to fix my yellow eyes was beyond me.

The shelves above our wash basin and drinking water bucket held a small green plastic glass and my toothbrush. We "warshed" our teeth with a paste of salt and baking soda until Pepsodent came along. "You wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent ..." I hated Pepsodent's too-strong minty-peppery taste.

There was an old-fashioned screen door outside our kitchen door. It complained with a loud WHINGE-BANG every time it was opened, and drove Gramma to a headache and then a red-faced fury if opened too often. In hot weather, the screen door WAS the kitchen door. Sometimes I deliberately guided its partial closure to avoid aggravating Gramma's headache. Once a skunk got into our kitchen and hid under the wood cook stove. Gramma bent down to feed carrot peelings to Annabelle, our pet rabbit, and discovered the skunk. I got spanked for not closing the screen door properly. Close the door properly, were you raised in a barn? I never saw a barn with a screen door.

Gramma hated coming in through the kitchen door at night. The only light switch was clear across the room. She used to make me go to the light switch while Daddy put the Vauxhall away in the garage and checked animals in outbuildings. If I walked slowly (deliberately) instead of ran "quick as a bunny" to the light switch as directed, I could see sparks fly from her sleeves when she took off her winter coat. She took off her coat carefully like she wasn't scared at all of the monsters that lived in the dark.

Just inside the kitchen door I can't recall ... (to be continued) ...

Friday, 4 January 2008

significant doors ... and other things

The other day, while walking home thru the snow, I realized my feet knew their way home. My feet turned down the street where I live without the rest of me checking the street sign on the corner. That made me think about all the different things that are so familiar I don't even notice them anymore. My thoughts wandered around a bit more and then settled into pondering doors.

Yes, doors. To my surprise, there were a lot of doors I couldn't remember. So I've decided to spend some blogging time contemplating some of those doors. This is going to be an experiment in creative writing and blogging, and perhaps some kind of analysis. So here goes ...

Were the front doors of old St Martin's Hospital wood or glass? Double? Single? Painted? Locked? Did they squeak when opened, or bang shut? I don't recall.

What I do recall is the long flight of stairs leading up from the half-moon driveway-slash-parking area to those front doors. Those stairs rose in two sections with a small concrete terrace between. Each section was wider at its bottom than at its top as the stairs narrowed into the doorway that I can't recall. Those stairs were very smooth, likely quite dangerous in rain or frost. You certainly wouldn't see the likes of them leading to the front doors of a modern hospital. Those stairs were also very clean.

I used to play there while family adults visited inside the hospital. Once I watched a nun down on her hands and knees and scrubbing the stairs. She wielded a big scrub brush sopping with soapy water that smelled like the inside of the hospital. I didn't know the word disinfectant yet. Another nun -- perhaps the dreaded Mother Superior -- exited the hospital and marched down across her freshly scrubbed steps. The kneeling nun kept her eyes down and then rescrubbed without complaint. I wondered what she was being punished for.

Those stairs were smooth, shiny and grey, but when you looked very close you could see faint streaks of pinks and browns like elongated bits of play dough rolled out flat. I did look close because sometimes my child legs got so tired climbing all those stairs that I made the final ascent on my hands and knees.

I wanted to become a nun, but we weren't Catholic. I identified with that nameless stair-scrubbing nun. I always felt very connected to St Martin's Hospital and the nuns.

Jacks. I played jacks on the stairs while the adults visited inside the hospital. Red rubber balls were best for jacks there. White ping pong balls sometimes bounced too high and got caught in gusts of wind. Pick up your jacks, little girl, these stairs are no place for jacks. But they were the best place for jacks.

Outside on the stairs, I could smell the shrubs planted around St Martin's, and hear the wind moaning down the shady treed nun's walk to the north. Inside the doors I can't recall, I smelled soap and sick, and heard silence. St Martin's Hospital was a place for whispers and lies.

On very special occasions, I was allowed thru the front doors. When Kenny was born, a white-robed nun led me down the hall to the right and to the nursery. She held me up so I could see the miraculous baby, his fragile head small enough to fit inside a good china teacup, kicking and squirming inside his glass isolette. He'll live, Sister whispered, see how strong his little legs are. But his little legs took extra years to be trained to walk, and now Kenny's gone. He didn't see forty. When Joyce slit her wrists, a different nun led me down the hall to the left and to her room. I wasn't allowed into her room. I had to visit her from the doorway, and I wondered if that was so I wouldn't catch what Joyce had. Out-of-wedlock babies were bad. I wondered if they would make Joyce scrub the stairs to get better. It was an accident, she whispered, I must have broken a slippery glass in the soapy dishpan.

Sometimes Daddy let me wait in the foyer inside the front doors while he visited with old Father Downey, the hospital chaplain. I couldn't imagine why my Protestant Daddy wanted to visit a Roman Catholic who drank Christian blood and worshipped idols, or why he needed to visit him at the hospital. What did you talk to Father Downey about, Daddy? Oh, we talked about his new painting of McIntyre Bluff and where the road should go. Then Daddy put his crumpled wet hanky away.

There were two big chairs in that foyer, both with waxy curved wooden arms and lions' feet and wine-coloured upholstery. Both chairs faced Mother Superior's office, which was immediately to the left of the front doors. To the right if you were sitting on the chairs. Mother Superior was a disembodied oval face who glided on invisible feet. She punished bad nuns, and possibly bad little girls. It was best to keep an eye on her office.

The best part of that foyer was the two plaster carvings, two tall flesh-coloured arches set into the walls. One depicted St Martin on horseback, and the other -- my favourite -- a seated Jesus with outstretched hand beckoning the little children to come unto him. Once I stood on the chair and placed my small child hand in Jesus' big hand. I wanted to climb right onto his lap like the curly-haired tot in the carving, but Mother Superior might come along. I worried those plaster carvings would be destroyed when St Martin's Hospital was replaced by a new secular hospital, but somebody rescued them. For a while, the carvings adorned the walls on either side of the east doors at Christ the King Church. I don't know where they are now.

I have a clear mental picture of the front doors to the new secular hospital, and I can even envision the east doors at Christ the King Church. However, the front doors of old St Martin's Hospital, between outdoor stairs and indoor foyer, I cannot recall.

Another door I can't recall is the kitchen door to our house on the Island Road .... (to be continued) ....