New found teenage freedom comes with unforeseen drawbacks.
| One bright summer morning I awoke, groggy and blurry-eyed, to the thump of a hammer, the rasp of a saw, and the shrill screech of a crow bar. Rubbing my eyes and gazing out my bedroom window, I focused on my father ripping out the old door and roosts from the unused chicken coop to the west of our house. When I pulled on my clothes and walked out to ask him what he was doing, he grinned, “Buildin' a place for a new chicken to roost.” As it turned out, that “chicken” was me.
The time had already arrived when I would inherit my own room. My sister, married a couple of years past, had departed the house for her husband and apartment life. My brother had vacated our shared room for college the autumn before. But no one would have guessed the surprise my father planned for me. A room of my own! No, really a house of my own.
Growing up in Port Orchard during the 1950s, I never thought of myself as poor. So many families seemed to be just like us. Our family always stored plenty of canned food in the utility shed, and my mom always kept our pantry and refrigerator stuffed. The washer always worked to keep my clothes clean. I owned a dog, a cat, and a bike. And . . . the family television sat in our living room as a reminder of our middle-class status. But I never had my own room. In fact, at one point five people lived in our small two-bedroom, one bath home. Mom and Dad shared their own bedroom; my brother and I shared the other bedroom. Then there was my sister’s “bedroom” consisting of a sofa in the living room that she folded down each night before she went to bed and folded up each morning after she awoke. With my new outside room, all of that now lay in the past.
Although not the most elegant room in the world, my finished room looked and smelled new. No sheetrock lined the walls, but the stained, finished plywood Dad installed looked great. My two windows – one of them a slider that faced the rising sun – slid open on both ends keeping the room well ventilated. The other window that faced away from the house pushed open at the bottom. Its frosted glass allowed light to enter, but no one could see through it. Finally, my father laid new linoleum with a squared pattern that looked like the straw-matting floor of a Polynesian hut.
My furniture supply filled up more than enough space for my needs. My bed, my chest of drawers, an old family bookshelf, plus an ancient wooden desk salvaged from the recesses of the Hirsch’s garage gave my new room a lived-in look. Later the family’s old hide-a-bed would find a new home in my room. Genuine sliding doors adorned my own clothes closet. And my mom, putting her Singer sewing machine to good use, manufactured curtains for my sliding window to keep the sun out in the morning.
Moving in during the first part of July, I promptly experienced my greatest summer in memory. Coming and going with a freedom previously unimagined, friends visited and stayed the night with no worry about disturbing my parents. We could talk until slumber overtook us.
The summer flew by until school began in September. Then came the seven o’clock sounds of my human alarm clock – my mom. The upward inflected sound of my name “Gar--eee!” split the silence of sleep, and I rolled over. By the second time she bellowed my name, my body arose and my feet started stomping about. If she yelled a third time, trouble lay in store -- one of those hateful lectures about how responsible people always managed to be on time.
Through Halloween, life remained wonderful in my new abode, but by the fourth day of November the temperature nose-dived. It became winter. That morning I awoke shivering. My bed covers, not quite thick enough to keep me toasty warm, left me on the verge of hypothermia. Finally, steeling myself, I worked up the courage to make the flying leap out of bed, get dressed, and dash into the waiting warmth of the house. My cozy little room lacked one important feature – its own heat supply.
Coping with the chill factor took on a variety of tactics. First, I heaped a pile of quilts and blankets upon my bed. Snuggling under the covers, their weight tended to push me deeper into the mattress. That was good because my body generated its own warmth making my situation more bearable. A tent-like bulge near the pillow marked the point where my nose emerged seeking out the fresh air. When it became very cold, my entire body wallowed in the depths like a submerged submarine. Frequently in the morning my mouth pierced the covers like a periscope, my breath creating a vaporous parachute floating above the bed.
And there was always that dreaded moment – the moment that ear-splitting shriek tore the air. “Gar-eee! It’s time to get up!” followed by, “Gar-eee! It’s seven o’clock!”
Not able to avoid the chill any longer, I swallowed a deep breath, hurled myself out of bed, pulled on my clothes, and sprinted into the warm house where my breakfast was consumed leaning against the oil heater. When it was really cold, my dressing technique reached the status of an art. The night before I carefully spread out my clothes at the foot of the bed. In the morning, waiting until the last possible moment, I eased my garments beneath the covers and dressed myself flat on my back in bed.
During winter the outside room became a mixed blessing. In fact, this proved to be one of those "memorable" winters, recording the lowest temperatures in the last ten years. By mid-December the nighttime temperature averaged thirty-three degrees Fahrenheit. Often ice had formed on the inside of the windows. Eventually my parents bought me an electric heater. This helped. But during the nights when it was especially cold, it only warmed a four-foot cylinder of air surrounding the heater. But it really did help in the mornings; at least I could position my body so that half of it stayed warm in comparative comfort while dressing.
However, winter gradually brightened into spring, and welcome relief arrived with warming temperatures. The bed covers shed weight, and the electric heater stayed unplugged. One day near the end of May.dragging myself home from school, the temperature prematurely soared into the mid-eighties. Opening the screen door to my sweltering room, an unexpected present stood in the corner. Big, brown, and sustained by oil, it was a renovated stove my father had just installed.
At dinner while sipping iced tea and chewing cold cuts and swallowing refrigerated potato salad, my dad wore a pleased expression – a smile that lasted through dinner. “Well, son, how do ya like the new stove?” he asked.
“It looks great, Dad,” I answered.
“Now you won’t have to worry about freezin' to death,” he replied.
Wiping drops of sweat from my forehead and thinking about all those cold winter nights, all those mornings dressing under the covers, and all those mad dashes into the house, my mouth spoke the only words I could possibly say.
“Thank you, Dad.”