Doors are more than just doors.....Perhaps this cryptic statment would benefit from some clarification. Any one of us could look at a door and say, "that's an aluminum frame with screen to keep bugs out and let the breezes in. Or..."what a grand slab of carved wood with leaded glass inserts and gleaming hardware.
I, on the other hand, look at the doors in my family's two different homes and see something entirely different. The ones which I keep in memory lack any level of grandiosity. They're deeply scratched ... sometimes by overeager dogs, at others by impatient children. They're worn, down to the bare wood, around the knob. And the knobs? Actually they can be both comical and frustrating. Void of finish - any brassy gleam having been worn away long ago by thousands of turns - the knobs have been know to trap the twister on the other side . It's their way of saying to us , We're old ...turn too far, too fast, or in the wrong direction...you're just going to be stuck." Thus, if one of these doors stood between you and your chosen destination, it was well worth your while to learn all its vagaries: lifting the door before turning the knob; turning the knob first and then lifting and pulling the door; jiggling the knob and then just opening the door. The variations were and are endless. But know them you must.
For a good while, my mother, my father, and eight children lived in a less than 1200 square foot flat - the downstairs version. In my child's mind, it never occurred to me that we were living on top of one another... it was my world. The flat consisted of a living room, a dining room (which my parents used as their bedroom), one large bedroom, lined all the way around with bunk beds for the boys, one odd little room off the living room - large only enough for a single bed which my younger sister and I shared. A narrow hallway ran from this room to a miniscule bathroom. That hallway was home for the baby bassinette and the newest family member - in this case, my youngest sister. Oh yes, the kitchen. It barely accommodated the chrome and red kitchen set (with leaves open) around which most of us gathered for meals. Toddlers occcupied highchairs. The loveliest thing, though, about living in the flat was the large, covered front porch - cooler in the summer than the inside and always sheltered from the rain. We spent many happy hours playing on the stretch of cool concrete or trying to master climbing up the brick wall topped by slabs of smooth white stone which enclosed the porch.
My maternal grandmother Mary Browne Kearney lived in the upstairs flat. In fact, she had sold the long-time Kearney family home to help my parents buy their first house. After World War II, with no affordable housing available for veterans, the family lived first with my paternal gradparents. They didn't have much space either. Then the reconverted barracks at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis became available. But when the fifth baby was due, my parents knew they needed something larger and more permanent. Without Gram Kearney's assistance, the move wouldn't have taken place.
Initially, she lived above with my Aunt Ann and Uncle Joe, still teenagers at the time. But when Ann married and Joe joined the Navy, Kearney had the paradise of the flat all to herself. She kept real sweet butter in her fridge, Hydrox cookies in her bread box. She had her own bedroom, rather spartan as I recall, but in it stood an immense wooden chest with multiple drawers. A hand-crocheted runner covered it top, with a hand-painted porcelain powder box with a matcning tray providing the only ornamentaion. A crystal chandelier hung enticingly over the dining room table. Two well-worn wing chairs sat upon a colorful Asian-style carpet in the living room. which featured small harlequin-paned windows that allowed you to peep out to the street from a low-set alcove under the attic eaves. In the warm summer months, these windows stood open, tying to entice an errant breeze to enter and cool the room. When they did so, the short lace curtains billowed out like a small ship's sails. Kearney also had an amazing entertainment combo: an international band radio with a pull-out record player below. I listened to broadcasts from Madrid, Rome, and Tokyo and heard the ethereal voice of singer Yma Sumac. Kearney's flat might just as easily have been a world away.
Yet these two chambers of my family's heart were intimately connected ... each flat having a flight of basement stairs and a door at the top of the steps. I can't recall that anybody ever used the front door of either flat ... except perhaps real guests, not family. Life flowed with a wonderful rhythm up and down those stairs and beyond the doors.
(Work in Progress)