Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Room of My Own

A momentous occasion, this blog is coming to you live from high atop our house on Kinderhook Street in Chatham, NY, the command center for the entire ship. I saw a house (the Swallow house) in the town of Valatie built from the remains of a shattered steamer (the "Swallow"), that foundered on the rocks of the Hudson River in a big storm (for the full story, see, pages 31 and 38), and that's how I feel when I am in this room; all it lacks is a giant wheel to be the Captain's deck. I went in here and shut the door, just as I imagined myself doing, and oh, blissful peace. A room of one's own. This is what I earned with the countless loads of laundry and dishes. Devin Hawker's mom, who's from Greene, Iowa, calls laundry the "crop that never fails." And she always gets a laugh with that.

It is not an auspicious room; it appears that someone wallpapered a walk-in closet. I imagine originally it was the "baby room," the tiny room adjacent to the "big bedroom" that has been turned into a walk-in closet in most old houses. But this one has long been used as an office, as evidenced by the clips and metal implements (such as a surgical-looking protractor bearing a red CRELLIN, the label made with those hand-punchers that emboss white letters onto plastic tape, and then peel and stick) left tacked around the window and door frames, the mechanical pencil sharpener with a magnet, and attendant paper clips and razor blades, stuck to the handle. The mystery of what was left here bowls me over. Particularly poignant are a pair of black-handled metal scissors left on the window sash. Scraps of brown paper stapled to the woodwork, that read "FIRE,' or various addresses: The National Union Bank of Kinderhook, Gerber Life Insurance Co. Claims Department, The Boy Scouts of America. These are the scraps that remain of Mrs. Dorothy Crellin's life. The wide base boards, long, low windows (with old metal Venetian blinds) and the paneled doors with their low, blackened copper doorknobs, are all painted a light sea green: as Pepto-Bismol is to pink, this is to green. The wallpaper is duller green with a large, sketchy figure of zinnias in green and white. I would say that the color and organic nature of the figure date it from the 40s. Aged electrical cords trail around the perimeter, as there is perhaps a single outlet. A set designer would be fascinated with the water marks dripping down from the blackened light switch, and the worn mark next to the switchplate, where hands have groped a thousand times in the dark, staining and wrinkling and actually wearing a hole in the wallpaper.

Now I will reread The Yellow Wallpaper (a minor erotic masterpiece). I will stash chocolate in here. There are homemade shelves cut from plywood, one with round rings - what could that be for, paint jars? One with a rod hung from the bottom. I will fold The New York Times over it, as they do in French bistros.

I look out over the porch's pointed roof, which is just like a prow, and dead-eye down Library Place, to the back of the library and the school bus barn. It is a white and frosty winter day, all the tree limbs encased in ice, 8 inches of snow coating everything. People here tend to decorate their houses for the holidays with a single "candle" in every window and a wreath on the door. It strikes me that they don't have to decorate with wattage like the denizens of LA or Houston, because they have the real thing, the frosting, the icicles.

A room! A room of my own!


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