“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and of love and kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.” ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder
Home. The old homestead.
Our first memories of childhood were spent here—the spot on which we landed after a long day at school, a rough band rehearsal, a luke-warm first date.
Then there is that one safe and secure place inside our homes where we could go to read our favorite book; to dream of our future selves; to draw and color the castle where the fair maiden/sensitive young man is trapped and awaiting their proverbial prince or princess. If we were fortunate enough to have that haven as a kid, we remember it with fondness, gratitude, and often with a yearning to have that time, that reserved-for-one space back in our lives once again.
If we are on the same page here, feel free to reminisce with me. If you needed a place then, or if you need a haven today, right now, welcome to my happy place. Feel free to come back and join me or just hang in here without me—whenever it suits.
At this time of year, the time when we are (or maybe we should be) a bit more thankful, slightly more mindful of our past—mistakes and all, and unabashedly nostalgic for our younger days, I offer an homage to my childhood bedroom with all the love and appreciation to my parents for the time I spent there. I will be “home” for Christmas, Mom and Dad—if only in my dreams and memories.
I was reminded of this coveted, one-of-a-kind room a few weeks ago after being prompted to describe the sleep-chamber of my youth during our online evening session of Elephant apprenticing. As my fingertips curled closer to the middle row of my keyboard, the memories, the sights, the smells, and the joys of my childhood play space began to surround me. It was as if, spinning myself in a circle, I’d waved a magic wand, allowing my past to swirl around me in spirals of images.
My bedroom from age six to about the time I moved out to head to college was a log-cabin section on the second floor of a 19th century farmhouse in rural, central Pennsylvania. Follow me to the center of the house, and up the creaky, brown and white carpeted steps—the one area of the house that was constantly warm to the point of stifling due to the heat vent at the base of the steps; that heat always felt like long arms enveloping and ushering me home.
I remember emphatically “calling” that room when my parents first gave us the grand tour of our new home.
Dreams of having a log bedroom, like my childhood idol, Laura Ingalls Wilder, had always filled me with glee. My mother and father knew logs were hidden in those walls—behind years of plaster, wallpaper, wooden slats, and time—and if I wanted that log bedroom, I was told I would have to work for it.
They knew the commitment it would take to uncover, reside safely, and be warm in a room encased by a mostly wooden skeleton. But, I would soon have a room nearly identical to hers.
The more affluent students in my class sent snickers and eye-rolling in my direction when I spoke of my bedroom and my life on the farm. But, I felt special that this one-of-a-kind room was going to be mine. Funny how, looking back, memories of those naysayers with their upturned noses don’t come back as clearly as memories of that amazing space.
We had a lot of work to do before that room was ready for me to sleep and play in it. The logs were still covered with old, stained, ripped wallpaper and a thick layer of dust. The room, the walls, and the air in there also smelled musty—a smell I would grow to associate with my life on the farm.
My father, mother, sister, and I went to work exposing the original log base of that room before we formally moved into the house. My father re-chinked the in-between parts with a sealant recipe I think he got from an Amish friend. Then together, we stained and polyurethaned the logs to make sure they would be beautifully browned, sealed, and protected.
My mother and I then started to decorate my space, in keeping with the “old-timey” look and feel of the room. We found an antique washstand with a basin and pitcher for the long side of room. We found and hung a Norman Rockwell painting titled “Girl at Mirror.” In it, a young girl sits on a small, red pouf, looking at herself in a full-length mirror with a magazine opened in her lap; she looks wistfully at her own visage, wondering if she will someday emulate the famous woman featured on the open page below her.
Mom and I frequented the local flea market to find old movie posters and advertisements, and we framed them in walnut-wood frames—perfectly matching those log walls. She then designed a black, red, and yellow calico quilt to cover my bed, along with two matching pillows. My favorite all-white stuffed polar bear sat patiently nestled between those pillows, waiting for me to run through the doorway, jump into his arms, and snuggle with him until my eyelids were heavy enough to lull my body to sleep.
The room’s long wall flanked the road on which we lived, so when cars drove by, I would hear their sporadic comings and goings. The light traffic didn’t bother me that much—I’d watch the headlights rise up one side of the wall and down the other when I couldn’t sleep.
There was also a lamp on the shelf-side of the washstand that doused the room in a sepia-colored glow. I was surrounded by all shades of brown, off-white, red, and yellow—earthy, grounded, positive, and blissful.
It was warm in my space. It always smelled of cinnamon, sleep, and a hint of Lemon Pledge. I enjoyed playing and creating there. I felt special showing that room to my friends; many of whom had never seen a log bedroom. They would lament that their more modern, newly-built rooms were “plain” and “so white.”
I miss that room. I miss that simpler time.
I shared this article with my family as I was writing it this past Thanksgiving. My father was brought to tears as I read through the process my family and I took to make this room my childhood play-sleep-and-living-space. He gave me a big bear-hug, the Parkinson’s tremors unrecognizable from the emotion that also shook his body, and he thanked me in a muffled voice that came from a mouth that was pressed against my shoulder. It was at that moment that I realized that this room, the work that went into creating a space for me to grow and thrive, and the love that my parents have for me better symbolizes “the spirit of the season” than any fruitcake or baked ham or cheesy commercial.
Not everyone remembers their childhood in such detail and with love, warmth, and fondness. Or, if we do, we might not have the most positive memories of our childhood houses, rooms, yards, or lives; I get that.
It does not matter, however, where we grew up, or how much we moved around so that our home was not a single, memorable place. It doesn’t even matter if we didn’t have an actual homestead to call ours. Now, we have the opportunity to help other folks—young, middle, and older—ensure that they do have a place to call their own.
As holidays of all kinds approach just as quickly as the year 2017 comes to a close, tenderize that heart muscle and remember that everyone needs his or her own space: a warm and comforting place in which to lie down, dream, and relax. A warm sleeping spot that we helped create for ourselves. Work to secure that place for you, and then, even better, help someone else create his or her room; make a better year certain through the small actions we take for one person to be able to come home.
“Home is the nicest word there is.” ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder
Author: Amy Alleman
Image: Luca Bravo/Unsplash
Apprentice Editor: David J. Sammarco
Editor: Catherine Monkman