For hours after supper, my brothers and sisters and I played in the front yard. The side yard was for hanging clothes. The back yard, for watching the sun set beyond tall grasses.
When darkness came, we’d go inside to play cards and take baths. It was a ritual.
Our house was our universe. I guess we were like planets spinning around. Of course, we had no way of knowing what would happen in the future to any of us.
My big brother was a teenager and worked on his bike like a mechanic until dark, always trying to make it smoother and cooler than anybody else’s bike. He told me, “Never mess with my bike.” I didn’t. From the tone of his voice, I didn’t know what bad thing might happen. I didn’t need to find out.
The little ones leaned on me. If I did not pay attention, they’d tug on my shirt, whine, or call my name over and over.
When I responded too slowly, Mother would call out my name. That always got my attention.
Nothing would wash away my tiredness at 13 except everyone going to bed. Lights would go out, and we would listen to Tommy rock himself to sleep in his crib. I now wonder if it was a lullaby for everyone in the house. When the crib grew still, at long last, most had fallen asleep.
It was a ritual.
There was a soft thrumming in the house from either the fan or a heater. Maybe the heartbeat of the house. It was with us all night, every night.
On the porch, our parents sat and talked about what they would do tomorrow. It was their time. When I eavesdropped, I was given clues about their plans. Whatever happened in their lives affected mine. It affected all of us. Since we were a family, the children were always pulled along.
Because of my age and theirs, because I was a daughter and they were parents, I was not privy to why anything happened. There was a wall of years between us.
If anything sparked between them, it affected us. If anything was soft and whispery between them, it affected us. My parents could just look at each other and messages were sent. Sometimes there was no need to speak.
Daddy might go to the porch after the lights in the house were turned out. Often, Mother would follow. Daddy would light up a cigarette, then Mother would light up. It was their ritual. I would lie in bed, not quite asleep, smelling their smoke curling upward and coming through my window.
I had no idea I was getting second-hand smoke in those days. I had no idea that smoking hurt anybody’s lungs. I just knew there was something intimate happening on the porch between them, and none of us children were invited.
My sister called two days ago. She asked me questions about a couple of houses we’d lived in during the 1950s. I answered her questions as best I could. Now tonight, these memories come my way.
I wonder how many of my sisters and brothers remember how that little one in the crib insisted on getting up first, only to jump up and down on a lap. He was a jumper. It was his ritual.
Early mornings, Daddy would be coughing and looking at his coffee cup, and Mother would be turning the bacon in the skillet. All the while, Tommy was begging to get out of his crib, wanting to jump up and down. Mother would say, “I’ll get you in a minute…just wait a minute…. Patricia, would you….” It was pure chaos in my mind, but now, when I look back, it looks like a ritual.
I think it meant more work for me to be the oldest girl, but I’m glad I was. I have some sweet memories. I’m grateful for those.
So many things we never knew would happen. So many things our parents never told us.
We children went to church on Sundays and Wednesday nights. That was a good thing. There, I learned to trust God. Over and over, I was told He was in control of our lives like He is in control of the stars. It was more than a thought for me. More than a ritual.
It grew into a belief. That belief is with me today.
I love that I remember the houses we lived in, especially the one on Division Street in North Little Rock. The house was not magical, but it was a container for my family when we lived together and functioned as a family. (Probably dysfunctional, but we functioned.)
I remember the day we moved into that white house. I somehow knew it was going to be a good place for us. The house is probably gone now, but it was where we grew up, where we laughed, where we jumped up and down.
Today, dear reader, I am grateful for the houses you and I have in our memory banks, especially the ones where we felt nurtured and loved.
P.S. This blog is in honor of Tommy Bland, my “baby” brother who jumped up and down and who is having a birthday today.
Photo of Pat's "baby"brother, Tommy Bland. He was probably six or seven here.
Poetry books by Pat Durmon