I did a writing exercise for a memoir class tonight that including prompts for all our “firsts”. First scent, first sound, first bedroom, etc. So, I thought I’d share the story I came up with based on those prompts. Enjoy!
Clutching my thin sleeping bag, whose old, cotton fill had recently started bunching into tough little fibrous balls, I awoke to a pale autumn dawn. A gentle fog veiled the red barns outside my bedroom windows and cloaked the top of the corn silo. I nestled in my sleeping bag, which I preferred to an ordinary blanket, and smiled as the faint aroma of Dad’s Folders instant coffee wafted through my door.
I enjoyed the hum of the space heater by my bed and studied the walls of peeling, toy soldier wallpaper. Pieces had been ripped away and replaced with artwork, creating a Hodge-Podge of colors on a canvas of brown paneling. Other kids, I’d discovered through numerous birthday party invites, had carefully painted rooms and framed photos on their bedroom walls. But not me. My older brother, Matthew, and I shared a bedroom up until I was 5, and my mom didn’t discourage any creative outlet – even if it meant ripping down the wallpaper or painting war injuries of the faces of toy soldiers with red nail polish. She’d sit on the edge of a bed, reading fairy tales to the two youngest while Matthew and I created away most evenings.
The warm, orange glow of the small heater proved difficult to abandon that morning. But, eventually I kicked off the covers and wandered past the living room, where Matthew and Chris were already watching the small 13 inch rabbit-eared tv, and into the kitchen to claim a bowl of cereal. The ominous 5 tones signaling the broadcast of Dad’s news program blared from the old, boxy AM radio perched on the refrigerator. Every day, that same clock-radio would wake my dad at 5 a.m., and he’d dutifully tend to the farm while it was still dark, returning around 7 a.m. for coffee and breakfast. As much as I loathed the radio tones of his farm news, it became part of my routine.
“Good morning, Sweetheart,” he whispered, smiling tiredly. As he stared at his coffee mug, a wisp of steam curled around his face, and an urgent broadcaster detailed the farming news and the current prices of livestock and corn via long waves to our small kitchen.
I sat in a bright red chair at a glossy, brown table that matched the paneling. Its legs dug into the repeating black squares of the deep-red, highly fashionable, late 70’s carpeting. A bowl of cereal was plunked down in front of me as my mom trudged around the kitchen with 6 month old Carole on her hip. She busied herself with making more toast for the boys.
I watched Dad’s hands as I devoured whatever generic kid cereal had been popular at the time. He had tough, farmer’s hands which were also calloused and grease-stained from the work he did as a diesel mechanic. Rough like sandpaper, the only time I felt his weathered skin against my own was when he’d taught me how to shake hands properly to impress grown-ups.
As the bread punched up from the steel-gray toaster, a burnt smell that had nothing to do with toast trickled into the kitchen. Dad put down his coffee. “Joyce,” to my mom, “Do you smell that?”
“Oh my God, it’s the space heater!” she yelled, and barely had the words left her mouth before my dad had thrown back the red chair and was in my bedroom. I ran behind with Mom, Carole still on her hip, past Matthew and Chris who abandoned cartoons to investigate the commotion.
A small plume of smoke billowed from my room, and from the narrow hallway I anxiously watched Dad’s strong hands smacking the side of my bed with the sleeping bag. Carole screamed and thrashed around on Mom’s chest, while the boys stood wide eyed, exchanging “Whoa’s”. When he’d successfully smothered the fire, a tuft of singed cotton hung from the corner of my box spring like an eviscerated abdomen. Balanced on 4 evenly spaced cinder blocks, I looked at my pathetic excuse for a bed and cried.
And then, the coup de gras. Mom picked up my raggedy, old sleeping bag from the ground, which I was still very much in love with, and flicked at the charred circle which now infected the feet end. I couldn’t bear it!
“That’s it. The space heater has to go,” Dad said. “If it had fallen over during the night…well…” he trailed off.
“What about my bed?” I wailed.
“Oh, it’s not that bad. It’s just the box spring. It’s fine.”
“It’s ugly! And it smells like smoke!” I’d already determined that I’d cut the damaged piece off of my sleeping bag, but that miserably hanging brown fluff was another story.
Dad’s hands plucked some of it off, and then disappeared with the space heater outside to his shop. My brothers excitedly danced around, poking at it.
“Dad will get you a new bed,” Mom tried. It brought me some comfort at the time, but that bed would stay with me through high school.