From my sweet mother-in-law I learned that dinner could wait. She taught me by example how to fix the meal ahead of time and leave it on the stove to stay warm while we sat down together in the living room for some drinks and conversation.
On the farm and in my childhood home we ate when dinner was ready. My parents had parties that must have involved alcohol, but before a regular evening meal we never sat down in another room so our mom and dad could have a cocktail or a glass of wine.
Drinking on the farm was reserved for hired men, and my mother and her sister, sleeping in their bed in the room called Siberia, were sometimes woken up on weekend nights by the sounds of the drunken hired man stumbling up the back stairs to his room singing “Barney Google.” My mother had a life-long fear of becoming embarrassingly tipsy and accepted drinks with reluctance.
I have only vague memories of the two rooms at the top of the back stairs. The bedroom on the left we called “Charlie Warren’s room.” He was the hired man of my childhood, and, as far as I know, he neither drank nor sang. It frustrates me that I don’t have a mental image for either his room or the one at the other side of the landing. When I went up the back stairs I was mainly focused on the bookcase in the hallway. The two bedrooms were male territory. The boys and men who slept there over the years were my brother, cousins, uncles, great-grandfather, and the hired men.
Since I’ve found no photographs of this part of the house, I drew a picture of how I remember the upstairs hallway. I imagine this interior looking like a drawing by the artist James Castle, who used sharpened sticks dipped into a mixture of soot and spit to make depictions of his home and family. He drew on whatever surface was handy – an envelope, a piece of cardboard, a scrap of newspaper, the page of a book. His drawings evoke for me not just a rendering of place, but also the feeling of a memory not quite formed – a memory like my own of these half-remembered rooms – a smudgy suggestion of what might have been.
On Wednesday: Berries