October 25, 2005

Beneath the Roof

There was a certain smell in this place. It was a combination of old lace, age-worn books, pitted metal and musty wood. It wasn’t obnoxious ~ in fact, it beckoned. This was the first place I can recall feeling independent from the rest of the family; the first place I ever felt empowered. This place was my attic.

The first thing I recall about the attic in my childhood house is that it was a bit darker than the main living space; just two bare lightbulbs dangled precariously from the rafters - one toward the front of the house and the other toward the rear. This space held all of our things that were dear enough to keep, but were rarely if ever needed. Oh what things there were! It was probably a typical looking attic to millions, but to me, it was all about the family and all about our personal history.

Every time I opened the door and walked up the full set of stairs leading to this wide open sanctuary, my imagination would stir; not only because of all that I played with during my last visit, but also because of what I might discover this time around. Peering into boxes and old dresser drawers was just the greatest fun!

Long, satin evening gloves and velvet, toeless high heeled shoes transformed me instantly into any of the marvelously beautiful movie stars of long, long ago. If I felt giddy, I could be Doris Day. If I was feeling all huggy, I could be Veronica Lake or Rita Hayworth. In my little girl’s eyes, Miss Lake was a huggy type. If I felt sassy, I could even be Marilyn. Dad used to say she was sassy – to me, it meant she was pretty and charming, and sometimes rather cheeky.

Mom had saved many of the old dresses and gowns she wore during the 30s and 40s (this is still my favorite clothing era). She stored them in zippered, plastic garment bags. The bags were yellowed and crackly, but once opened, the clothes were like new. What I wouldn’t do now for some of those vintage gowns, bedecked with sequins and strips of velvet and satin! They were truly glorious dresses. It’s odd that I never really saw them as “old.” They were just way too big for me and I knew if I handled them too much, something might fall off or break. I simply stood back from the bags and admired them for many moments at a time.

There was a section of the attic that was clearly reserved for dad’s old stuff. He too had a garment bag. In it hung his old army uniform and jacket, a handsome suit or two, some expensive looking ties and some old, well-worn hats. But the best of dad’s stuff – the absolute, knock-my-socks-off best, was the day I found his old mandolin and ukulele. There was also a lute, but its strings were long gone.

It thrilled me to sit there on the hard and dusty floor, plinking away to my little heart’s content, and knowing full well that this was an instrument my grandfather had surely played back in his day. Oh I wasn’t making real music back then … or was I?

Moving away from the old dressers, behind the chimney wall, there were two metal cabinets with shelving. The contents of these cabinets transformed me quite quickly into teacher; some days, librarian. Books. Wonderful, wonderful story books lived inside of these cabinets! There were books for all ages, some that I couldn’t even understand as yet. Dick and Jane books, Nancy Drew Mysteries, The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn stories, old school text books, brown-paged dictionaries and encyclopedias ~ these books gave me so much pleasure because as I “taught” from them (my dolls and stuffed toys made wonderful students), I also learned from them. Not a whole lot, but more than I would have, had I not played with them.
Nobody bothered me when I went to the attic. It was like a private retreat. I could play up there for hours and sometimes, simply enjoy the view from the front or rear full-sized windows. I remember how unique everything looked outside. It was all about perspective, though I couldn’t figure that out at the time. Everything outside just looked different and new. Cars were smaller, I could almost see the tree tops, and there was absolutely nothing intimidating about grouchy old Mr. Farrigano next door as I looked down on him from up in the attic.

I’m interrupting myself here because I’ve just now recalled something – as I’m typing this. I recall wanting to live there – right there – in our attic! I remember pretending it was “my place.” Christ, I couldn’t have been more than five or six years old, possibly even younger when I first discovered this haven.

There was a good sized blackboard with little pieces of chalk no bigger than my fingernail. I got the most out of those little white chunks – drawing images and pretending to teach math. I’m laughing to myself a little because I even remember hollering at my stuffed toys if they misbehaved during class! That was a direct result of being taught by the nuns in real life ~ I'm sure ~ except I didn’t smack my toys with the blackboard eraser.

It was also in my attic that I first picked up a hairbrush (microphone) and belted out a tune. I knew darned well nobody could hear me two floors below in the main of the house. My little mind placed me on the grandest of stages and while there, I could sing out all the way to the back row without being hushed.

The antique record player I used to spin the 78s (thick yet fragile LPs that were once my father’s) would play out a scratchy tune by Hoagy Carmichael or Glenn Miller, and not knowing the words to these wonderful old songs, I’d simply make some up. My stuffed toys transformed as well – from students to audience – in a heartbeat! And oh how they would applaud me. Mmm, mmm, mm. I must have been pretty good.

As I grew older, I started to bring some loose leaf paper to this sweet asylum. In the cabinet with the books, there was a tray filled with old pens and pencils. (I have inherited my mother’s quirk of saving writing implements – help me!) I’d situate myself in a corner against the chimney wall, randomly pick out a 78 and play it while I wrote. I cannot imagine what I wrote back then. My guess is, it didn’t look much like this stuff – but it always felt so damned good while I was doing it.

It was an awfully sad day when I came home from school to find my parents boxing up much of the old stuff and putting it out to the curb. Oh they held onto things like the instruments, many of the books, and the larger furnishings, but I don’t even like to think about all that got tossed. I was sixteen years old by then, and we were moving.

I miss the old attic. When we moved away from that house, I so much wanted to take it with us. I wondered what place I would go to next, to access that precious sort of uninhibited me time. You know something? As comfy and secure as I feel in our home today, as lovely as it is to have some time to myself and also to share my life with my loved ones, I’m not sure if I ever quite found that sort of sanctuary again.

Oh wait. I believe I just did. It’s within me.

[the photos I carefully selected to use here were Google Images - I just converted them to black and white for effect. Though they closely resemble my old attic, I have no attic photos of my own]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exactly. I also have an attic in the house I live- me.

8:45 AM  
Blogger mamalujo1 said...

What a lovely post. I had places like this as well growing up, and your words evoked those memories. I've got a space above my garage that I'm thinking about finishing out so I can have one again....

9:18 AM  
Blogger madcapmum said...

You reminded me of visiting my old maiden Mennonite aunts and tottering up the rickety stairs to their attic. It was full of tiny little dolls and those little paper umbrellas, the kind you get in exotic drinks. It seemed perfectly logical then that they'd want an attic full of paper umbrellas,(I mean, I LOVED those colourful little umbrellas!) but now I wonder where on earth they got them and why? They certainly weren't lounge-ladies! Very evocative post.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Swifty said...

Undoubtedly the best post you've ever written. Like all good writing, it's not just a description of "your" time, but also evocative of the readers experiences. If it doesn't do this, the reader is either an unimaginative moron, or you cannot write. But no one can ever accuse you of the latter.

It worked for me. I was able to feel your fond sadness via memories your words evoked from my own life. And to add to the efficacy of the piece the monochrome pics were the icing on the cake.

A gem.

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Simply Coll said...

Every child should have an attic (or a reasonable facsimile)

My uncle used to say I reminded him of Veronica Lake. It was not until years latter that I found out who she was and what she looked like.

11:50 AM  
Blogger MYSTIC said...

You need to start the book if you haven't already...My Memories.
For me it would be Bats in the Belfry but you do bring so many memories to so many people with the way you write...that sells.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Grant said...

Excellent post. I've never lived in a place with an attic that was any more than an open space with no floorboards and exposed insulation. Besides, you can't beat a good crawlspace for hiding bodies.

11:58 AM  
Blogger dulciana said...

That was indeed an evocative post. Reminds me of the "Where I'm From" poetry meme that went around - or maybe it's still going around. Anyway, loved it!

12:08 PM  
Blogger Rob Seifert said...

You have a talent for images in an emotional context lady! I could smell the space and almost taste the dust in the air... We were not so fortunate as to have an actual attic but I must admit a fascination for digging through old things. I recalled, as I read, sifting through my great grandparent's house after they had finally gone. I remember the delight of discovery and mystery. I got to experience it again more recently when we moved my Grandmother out of her house of 30 years. There's something about old things that grounds us, ties us to those that have gone before. Thanks for stirring up my memories!

1:19 PM  
Blogger happyandblue2 said...

You are such an amazing writer..

1:41 PM  
Blogger the Monk said...

very nice post...i've never had a private space myself, but i used to cycle alone for hours together...you know, the wind in your face and all that...now i walk...or spend san hour or so (nighttime) on our wonderful hostel terrace...this is my 'me' time...

1:57 PM  
Blogger Lightning Bug's Butt said...

A phobia of spiders prevented me from enjoying my attic. But I'm glad to read you loved yours.

2:10 PM  
Blogger Lightning Bug's Butt said...

A phobia of spiders prevented me from enjoying my attic. But I'm glad to read you loved yours.

2:10 PM  
Blogger kenju said...

Do you know how happy it makes me to click on your site and find a new post?!

This one is memorable. I loved reading it, as it brought back so many memories for me. The only difference is, it was our basement -not an attic that was my sanctuary. But I can close my eyes, and "Be there" in a second; smelling the slightly musty odor below ground.

5:27 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Holy smokes... I'm so glad I found your website Weary! Couldn't stop reading this one until it was over! ;)

5:36 PM  
Blogger CarpeDM said...

Wow. This certainly brought back memories of visiting the attic in my childhood home. Well, I should say the pleasant memories. The attic started getting very scary the older I got (the chances of falling through the roof increased because there was less safe spots to watch).

One of my favorite movies is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes because I love seeing the clothes that Jane Russell wore. I would so dress like that if a) I could afford it and b) I would look as good as she did. Women sure knew how to dress back then. Probably not as comfortable as a tank & capris but still. Gorgeous.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

cool pictures. I once dated a woman with nothing in her attic.

7:03 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

I only wish i had an attic to escape in my childhood. I love the 30's and 40s....the gowns...the whole period was so elegant and refined. Great post as always Carol :o)

2:14 AM  
Blogger phoenix said...

Amazing story! and yes, we all have our own attics :)

Beautiful, just beautiful!

7:54 AM  
Blogger sands of time said...

I remember my grandparents attic.I used to love dressing in the clothes.They had an old rocking horse in there to and i used to pretend i was going into battle with a sword sometimes and other times i was in a horse race.You brought back some nice memories with that post.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Carol (Smiles and Laughter) said...

What a beautifully written story, Weary! It brings us all back to the special place we had when we were children. I think we all had one...

11:38 AM  
Blogger Floridacracker said...

Nice. When you are little, an attic holds so much promise of discovery. Very good post.

3:23 PM  
Blogger brooksba said...


Yet again you've taken me away from my reality and thrown me into a new and exciting place. I love this post. At my house, we never had an attic. We had a basement. The treasures found there were always special. I remember finding a box of my dad's old school reports. Actually, you've reminded me of a post I wanted to write.

I have an affliction for writing instruments too. When the pen/pencil/marker etc makers of the world go out of business, we'll both be well stocked!

3:48 PM  
Blogger kenju said...

Carol, I have no idea how they came up with the value of the blogs - but there's no way yours is worth less than mine!! I demand a recount!!

5:03 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I distinctly remember the basement in my mother's parent's house, with 50+ years of history crammed in it, so cramped that you have to literally follow trails to get to the back recesses. There was so much magic in there, dormant life that begged to be relived by new energetic imaginations. Thanks for bringing up the memory.

5:42 PM  
Blogger jon said...

I love attics! Except for the ones that you have to be careful to step on the boards or else you'll fall through and end up strattling a rafter which effectively renders your genitals useless.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Hick said...

It's tough to follow up after Jon.

Ahem. For me, it was my grandmother's attic. She was a member of Easter Star and had a bunch of lovely formals that I used to play dress-up.

Lovely post.

7:47 PM  
Blogger PBS said...

Very nice, I enjoyed reading (as always). Wish I had an attic.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Swathi said...

that was an enchanting trip down memory lane...
i bet ur kids also had some favotire place (if not the attic it could be a cupboard...)
in ur home

2:43 AM  
Anonymous Kathy said...

Carol, Such a timely post for me when family memories are swirling in my head (my dad is having a risky operation today). Visiting your attic heaven, as you discovered such treasures gave me a tearful rush of emotion. We are our memories... and so much more. Hold them close to your heart. Kathy

10:45 AM  
Blogger lilly05 said...

For a good portion of my childhood I lived with my sister in a converted attic room. I have fond memories of pulling the ladder down from the ceiling of the floor below and of climbing out the window to sit on the peak of the roof on balmy summer and spring nights. It was the only house that we ever lived in that had an attic, but it was beautiful while it lasted! Thanks for the trip down memory lane Carol.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Courtney said...

Love the memory of the chalkboard. My sister and I had a ginormous chalkboard--the size you would find in a school. We would play "school" on so many rainy days. Some of my best memories...thanks for helping me tap into them again!

4:58 PM  
Blogger I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

Oh, my...that was delicious and delightful to read. The last pic looks like MY current attic...if we put in a floor, since the insulation is just covered with boards now, and boxes.

I wanted to live in my grandma's attic when I was kid...what a playplace it was!

8:55 PM  
Blogger Cheyenne said...

Your post so reminds me of my days in the attic of the house I just sold that was my parents' estate. I too would "lose" myself in that attic. I became a different person when I visited up there. But I recently had the chore of cleaning it all out and letting it bare so the next family that moved in will create their own "visiting" place for one of their children.

3:20 PM  
Blogger sidcruise said...

Attics, I used to clean them :) ...Images were perfect!

I am back now LOL....

Thanks for asking :)

3:28 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

What a beautiful read that was. Thank you for sharing that time of your life with us.

We don't have attic space to the same extent that you do over there. My "attic" is the roof space above my ceiling. I certainly couldn't stand up in it, and that's if I actually managed to get myself UP there. I have a small square hole in the hallway ceiling that gives me access. The only thing up there is the artificial Xmas tree. And Cameron's the only one who can get it down (unless Anna's here and I'm hanging onto her legs at the same time lol)

I envy you lot with your attics and basements (we don't have basements either)...all that storage space. Occasionally I have to get really brutal and throw things out because I don't have the room for it. I'm hoarding as much as I can under my bed, and in every nook I can lol

If only your old stuffed animals had a blog...bet that would be some real interesting reading too! lol

5:23 PM  
Anonymous colleen said...

beautiful visual memories...thanks for taking us on a ride. I always wished we had an attic...but I did like to snoop in closets and drawers for old hidden stuff. My mother's closet fascinated me.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Justine said...

your house sounds amazing. full of weird and wonderful things and memories. You should be charging an admission fee!

9:52 PM  
Blogger Rex Mottram said...

Thank you....

You had me in tears as I sat and thought about my mothers house. She died in August and I have closed up her house in London till I feel strong enough to face it, now having read about your attic I feel ready.
Thank you.

2:13 AM  
Blogger Walker said...

Great post.
So many memories are hiden away in attics and basements.
I never had an attic but I did have a basement where i had my own little world away from everyone.
That damn curb get more memories that I can remember.
Have a nice weekend

5:29 AM  
Blogger Spinning Girl said...

I love that childlike feeling of having a place "all your own". For me, it was under the pines at my grandparents' farm. My grandpa had cut off all the lower branches, so there was this dimly-lit, pine-scented, hushed haven there, with a floor of neeedles. It was lovely!

This was a beautiful post!

9:32 AM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

I've always wanted an attic. I almost bought a house with one and a wonderful basment to boot, but it was so far away from where I worked, I ended up buying a different house. I often wonder how much different things would have been in that other house. With an attic to stash goodies and a basement to putter around in...

1:05 PM  
Blogger frustratedwriter said...

I loved our attic too, growing up. It was always the best place to play, explore, and just hang loose away from my five siblings. Excellent post!

2:59 PM  
Blogger Dave Morris said...

What beautiful metaphors attics, cobwebs and heirlooms are. Such a great story. I'm glad you still have those beautiful memories OF the memories.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Wicked H said...

The post, as usal, is inspiring.

I am loving the halloween picture!!Very bewitching, Haggie!

Don't eat too much candy.....

7:55 PM  
Anonymous pallavi said...

your own sweet space.. how I miss my space.. we have sold our house and my space with it too.. where I grew up some two years back...
my favorite space was my room by a corner where I used to do all kind of things... :) its a precious thing to have your own space... :)

4:57 AM  
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5:36 AM  

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