How did I get THERE again?
Stamford, Connecticut, 1950. The Victorian-era manse, across the driveway from the church. I’m five; Margaret is three; and there’s a new boy around here who is cute but useless because he’s one and can’t do anything. But Margaret and I—whooo!
When we open the door to the attic stairs and begin climbing—18, we count loudly—we ascend into a cloud of odor, fragrance, smell, scent—every olfactory word for it. It’s wood, it’s heat, it’s 1875, it’s other people, it’s dust, it’s mystery, it’s stillness, it’s potential, it’s timelessness.
The attic, that collection of little rooms off a big room, with brown cupboards shut up with silver padlocks, dusty windows above our heads, a couple of hanging bulbs–and two trikes. Dad is next door typing, maybe in his black gown; and Mother is three floors below with the blond kid. Today our friend Gilbert Donnelly is home with tonsillitis, so we are on the Race Course by ourselves.
Start your engines. Pedal as fast as you can over the ancient floorboards that dip and rise and watch the turn near the stack of trunks and the turn near the clothes rack and the other turn near the bathroom—with the toilet stained brown—ewww!—and the final turn near the bookcase.
This haven from the netherworld, where sleep is and school and the strange woman in a raincoat who picks dandelions in our big side yard to make soup—ewww!—and the Sunday ritual with all of those people who pat my head…
Then it’s 2000. I am 55, a new adjunct at The College of Saint Rose, all of us grown up, dear Mother dead, that house and the church torn down in 1956.
It is my first week, and I’m brimming with enthusiasm. I stroll over to the library to look for a collection of the plays of Clifford Odets, unpack my book bag on a table in the reading room, straighten my tie, and head for the stacks.
And there—there in the stairwell—the fragrance of that vanished attic, unmistakably! I’m stunned, stopped in my tracks, unable to climb—no, uninterested in climbing. I stand in a corner near the bottom of the stairs and breathe in, again and again, going deeper into that long-ago arrangement of my cells, to the wondrous time of “boy,” before work, effort, joy, loss, decision-making, growth, love, decline. I am giddy, yet I feel like crying, too.