Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Full Picture

My parents started leaving me home alone for the day the summer I was eight years old.  Though my grandmother lived with us, she'd leave the heat of Texas for a couple of months in the more bearable warmth at my aunt's house in Virginia.  It's a bit shocking to think of leaving an eight-year-old alone all day, but I loved it.  My father would come home for lunch, and my mother always called later in the afternoon from the store where she worked to check on me, just a few hours before they both would be home for the night.

Even then, I loved being alone.  As the temperatures would often hit the high nineties if not the low hundreds by noon, I spent all of my time inside.  In a world without cable, this meant reruns of Green Acres and Gidget.  I'd spend hours with the thousands of Legos my aunt would send from the toy store she managed in Florida, constructing an entire town in red, blue, yellow, green, and white splendor.  Yes, even then, the anal-retentive Virgo in me tried to keep each house or store in one color, which was easier to do than one might think.  I probably read the entire Great Americans series from the county library in the center of town, though I only remember details from Walt Disney's childhood on a Missouri farm and Helen Keller's education with Anne Sullivan.

It's not too difficult to see the relationship between the summer of 1978 and my life today.  Lots of reading, lots of television, lots of color.  I was happy to live with the rules given to me--cooking only in a toaster over, checking the dog's water bowl once in the morning and once in the afternoon--if it meant I had the living room television to myself and the ability to sit in any chair or anywhere on the floor.  That was freedom, being able to stretch and fill the expanse around me with space left over and no one noticing anything about me.

I wonder, though, if that was the beginning of the end, or if the beginning was even months or years earlier.  My parents divorced six years later, but they were apart long before then.  It was around this time that my father started taking night classes at the community college thirty miles from town.  He spent the nights he wasn't in class ensconced in the spare bedroom doing homework.  My mother would sit with me in the living room, she in her cheap, cotton robes crocheting afghans for expectant mothers she knew from the store.  There was always some child on the way for someone.

My parents didn't have to think about me much.  I'm not sure if their thoughts dwelled on why they were living separate lives in the same house or if they occupied their thinking with the mundane details of life.  Did either of them have any opinions on the world's first test-tube baby?  The sentencing of the Son of Sam?  The Camp David Peace Accords?  Was my father simply trying to finish papers for classes like the ones I teach now and my mother trying to make sure the laundry was always done and dishes clean and put away in the years before we bought a dishwasher?

It was a quiet house, except for the constant sounds of The Waltons, Alice, and Eight is Enough in summer reruns.  I would read or snap plastic bricks together or just stare at the screen when whatever was on it would make me laugh.  As long as the dog's water bowl was full on the days I was alone, I had no responsibilities and nothing I had to think about, nothing I had to say to anyone about anything.


  1. You describe this so wonderfully that I can picture it, even though my childhood was the complete opposite -- summers filled with siblings, extended family, and extra kids. What's funny though is that my crowded childhood also caused me to value alone time -- hence, my frequent retreats to monasteries.

  2. Thanks, you two! Jo(e), I was thinking of you while writing this because I was thinking that I should write little stories more like you do rather than the word vomit I normally throw out. I was hoping to have done more since then to no avail, but I'll try.