The Daybed

@2010 Beret Olsen
@2009 Beret Olsen

I don’t say this to evoke pity. Please don’t read it in a melodramatic tone in your head, or season it with melancholy. Think matter-of-fact. It is what it is.

I was a bit of an accident.

I asked my mother about it, once, and she paused for an uncomfortable moment before responding. “Honey, by the time you showed up, we were so happy to see you.”

Even as a child, I knew what that meant. That explained the six years between my sister and me. It explained why nine years separated me from one brother, and twelve from the other. It explained why I often felt like a child in a roomful of adults, and why, for many years, the taller people in the house took some precedence. It wasn’t all bad, though. In general, they also took the heat and the blame.

When we were all at home in our little red house, we piled atop each other, and tensions tended to rise. My parents hastily carved out the attic to make two bedrooms, one for my brothers, and one for my sister and me. When my brothers began to chafe at those close quarters, the eldest retreated into the basement with a black light bulb and day-glo Easy Rider posters. Once my sister hit her teens, though, when it became increasingly awkward for us to share a room, there seemed nowhere else to expand.

After much debate, it was finally decided that I should move into what was essentially a throughway, a roomy passage between the kitchen and the bathroom. As one might imagine, I had extremely limited space for luxuries such as clothing or books. There was a shelf put in, and a small dresser crammed under the stairs. There was a window which peered at the garage, and I hung a few things on the wall, but because everyone trooped through this space during waking hours, I couldn’t have my bed down there. Instead, I was allowed use of “the daybed.” Never mine; just the. This was a couch-like thing which served as a cot-sized bed at night. I didn’t really mind. Mostly. It beat witnessing my sister’s eighth grade make-out sessions.

The daybed was very simply designed. Very nordic. Imagine a cheap door, taken off its hinges and laid flat on skinny, pointed legs. An egg-colored foam pad, about four inches thick, lay on top, covered with an upholstery apparently conceived in the seventies. It was a magenta paisley, crossed with a parade of stripes and shapes which have never been seen together since. It was poorly made, too, so the rough metal zipper was entirely visible along the side, and I often grazed the backs of my legs against its voracious teeth. More inviting were the two long, wedge-shaped pillows which served as the back of the couch during the day. These were covered with corduroy of a very specific blue hue, one I still associate with all things quiet and comfortable. I loved to run my fingers along the nap endlessly, with it or against being equally zen-like.

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From the daybed, I would doze to the sound of the dishwasher, and wake to the sound and smell of the eternal percolator, a seemingly indestructible wedding gift from the fifties.

It was there that I lay through the German measles and the mumps; there that I listened to my mother read Watership Down.

One evening, my mother found the nuts I had stolen from the roasting pan full of Chex party mix in the basement. They were in an old bread bag, tied in a knot and tucked under the daybed. They might have escaped notice, too, had my mother not helped me put the sheets on that night. “What are you, some sort of squirrel?” she asked, but not too sharply. I was glad when she let it go, perhaps understanding how hard it was to get the good bits when your siblings are so much older and faster.

I remember lying on that daybed the night after the girl scout picnic in second grade, the one where I ate a hot dog stuffed with Velveeta and wrapped in bacon before grilling. I threw up six or seven times–a little daybed volcano–and have never eaten a hotdog since.

I remember lying there sniffling, lamenting my lack of space and privacy, when my medium brother heard me and tiptoed in. We were not a terribly affectionate family, nor emotionally adept, but he explained with such kindness and enthusiasm how he would make it feel big enough. I still feel deep gratitude for that night. He began to schlepp all kinds of things from his room, my sister’s, the kitchen, wherever. He filled that tiny place from floor to ceiling so I could be pleasantly surprised when he it emptied out again, and there would be room to roll over and even to stand with my hands outstretched.

But by far, my favorite memory of the daybed was a secret I neglected to tell anyone, lest I would have to share that, too. Ours was a frugal household, where finances dictated a thermostat set at a bone-chilling 58 degrees through even the worst of the South Dakota winter nights. But when temperatures outside settled well below zero, maintaining 58 degrees still necessitated occasional blasts of delicious heat. A major duct ran through the wall, all along the length of the back of the daybed. Who would know, with the blue corduroy pillows in place all day, what heavenly heat emanated from the wall behind me? I pressed my socked feet against it, snuggling like a cat to a sunny patch, and dreaming dreams.

These days, we set the thermostat at a balmy 62 at night, and I have a heating pad, which spares my spouse from my icy toes. But I think the comfort it offers is not simply a physical one. It is also a remembrance of those long, cold nights, pressed against the wall in my make-shift little roomlet. It is a reminder that there is always enough room for me, and more than enough of what I really need.

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Published by

Beret Olsen

Writer, photographer, teacher, and part-time insomniac.

153 thoughts on “The Daybed”

  1. I am the oldest by eleven years – an accident on the other side of the equation. πŸ™‚ When my brother and sister were old enough to have their own space, and the volume of their battles escalated such that the structure of the house depended on their separation, I moved into the storage room under the stairs. It had a bed, for awhile, but it took up the entire space and made opening my dresser drawers a dodgy business. I got a hammock for my 15th birthday, and bolted to the ceiling, it rocked me over space that seemed endless. Loved that. Now that I think of it, I miss it very much. Thank you for reminding me!

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    1. I too was the other kind of “accident”. It’s nice to hear the younger sibling’s perspective. I still find it so foreign and hard to grasp. As a kid I felt I had to be both bossy with my little brother and exemplary when it came to school and choosing a career path, the ideal one being a doctor in the eyes of my grandparents. I was definitely not the sibling looking for where she “fit” in the family.

      Thanks for the great read πŸ™‚

      Sarah

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    2. Oh! Very Harry Potter-ish, under the stairs and all. The hammock sounds awesome, though, and dodgy is one of my favorite words. Can’t wait to check out your blog as well.

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  2. Great story! These are the best posts, of family and growing up, the way growing up USED to be before everyone decided to live in the McMansions that dot the landscape these days. When I read interesting family stories like this, it always makes me reflect, not necessarily on MY childhood, but what my two kids might write about THEIR childhood once they grow into adults. Thanks for sharing.

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      1. I was also thinking about incorporating a childhood experience in my next post… Loved reading this one. πŸ™‚ AND! What an interesting and provoking thought: what WILL our kids remember most and want to share about the childhood experiences we’ve offered to them?

        Thanks for sharing! – J.C.

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      2. I’m back! πŸ™‚ I finally finished my little bit about a childhood experience and posted it last night. I just tought I’d let you know so you can check it out when you have a moment. It’s called “The God Who is There.” I tried being as descriptive as possible, but it’s still a few steps out of my comfort zone and have to keep practicing. Yours here was fantastic! πŸ™‚ Thanks again for the inspiration! πŸ™‚ – J.C.

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  3. Lovely story, well told. My family moved a lot, and as the only girl (therefore no sharing a room) I always got the smallest space. Your post brought back memories of some of these tiny little after-thought rooms.

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  4. Actually, that bacon/cheese/hot dog thing sounds delicious. If you leave out the hot dog.

    I was the youngest, too, and also spaced a frustrating 6 years away from the only other person in the house under 35. I wasn’t so much an “accident” as a twisted kind of insurance policy. Doctors told my mother to have another kid to take her mind off the fact that the first one probably wouldn’t make it. (Weren’t 60s bedside manners delightful?) In a way, the first one DIDN’T make it because she ended up riddled with expensive, debilitating health problems and finally institutionalized with paranoid schizophrenia. Ever been chased around a kitchen with a meat cleaver in response to asking “What kind of sandwich are you making?” We lived in the middle of nowhere and I was all alone. I would have killed for a normal obnoxious older brother.

    My parents were night time Arctic explorers, too, and heat sure as hell didn’t rise up into my pseudo-attic bedroom after the sun went down. There was a heat register down in the dining room of our drafty old house, mounted a few inches off the floor. I was frequently found huddled there in the mornings, every blanket in my possession wrapped tightly around me in a fetal burrito while I tried to get warm enough to fall asleep. My parents thought it was “cute” but I felt belittled and neglected..

    I now sleep on a giant Tempurpedic raft of spongy awesomeness that I pre-warm every night with an electric blanket cranked to the highest setting. And I don’t dream about my family at all.

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    1. Wow. Your response took my breath away. I can’t wait to check out your blog. Not surprisingly, I have not been chased with a meat cleaver, though my brother did drive his motorcycle into the kitchen when his paranoid schizophrenia overtook him in his mid-twenties. Mental illness is some scary shit.
      Glad your nights are warm and toasty now. Thanks for reading and for your provocative comments.

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  5. That was such a heartfelt poignant post. Loved it. You have a simple but brilliant style of writing! So easy to connect to. yet look up to πŸ™‚

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  6. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! As the oldest in a ‘large’ family (large by today’s standards – 5 children) – we were always pressed for space and a place to be alone was always a luxury. It sounds like you not only found that special place – but your family knew just the right things to do to make sure you felt loved. You are a very, very lucky person.

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  7. Thank you for a well written post – brought up my memories from childhood. There was not much money either, we all shared spaces. It’s the little things that count; that make us happy.
    ‘There is always enough room for me’ – love that sentence!

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  8. thanks for sharing this memory and especially the statement of gratitude at the end. beautifully written story. some of the biggest accidents turned into great people like you and me:)

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    1. Aww. Thanks. I agree. Don’t tell her, but my first kid was a bit of a surprise as well. I’m not sure I would have consciously taken the plunge, but now I am so glad! When parenting is great, it’s great, and when it’s a nightmare, I can always write about it.

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  9. This really is so delightful. Congrats to you.
    And I, too, was an accident…at least that’s what my dad kept telling me. But one day my mom winked at me. Turned out at least one person was in the know. HA!

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  10. You write the story so well, and you reminded me of my own childhood and growing up, I was the youngest of four like you, and you really captured my childhood fellings… Congrants on being Freshly Pressed πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you. I appreciate your comment. I am a little taken by surprise at how a very personal, specific memory can resonate with others. I guess that’s why we all read and write!

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  11. What a lovely story and well written. I would love to read a book now about your youth and stories growing up. I was an “oopsies” late life baby, last of 5 with 12 years between me and the next sister and 18 years between me and the elder sister. My mom actually had me a few months before my oldest sister had her first. I did not get those wonderful memories. I was more like an only child, but will admit I was very spoiled. Still am!
    It is a pleasure to follow you.

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    1. Thank you! I must admit that when my sister went off to college, I did get a few years as an only child, too. Eighteen years must have felt like a lifetime as a child. I wonder, is it easier to bridge the gap now that everyone is a grown up?

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      1. Yes, now that we are all adults the relationships are different, but I will always be the “baby”. My oldest brother still spoils me, kinda like it LOL! But yes, the family dynamic is different. I think with both my parents gone though, they feel they need to take over. I am 51 so I think I am OK but it is nice to be close to all my siblings now, although several do not speak to each other. I managed to stay out of all the nonsense in the years past.

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  12. As the oldest I shared a bed with a sibling all of my life. We had four bedrooms and five people (single Mom four kids). I never slept alone until I was over like 22 and got my own apartment. I loved to spread all the way out in the bed, stretching as far to each corner as possible. I also had to have a pillow on each side of me to “keep me company”. I am married now and honestly, I can say having another person to sleep and dream with, whether they are sibling or spouse makes me feel secure. I wonder what my siblings would say about the the experience of sharing a bed with me? It is a different dynamic for many families now with more space to spread in…much like losing the family dinner hour. Great post! Excellent chioce for Freshly Pressed! Congrats!

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    1. Thank you very much. I see your point and wish I felt that way. My husband and I both get insomnia from time to time, and it sometimes seems impossible to sleep, even if it’s the other who is wide awake. I envy your ability to dream with another person. The closest I got to that was when my girls were small. THAT was heavenly.

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  13. Like so many others, your post brought back my own memories of sharing a room with my sister. She used to tell me to never let my feet stick out of the covers because a witch lived under my bed and would cut them off. I remember the hot summers with my body wrapped in covers for fear the witch would cut off one of my appendages. To this day, I can’t let my feet hang off the bed.

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    1. Ack! At least you remember what happened, so you know WHY you can’t hang your feet off. I can only hope that some of my irrational fears and behaviors had some sort of reasonable raison d’Γͺtre. Like why am I afraid of the basement, for example?

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  14. This was a nice post. I love the line, “What are you, a squirrel?” Sounds like a nice, big loving family. The details were very well thought out. Kudos to you.

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  15. An accident waiting to happen, an accident happened, nothing is an accident.

    Interesting. And I didn’t read with pity! πŸ™‚

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  16. i’m 7 & 8 years the youngest in my family ~ my mom to this day (i just turned 42) swears by the fact that she realized she was going to be “LONELY” when they went off to college, therefore i was conceived! great story xx Jen

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  17. I love this post! I was a surprise (10 yrs after my sister) and I had a surprise (my oldest). Having been a foster parent and now an adoptive parent both to older children, I have kids that are always trying to find their place in the family. Beautifully written.

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  18. I too was an accident but the first born.I love how you weaved this story for us and it so reminds me of snippets of my sisters and me.I too remember being cold all the time and sitting on the wood burning register with the cast iron top.Loved your story.

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  19. Thanks u for sharing this, I have older siblings and the same type of family that you described we still have our bumps but now that we don’t share so many barely shareable things we get along sooooo much better……thank goodness πŸ™‚

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  20. Congratulations on being freshly pressed! Quite a fun and meaningful story. Many can relate to this subject matter. This will lead me to following you! Thanks for the wonderful start!

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  21. It could be worse, there is only eleven months between my sister and I. I remember vividly asking my dad talking to someone down the street, the conversation about children came up. The man my dad was talking to asked him if he only had two girls and would he not like anymore….well, my dad innocently turned to look at me then replied to the man “trust me if you raised her you would never want another child near you!” Apparently children are menat to sleep at some stage a memo I guess I missed

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    1. Oh, lord! Grown ups are all too human, even when we know better. I wonder how many times I have complained that my oldest didn’t bother to sleep through the night until she was two. I THINK she enjoys the crazy stories about her as an infant, but perhaps I should check in and make sure…
      Thank you for the reminder:)

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  22. Lovely story. Although I have never had this experience myself, it was very interesting to get an insight into how the “accident” sibling feels. I remember hoping and praying as a child that an accidental brother or sister comes my way but in the light of this I’m now not sure I had considered carefully enough the implications on sofa ownership:)

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  23. A lovely story that stirred fond memories of my own childhood. When I asked my mom about the day of my birth and she said, “You were my fifth, like a used car by then. Who remembers?” Like you, I recall it warmly, with sentiment and humor. Thanks.

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    1. Hahaha! It certainly doesn’t always work out that way, but I am indeed grateful when I can keep a sense of humor about comments like those. One time I figured out how to get onto the garage roof with a friend (we were six years old!). My mom came outside looking for us, saw us on the roof and yelled, “Get down here before you mess up the new shingles!” I’m glad I don’t have to waste precious minutes of therapy on why my mom was more concerned about the shingles than about me. I just think it’s hilarious.

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  24. Your story reminded me of the time when I used to share a room with my seventeen years older brother… now that I think of it it was really awkward. We lived in a rather small apartment, just three rooms, for a family of six so there was never much space and not too much intimacy. I was quite a sneaky and curious little girl and sometimes when I went throught some of my brother’s drawers I would find stuff that no five year-old should ever encounter.
    And although my brother is very sweet to me now, he sometimes liked to make my life a living hell. I remember one day when he was cleaning up the room and put all my toys and games (all of them!) on the top shelf, right under the ceiling. He would then shout at me every time I climbed on the table to reach the shelf and refuse to take anything down for me. What an evil, evil mind.

    Anyway – beautiful story, it was a real pleasure to read it.

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    1. Seventeen years seems like a lifetime apart–that must have been very uncomfortable. I think I understand what you mean because I found a few things of my sister’s that I wish I had never seen! What’s more, I seriously hope my mother never encountered my diaries. I would die of shame. Hopefully I can remember all of this and stay out of my kids’ drawers!

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  25. I don’t profess to be a scholar in these matters, but in my opinion when a writer can put into words so artfully a memory so clear and profound that the reader walks away feeling almost as though it was “their” memory…that is a work of art! You have shared an intimate childhood memory that now belongs to all of us. I, for one, shall treasure it. Very, very nicely written.

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  26. Loved this post, so glad you were freshly pressed so I could read it. I was the youngest of three girls, though we were all very close together in age (just under four years between my eldest sister and me). I didn’t have my own room until I was 13 and my eldest sister moved out! I probably would have loved your little room with the daybed! My own children are 12, 11 and 3 – two close together and then an eternity before the third one came along. Both 1 and 2 were the surprises and number 3 was the only planned one, but I wouldn’t change a single thing. Having to share a room when I was younger has made me determined to always give my kids their own space. The oldest two shared for almost two years, but that was their choice (they preferred one bedroom for sleeping and the other for their toys). I wonder how these experiences shaped your parenting style – will be having a look through your blog to see if I can find out πŸ˜‰

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    1. That’s a good question; something I haven’t yet considered. You’d think I would be adamant that they have their own space, but so far I haven’t been. I guess I had forgotten how hard it was to share everything until I saw what I wrote! Since they can’t have their own rooms right now, perhaps I can figure out other ways to address their need for privacy and ownership.

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  27. You have a really nice style of writing. And I can completely understand your feeling of being the youngest. My sister is almost 11 years my senior and through most of my childhood, I felt parents came in threes!

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  28. Your post reminds me of the day when we, 5 in a family, would cramp up in a a small room. We moved to a more comfortable home years ago and I also moved out when I started working. I do miss the days my younger brother was kicking my side while we sleep. It took a longer time for me getting used to sleep alone in a room even if I’m already a grownup. πŸ˜‰

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    1. Awww. That is sweet. Sometimes it doesn’t feel rational what you miss most.
      I shared an apartment with a pile of twenty-year-olds for a while, and we only had a space heater in the living room. That was it for heat! We spent all of our evenings huddled in there, having a beer, watching stupid TV, and shooting the breeze. Probably could have done something productive–like write a book or something–but instead I have a host of really fond memories and some friends for life.

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  29. Congratulations on being FRESHLY PRESSED! I totally enjoyed your writing and wish it continued on into a full length story. My heart melted at your brother filling your space up, just to remove it all so it would feel spacious after all… so sweet!

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    1. Many of my favorite childhood memories involve that particular brother. One that pops out is that he taught me the key to surviving fourth grade: telling annoying kids “your epidermis is showing.” I got a lot of mileage out of that!

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  30. Love the insight into the space I thought of as a guestroom, and I see perfectly in my mind’s eye brother #2 filling up the space as full as possible…

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  31. Ha. Love this. I was the fourth of five in a house with one bathroom. My sister had to make an inlet in my mom’s room with a divider. But a small full house is better than a big empty one. Good job, congrats on your freshly minted freshly pressed status.

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  32. Great post! The bad parenting tradition continues in our house. For Christmas I bought one of our sons an archery set without explaining safety procedures… and that’s all I’ll say about that. On my blog you can see a list of our top cringe-worthy family movie night picks if you really want to know how bad we are!

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    1. Oh dear. I’m imagining you got a good story and a trip to the emergency room out of that! Got excited and took a peek–can’t find the cringe-worthy movie picks. Nice blog, though!

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      1. Oh darn. I’m still figuring out this blogging stuff. The post was “Modern Family and the Impossibility of Family Movie Night.” I guess you have to go back a bit further πŸ™‚

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  33. A good story. We didn’t have the “luxury” of carving out a space, even if it was a hallway of sorts. I was in a family of ten children in a four bedroom house. My space arrived when I moved out at 18 and into a small shack of a house that I loved because it was my room.

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  34. Youngest of 4, 3 older brothers 7, 8, and 9 years older than I. I grew up to be a food hoarder because my brothers ate all of the cookies on the very day my mother would bake them, as well as drinking all of the milk Dried milk! We had to drink dried milk as a cost-saving measure. Cousin threw up at lake after eating cheese-filled hot dog. I was unnaturally fearful of vomit and sat in the car for the remainder of the weekend (about 32 hours) to avoid getting the stomach flu (that no one else in the cabin ever got). Like many of the commentators, your essay makes me wistful for the days of the cold house. Mornings spent seated on the heat register with my full-length night gown spread about, creating a hot-air balloon of sorts that my cat always tried to get under to warm himself too. This was the seventies for me. We must have cared more than about energy conservation than now. A higher percentage of our parent’s monthly paycheck went to pay the heat and the grocery bill than now. Perhaps that was how it should be. An economic charge to the carbon pushed into this warming planet where someday, in the not so distant future, perhaps we’ll all long for a 58 degree home.

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    1. Sitting in the car for 32 hours! Holy crap! I feel a little guilty about how hard that made me laugh.
      Dried milk is truly foul. I feel lucky that we used it mainly for cooking, though we drank the good stuff out of tiny receptacles the size of shot glasses.
      I think Jimmy Carter did a good job making people feel obligated to conserve, what with installing solar panels on the white house and wearing a bunch of sweaters. It sort of boggles my mind that he did that in the late 1970s.
      I love the image of the cat trying to crawl under and keep warm. Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments. Time to check out your blog.

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  35. I just have to say, the way you write is inspiring. Thanks for letting us into your life a bit, it takes some awesome amount of strength to do that. I am always a little bit wary of telling personal stories. I never know if someone else would want to read them. And I never know if I should be caring about that aspect in the first place. Regardless, I’m so glad you wrote this and that I had the chance to stumble upon it. Beautifully written and as I said, inspiring. I think I’mma have to take a dive into this personal story business myself! Also…definitely like the harry potter feel of the room under the stairs. Just can’t get enough of that HP.

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  36. I was nine years after my sister so we were both ‘only child’s’ . I think I had the better of it as we never fought for attention and I could go around her house when I was young and play with her toddlers like they were siblings. I really enjoyed your story and felt I was right there in the house with you, a sign of good writing if there ever was one.

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  37. I loved this post. I can’t even say why, exactly. Just the girl in the small space, with big tall people all around or passing through, finding comfortable solitary moments, feet against the heat duct. Lovely.

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