A Room of My Own–Disappointments and Treasure

A “Sunbonnet Sue” quilt similar to mine

In the late summer of 1955 our family moved into my first fully remembered house. The exterior featured a variety of autumn-hued bricks augmented by vivid coral and lime- green mouldings. Sited atop a steep hill, it beamed its kaleidoscopic newness over the subdivision. The living room showcased two plush, citrus-toned swivel chairs, and a sofa upholstered in a complementary prismatic teal. With much deliberation, and a little compromise, for the kitchen, Mom and Dad chose a green tile floor, orange laminate counter-tops, and knotty pine cabinets complete with black wrought iron hardware. Weird and riotous colour combinations, even to a somewhat chaotic eight-year-old.

The one feature I got to choose was the ceiling light for my very own bedroom. Until then I had had to share sleep-quarters with my older sister. I believe she deplored the co-habitation far more than I did. When you are fifteen, private space is as necessary as a lockable bathroom door.

I perused the weighty lighting catalogue with the same fervency as I devoted to the Sears Christmas Wish Book. In the end, I settled on a magical fixture with a round glass canopy where tiny ballerinas pirouetted on an opaline stage.

Move-in day arrived. I scurried to my room. Looked up. And froze. Above me was a piece of square glass adorned with little girls swinging in a pink sky. Disappointment burst into tears. Father tried, without success, to assuage my heartbreak. How could I possibly love girls on swings? I could practise my ballet in the large and open living room or even in the basement recreation area. But, despite there being four children, there would never be a swing in our yard. Father rigorously controlled his domain. The grass, lush and emerald, was mowed to the ideal height and the shrubs, each chosen for its particular texture and hue, were shorn to regal perfection.

With the sleeve of my yellow sweater, I erased my tears. Then, I lowered my eyes to survey the rest of the room. Whoever designed this house harboured no love of little children. The high, horizontal window allowed me to see only a cloudy sky. To take in the scene across the street, I had to stand on the bed. Cats and dogs choose to lie in places with a view to the outdoors. If no low window sill presents itself, they leap unto chairs, the backs of sofas or even tall bookcases to peer beyond. People are the same. They need to know there is an outside as well as an inside. A place of freedom and adventure where minds and hearts can roam.

As an adult, I spent a few months filling in for an art teacher away on medical leave. Her classroom was located in the centre of a vast building. Its two doors opened into two hallways. Several strips of fluorescent lights provided the only illumination. What manner of principal would assign a room devoid of natural light for visual arts classes?

Even though not of my choosing, one thing I did love about my new bedroom was the hand-made quilt that decorated the single bed. Mother told me that Grandma had given it to me when I was too small to remember. She had saved it until I was old enough to take proper care of it. A wide blue border with crossed strips inside it divided the counterpane into sixteen boxes. Within these frames posed sixteen identical girls. Each wore a simple calico dress and a bright, over-sized bonnet—each outfit a different combination of happy hues.

For many years, every night, after I had knelt in prayer beside my bed, I nestled under the covers and whispered to the silent, faceless quilt children. I shared with them my brave deeds, my joyful adventures, my academic accomplishments, my heartaches, my fears and my deepest longings.

When, at eighteen, I left home for university, Grandmother’s quilt travelled with me. As I unfurled the coverlet over my narrow bed, I never feared my dorm-mate’s censure. The bonnet-girls—keepers of my secrets—wholly belonged there, with me.

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