Mom and Dad’s bedroom suite was on the first floor of the house in Shoreacres (at the southern end of everything) allowing them to frequently escape to its sunlit, coziness and away from the five, wild seeds they chose to sow.
This left the entire second floor almost entirely adult-free, except for the occasional laundry delivery from Mom and the less occasional drop in (more like official visit) from Dad; usually the unfortunate result of winter restlessness or weekend thunderstorms keeping him from the golf course.
We’d only know of his plans when we heard, “INSPECTION in ten minutes!” sound from below, at which point all present would scatter from the kid’s TV room to our respective bedrooms, where each of us would begin a frenzied attempt to hide all clothing, toys, towels, glasses, plates, books and general shit we’d left strewn everywhere.
Depending on his level of bother, Dad might only scan the surface of the bedrooms and bathrooms. It was something each of us quietly prayed for as he passed dressers, drawers, desks and closets, cluttered and crammed with quickly concealed crap. If Dad’s heart really wasn’t in it, he might demand some dusting and vacuuming, to be inspected later (which would likely not occur), and then disappear below and we’d half-heartedly obey before returning to reruns, twitching on each other, and/or littering.
If our luck went a.w.o.l. (to a place that didn’t smell of dirty laundry and dog breath) and Dad was disgusted and determined to delve further by sliding open a closet door… an entire Saturday afternoon would be spent re-folding, re-organizing, re-inspecting, and re-revising.
And finally, promising the impossible – to keep our rooms clean.
Other than these brief and infrequent invasions, the upstairs was our universe, our private world of fun and games and funny voices, where Jim’s rolled up socks turned into stink bombs of such infamy that as soon as you saw him take off his shoes… you ran.
You ran as fast as your stockinged feet along a polished wood floor could take you.
It was also where fuzzy, red carpeting assisted you in shocking a sibling repeatedly one moment, then turned to molten lava, the next; where the chairs and tables became bridges, and the convertible sofa, an island, where captives and carpet monsters fought to the death in battle after battle.
In the universe upstairs, sloped-ceiling closets and dark crawlspaces – too-small-for-adults places – became secluded hideaways where we could bring pillows and posters, flashlights and favorite stuffed animals, and write secrets and swear words on the 2 x 4s and plaster board; and listen to Mom in the kitchen, until the heater or ac switched on and the great metal shafts filled with air and filled our ears with rumbling.
At the very top of the back steps, behind a tiny door (not more than three feet square), was a favorite, secret, upstairs place.
Just inside, above the small door, Jim built a spaceship’s control panel from old electrical outlets and switches found in the basement and the barn. With Mark as his co-pilot and a vivid imagination as his rocket fuel, he would rally us to climb into his crawlspace capsule.
I’d sit back in the darkness, surrounded by boxes of memories – Mom’s heirloom wedding dress at my elbow and Christmas decorations as my seat – anxious for the countdown.
Excited for blast off.
For leaving the earth far behind.
Calling to his co-pilot to flick switches Jim had labelled with a big, black magic marker, then moving his hands up and down his own duct-taped controls, I’d hear the sputters and rumbles of Jim’s vocal-powered rockets.
Hugging my big, Pooh Bear, I’d watch our fearless pilot, in the beam of a dangling flashlight, lean back and call to his unlikely crew through the cup of his hand, “Hang on! Here we go! Ten… Nine… Eight…”
Jim’s rumbles would begin to rise.
“Seven… Six… Five… Four…”
I could feel the crawlspace shake and rattle.
“Three… Two… One… BLAST OFF!”
I’d giggle and squeeze that silly, old bear and close my eyes to see the fast-approaching cosmos…
And I’d float in the infinite black.
In the sea of stars.
Until Jim shouted, “Meteors!” and all hell would break loose in our top-of-the-stairs cockpit.
Rescue usually came in the form of the hallway light cutting through the cracks and the dark – and the meteors – and Mom calling, “Dinner!”
Or much, much worse…
Dad calling, “INSPECTION in ten minutes!”