Sunday, November 16, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Being Afraid of the Attic

As part of National Blog Writing Month, I'd agreed to at least try to write a blog post every day, and on some days, it's a real struggle to come up with something new or interesting to write. One of the textbooks for my Autobiographical Literacies class, Abigail Thomas' Thinking About Memoir, includes a section at the end of the book in which Thomas lists several pages' worth of writing prompts to help the would-be memoirist write. One of the writing prompts is: "Write two pages of being afraid of the attic."

Fear of the Attic

I've lived in perhaps a dozen places throughout my life; I was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and lived there until I was two, at which point we moved to a rather small town called Coopersburg, about 10 miles away. I have no memories of having lived in Bethlehem, but I do remember Coopersburg, where we lived for eight years before moving abroad for a year. My brother and I both attended the now-defunct Coopersburg Elementary School, half a mile away, which had one class each of the first through fifth grades, although a kindergarten was added part of the way through my tenure. It was a glorious old brick building, with huge classrooms; grades one, two, and five were on the ground floor, and the library and grades three and four were on the second floor. The cafeteria was on the ground floor, and was only one room that was part of a very long hallway that I'm not sure I ever went to the end to; I remember another room was used for the little Christmas shop where we, as little ones, could do some Christmas shopping for our families. I also seem to remember that dinosaur tracks were found on site, and were showcased at one point. 

The house we lived in was a beautiful, old house that had the occasional fireplace - at least I remember Justin's room having a fireplace in it, although I'm not sure it was functional by the time we moved in. There was a small basement where I think the washer and dryer lived at one point, although I have only a single memory of looking down at it from the main floor; I remember not liking going down there (and fortunately I didn't have to very much, since at that age my mother did my laundry). We rarely went in the front door; there was a side door that was connected to a vestibule (where at another point the washer and dryer lived), through which one would walk to get to the kitchen. An old furnace that heated much of the house had a large, black pipe that went all the way from the kitchen, through my parents' bedroom on the second floor (directly above the kitchen), to the attic. 

There were some definite cool things about this house: The windows had deep windowsills; we had a big, concrete front porch from which my parents would sit and watch as town parades marched on by. (I was part of the local Girl Scout troop and marched in many a parade). This was, of course, embarrassing, marching by my parents as they waved, but it was a good spot because the porch was raised off street level. There was a great big yard that opened up on some alleys so I could effectively run free. Our yard had at least one huge chestnut tree, a lilac tree or two, and one great tree for climbing; my dad also installed a sandbox at one point. 

There were some not-so-great things, too. There was no such thing as central heating or air-conditioning when the house was built, and we couldn't have afforded to have it installed anyway. This meant that the house was hot and humid in the summer, and cold in the winter. Apparently things were always breaking - my mother has told me stories of the basement flooding, and of the chimney falling off - although I don't remember these.

But as I grew older, there was a part of the house that was both fascinating and intimidating, one of those mixed-bags of curiosity paired with an overactive imagination. The attic was the place - huge, taking up the entire top floor of the house, not one of those tiny attics you can only fit in if you're under under 5 feet tall or 100 pounds.

There were two ways to get into the attic - one door that opened in one of the bathrooms opened up to a stairway that led up to one part of the attic, while a different doorway in my parents' bedroom led to  another stairway that went to a different part of the attic. The doorway that was connected to the bathroom led to the biggest part of the attic, a truly gigantic room that stored what few things we needed out of the way; it never came close to even being incrementally filled. I have no recollection of what we stored in the attic, but I seem to have a memory, perhaps a false memory, of the tiny attic bedroom also being used for storage.

But there wasn't simply one humongous room: There were a few small rooms that the other stairway led to - I'd been told they were servants' quarters.

Servants quarters! Someone - perhaps multiple someones - actually lived up there, to at least slept up there.

It was delightfully creaky place, our huge attic, dusty as all get out, full of dark corners and occasional boxes, not entirely dark, since there were windows here and there from which one could peer out, but, to my mind, a very underused space. I wanted to know who would have slept there, what else might have been stored in the attic, what else might it - could it - have been used for.

As I grew older, I was less afraid of it, and now I wish I had explored it more, spent more time playing up there. For a long time, though, I was conflicted, torn between fascination and uncertainty, fear of the unknown.

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