Room(s) of Requirement
"...it is a room that a person can only enter when they have real need of it. Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker's needs." Dobby explaining the Room of Requirement to Harry
I'm listening to the Harry Potter series on audiobook as a way to re-read and finish the books. One of my favorite concepts in the magical world is the room of requirement. As soon as I read the explanation of it, I could think of how many rooms in my life acted as such places. M and I joked that the rooms full of boxes needing going through at 2 different houses were our rooms of requirement. Recently, we emptied the one in Oxford, and now the room is once again usable. The process of cleaning out and of listening to the books again, prompted me to pick up a post about my girlhood houses and work on it again. It was part of an essay about home that I abandoned and I'm glad I can share my thoughts in a different way, here. By the way, if you've never looked up your childhood home or addresses where you once lived on Google Street View, I highly recommend it. It's a surreal experience.
I don't have a childhood bedroom. I have several. Because I moved throughout my childhood, I remember 3 different houses of girlhood. (All of the ones I mention here are located in different towns in Alabama).
The first, though it wasn't my first bedroom, was on Darby Street in the first house I remember, where I learned to ride a bike, where I pretended the floor was made of lava, where my father's imposing stereo (it took up a lot of space) played Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Elton John and the Beatles as soundtrack. It was the home my brother first came to in an unseasonably cold Alabama November, where we became partners in driving our parents crazy. We played hide and seek among the built- in cabinets and formal dining room. We swam in above ground pools in the backyard and hid among the laundry drying on the line. We picked figs off trees and watched our mother make them into preserves. Darby Street is where I learned to read, where I served tea on real china to ladies' lunches, and raced all the boys to the honeysuckle vines down the street. My bedroom was white, decorated in as much Strawberry Shortcake kitsch as my mother could find, though I think my bedspread was Holly Hobbie. I slept with books in my bed and a record player on my nightstand.
We moved to Forrest Street when I was in 2nd grade. So many childhood stories took place in and outside of those walls. It features significantly in my stories and my memories. One of the things that made the house so wonderful for my brother and I is that we had our own side of the house. We could close the door that connected our parents' hallway to ours and there was an open, playroom type space where we sat before school to watch cartoons and The Bozo Show. It is here we spread out our toys, buried light brights deep into the carpet. We ate egg sandwiches and drank cold cokes from bottles, sneaking the dustbuster to vacuum our crumbs. We lay in our closets and talked through the walls, roller skated on the back patio and climbed on the roof to see the stars. It was here I got my first boombox, where I walked down the street to my best friend's house, where I walked everywhere. The carport held our birthday parties, our sandbox when it started to rain, bags and bags of pecans we picked up from the yard, and our anticipation before school, before vacations, when people visited. I learned to play piano on Forrest Street, sat quietly with a friend while she finished one of my favorite books. My brother and I danced to my father's records, and chased one another through the swinging door in the kitchen. We made Rice Krispie treats and covered the counters in flour. We explored the woods behind our house, jutting in and out of property lines and invented all kinds of stories. I finally convinced my mother to let my paint my bedroom, though we had to get approval from a committee who oversaw the house upkeep. I wanted to paint the walls blue and we compromised on light blue, because it would be easier to paint over, and also because dark blue walls would make the room feel smaller and my mother insisted they would make the room too dark. A woman from the church made me navy blue curtains with small white designs that resembled a division sign and I had a navy comforter. My furniture was white, at least what hadn't chipped off from previous Darby Street use. This was my favorite bedroom because I had a say in how it was designed, and because I was allowed my grandparents old black and white television. I often fell asleep to The Twilight Zone and woke up to a blank or snowy screen when the broadcast day ended.
In sixth grade, we moved to Main Street into a two story house about 20 yards from the church where my father preached. When you called someone you only needed the last four digits of their number, and I remember the panic when we had to add the 3-digit prefix. I had a phone in my bedroom, which often got taken away as a means of punishment for being obnoxious, not getting homework done, or talking back. I was high-spirited and stubborn. My brother and I had the upstairs to ourselves, and ran up and down those stairs countless times after forgetting a book, or assignment or something we were supposed to take with us. We played Super Mario Bros. in the formal room while listening to my father's records. We camped in the backyard; I'm not sure I even lasted the night. I spent hours on the closed-in porch, practicing my clarinet. I remember those first squeaky notes and how terrible I was for so long. I, along with my parents, were excited when I got that first real sound from the instrument. My father's books lined the space beneath the windows and I read as many as possible. That porch housed birthday parties, and survived the constant flow of traffic in and out of its screen doors. It was where my brother stood, bleeding after being hit with a croquet mallet, while I rushed around looking for someone to take him to the ER. I struggled over math equations and pieced together poetry assignments at the kitchen table while a casserole baked in the oven. Someone was always bringing over casseroles. After two years, we moved to a house across town and I to my teenage bedroom with a walk-in closet where I hid while talking on the phone.
I've often said that to think about when an event occurs I have to place it, to consider where I lived at the time. I do so fondly. I'm still a bit of a nomad, and have no trouble settling in to different places. When I think about my childhood, I think of all the places it encompasses, not just bedrooms, but houses and backyards and rooftops and highways. I think of where my friends lived and the routes I took to their houses to play. When I watch TV shows or movies where people "go home" to childhood bedrooms, and experience the joy and nostalgia of the moments, I have no sense of what that is like. When I moved to college, my parents and brother were also moving, so I never went back to even a high-school bedroom after college. I haven't been back to any of the houses I've lived in as a child. So, the idea is foreign to me, and I often disconnect from those scenes in movies, and begin thinking of all the rooms and places that were part of my growing up, like the spaces in my grandparents' houses, my great-grandmother's sewing room, my grandmother's carport, all the kitchens of my life.
What makes the rooms special is the life, the stories that occurred within them. I feel lucky that so many places belong to me.