Saturday, October 14, 2017

Shingle Rain

Every room in my home has a ceiling.

The sound of rain on shingles, to many people a simple white noise, to me is an essential part of childhood, and a comfortable, comforting sound. To you perhaps it may mean I'm going to get wet, or maybe the crops will have water. To me, it means all is well.

I was one of 10 kids in a small 3 bedroom house in south Everett. On the ground floor was one bedroom for parents and perhaps a crib and one bedroom for toddlers, plus a kitchen, living room, utility room, and stairs up. The stairs led to a landing with two door:  to the right to a finished bedroom for the girls, to the left unfinished attic for the boys.

Stepping into the boy's room and looking up, you saw the rafters and the stringers - the boards that go from rafter to rafter - and the back of the shingles nailed to the stringers, forming the outer skin of the house shedding water. They were visible from inside. That's the ceiling to our bedroom and it was normal.

Likewise, the floor was unfinished planks. This is a good floor for active children because you can pry up a plank and create a hidey hole. Now we might not have much to hide, but it's the principle of the thing. If there had been linoleum or carpeting we would have had a lot less to work with.

Occasionally we'd decide to finish the room a bit. Once we got some canvas and nailed it down over the planks as a rug. We felt that was very nice! It lasted until our next project.
Somehow we came across the remnants of an electric train set, just the tracks and the engine (without the plastic shell that made it look like a real engine) and the transformer. The cables connecting the transformer and track were missing, but this was no problem, unwind some wire from another motor, wrap around the terminals on the transformer and the thing on the track, and it worked fine. The engine went around and around. And it made a smell. We sniffed. The smelled smoke but it wasn't coming from the engine. Finally, I looked down and saw that the wires were glowing bright orange and red, and the canvas under it was smouldering. We unplugged everything, put something over the scorch marks on the rug, and hid everything away. A few minutes later dad came up the stairs "THUMP THUMP THUMP" and demanded, "Have you boys been smoking?" Truthfully we said, " No, dad we have not been smoking!" and that was the end of it. I think we had to get rid of the canvas now that it has suspicious burn marks on it.

In the corner above the stairs were some shelves holding canning jars and government surplus goods. This was before food stamps. The way the government solved a problem of overproduction and underconsumption was to bag beans and bulgar where and other raw materials for handing out to the needy. Each bag was as plain as could be: clear plastic or brown paper, with the contents labelled in black sans serif font: Beans Comma Pinto. On some cans: Meat by-product.

One time we got mysterious cubes of compressed figs. I have no idea what they were intended for but we found a use.

I had seen the board game "Risk". The concept of buying it was as alien as flying to Mars.  and decided my family needed a copy. I carefully copied the board using crayon on a large sheet of heavy paper. My brothers and I sat on our knees around this board on the floor and played using commodities: one brother got beans, I took fig cubes and the youngest got lentils. Lentils are the worst for this purpose because they skitter around the map. We would hunch over the board for hours. The games never really ended possibly because I hadn't made the deck of cards that gives one side a decisive advantage when well played.
The best time was when the power went out, which happened often during the winter. Electricity came on wires strung on poles by roads that went through forests; snow- or ice-laden branches could bring them down.
When this happened in the evening, mom would light the storm lanterns: kerosene lamps that always stood on top of the piano. Uncle Jerry had made his sister, my mother, a lamp by attaching the metal works to a heavy jar. The only time we lit it was when the power went out. We were never afraid of the dark because that meant we would gather around the kerosine lamp, something that never happened when there was electricity. We would reach down the game of stadium checkers from the top shelf in the hall, and we would play this game that was reserved for emergencies.
Our clocks were, of course, springwound so we never got to stay up past bedtime. We went upstairs by whatever ambient light there might have been and crawled under the covers. The rain on the shingles assured us that we were inside, dry and safe.
Looking back I appreciate that this is not normal by today's standards, but it seemed normal then.
I look at my home today and I see that each room has sheetrock and a ceiling. It seems awfully "finished" to me. Of course, that is just the standard today.
Around the world today there are people for whom a ceiling is a luxury. It's a good thing, but do you really need it?

I am grateful that every room in my home has a ceiling, but if I want to hear the rain on the roof I have to open a window.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Sunday Mulching the Heart-Shaped Garden

I mulched the apple tree in the heart-shaped garden, using mulch given away to participants in the Seattle Reforestation project (or whatever they called it). While it was a pain locating the site (because the map on the postcard was too small, and I hadn't checked it at hope on my computer) once I got there it was fun shoveling wood chips into burlap bags and talking about sustainability.
I got a bunch more burlap bags too, which I can share with the neighbors or use to suppress the ivy. I little gardening every day is nice!
I also stopped by Pegasus to pick up a few bags of books, and was rewarded with an awesome find: another edition of the Rubyiat!