I hold firmly to the belief, soundly and roundly, there is not a single twelve-year-old girl who revels in being twelve. Nope, not here, not there, not then, not now, not ever. Angst and self-loathing and mean girls and bad hair and chewed fingernails, and yes, that “boy thing,” shadow that little bridge between glorious oblivious childhood and overheated, overachieving teenhood.
My twelfth year, however, was a light between the cracks.
Our lovely compact family grew up happy and healthy and surrounded by beloved cousins and grandparents and fried chicken dinners ever Sunday and birthday in the lovely state of Kansas. Such a grand place to grow up. No fences. And an ice cream man down our street every afternoon. Trees to climb, yes, in Kansas. We could whoop and holler as loudly as we wanted and not upset the neighbors. Fact is, they’d often just come to the door with grand smiles and wave. And sometimes bring out fresh-baked cookies, which we were always allowed to accept!
May I have another please? Oh, thank you!
Generations of us had grown up before us exactly the same way, like all the rest of the families we knew. We lived like a long parade. Never knowing what was coming next, but knowing it’d be good. And someone might even throw candy our way.
That summer, though, the parade took a different route.
Busting his buttons with untold news, my daddy came home from work the day after the last day of school, red in the face and sporting a goofy grin. Nearly silent until we were seated around the dinner table, we held hands and thanked the Good Lord for the bounty which we were about to receive, Amen. Then, like always, we waited for Daddy to take the first serving of whatever was near.
Instead, he looked at the four of us, Mama, too, one by one.
“We’re moving to Omaha!”
…..wh….what…I couldn’t quite understand….these foreign words….
“I got a promotion and a transfer to Omaha! We’re moving to Omaha!”
My little brother Sam got it way before me, and stood up in his chair, bouncing a little and waving his hands, a travesty in a house where the rule was no singing at the table. As for dancing? Why, while not specifically listed, I’m sure still the rule was implied.
But there he was, my goofy little six-year-old brother, grinning and giggling and wiggling his ears with joy. Which, of course, got my goofier littler brother to singing and waving his hands, too.
“Can I have my own room, Daddy?” shouted Sammy at the top of his lungs. “Can I? Can I please?”
Then littler James, “Can I, too? Me, too?” But, of course, with a little less gusto. I guess he kind of liked sharing Legos and Tonkas with Sammy. And he was a little afraid of the dark.
Me and Mama, though, we just sat, wide-eyed. I wondered what would become of the ducks down to the pond I’d been feeding. Mama, looking ’round the dining room and kitchen, looked to be estimating the number of boxes she’d need to “borrow” from behind the Circle Super Market.
Enthusiasm, though, is contagious, and before long we were all talking about new schools and new friends, and a new swing set with maybe monkey bars, one with legs set in concrete so it wouldn’t tump when we swang way too high.
I’ll admit to dreaming of a bedroom with walls and a bedspread that went together, instead of the mishmash I’d been living with. Mama patted my hand, read my mind, and whispered, “We’ll go shopping!”
Well, what began as a gasp, ended as a celebration, with us calling the Grands and the cousins, and us kids running up and down the street until after dusk, telling neighbors we were moving to the big city of Omaha.
We’d be gone by summer’s end.
Truth be told, we never once considered this the end of anything. We had no concept of ending one life to begin another. During the first week after the news, we invited everyone and their brother to weekends in the wonderland that was Omaha. We looked at World Books, memorizing the population and average temperature, peering deep into the picture of the rivers and bluffs.
Sammy and James sorted toys for keeping and for giving away. Sammy more than James. Hand-me-down toys were his birthright and I caught him snitching back trucks and Tinkertoys from the “give away” box more than once.
As for me, I daydreamed about a room with green shag carpeting and a green gingham bedspread with ruffles and separate pillow shams for pretty pillows used just for decoration. JC Penney had just the thing, I’d poured over the catalogue’s shiny pages of bedding for hours, finally settling on the most beautiful set I’d ever seen. Ever. I showed Mama. She even let me tear out the page and tape it on my soon to be old door, as inspiration.
Mama hummed more than usual, doing her own share of throwing out and giving away. She’d spend the day packing our Sunday dishes in old newspaper pages and when those ran out, old washrags and towels.
And Daddy? Why, a raise and a promotion and a moving van carrying all our belongings at no cost to us whatsoever plastered a smile on his face that didn’t even relax when he was sleeping.
We were off on an adventure never experienced before in our extended family. Like Columbus or Marco Polo, we didn’t know what we’d find, but we knew for a fact we’d be charting new territory, and moving to a whole new state to do it!
I made sure I knew the abbreviation for Nebraska, as I’d promised all my friends long and chatty letters every single week. I’d spent a chunk of my allowance on stationery with roses in the corners and no lines.
Checking the calendar, marking off the days, June turned to July and Mama and Daddy circled the very next weekend to visit and find us a house.
Mama secretly told me she hoped we’d find a new one, so she could be the first to put her dishes in the cabinet. We’d always lived in one house, so I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it seemed to be her grandest wish and I felt grown up and honored she shared it with me.
Mama and Daddy packed a few things, and with Grandma and Grandpa staying at the house with us, we stood on the front porch and waved goodbye until we couldn’t see their car anymore. They’d be driving three hours and staying in a hotel!
Lawsy! We were living high on the hog!
Of course, there would be no phone calls, long distance charges being like they were. Whatever that meant. I think it had something to do with expensive wires, but I never knew for certain. They all looked black and droopy to me.
Either way, we itched through the whole weekend, ants in our pants, wishing the minutes and hours away, unable to concentrate, nearly unable to eat. Nearly. Grandma made all our favorites, smashed potatoes, fried ham, corn on the cob. Temptation overcame us.
Finally, finally, Sunday evening came. The shadows lengthened little by little, and I grabbed the little brothers and we planted ourselves on the front porch, knees under our chins, watching the end of the street, waiting for the green Plymouth company car Daddy’d gotten as a bonus, to turn down our way.
Seemed like hours. Seemed like hours upON hours! Seemed like forever! The boys got a little wiggly, but one evil eye from me, I’d trained them to fear me just a little, got them back in line.
What was that? What? Is it what I think it is, a way off down the highway? Just a shimmer…it’s green! I think it’s green! It is! It is! I stood up, hand over my eyes. “It’s Mama and Daddy!” I bolted from the porch and ran clean to the top of the street before they even made the turn. I bounced and bounced and waved until they stopped and let me climb in.
“Did you get a house? Did you? Did you?!” Beside myself with anticipation and joy, they looked at each other with little grins. Daddy leaned back over the bench seat and mussed my hair.
“You bet we did! Four bedrooms, one for everybody, plus a bonus room! But that’s all I’m going to say!”
Whoop! Whoop! I didn’t know anybody who had four bedrooms! We were going to live in a castle!
Smug, I plastered my nose to the back window so the boys could see me clear when we pulled into the drive. They’d stayed put on the porch, but made a tear for the car once the engine was killed.
Mayhem ensued! Hugs and giggles and giddiness and trunk-unpacking and more hugs and hopping. Grandma and Grandpa ambled out, and there were even more hugs. Knowing the little I knew, I was panting for the whole story. I grabbed Mama’s hand, she nodded at Daddy, who was decorated with Sammy and James, once hanging from each shoulder. Like our own little parade, we followed the Grands into the house. Mama and Daddy sat close on the divan, holding hands. Imagine! We kids sat cross-legged on the floor at their feet. Grandma and Grandpa anchored the door, as if to keep out any distraction until the tale was told.
Drawing out the moment, Daddy and Mama, still holding hands, looked at each other with special secret smiles, then,
“Well, kids? Do you think you’d like to live in a house with FOUR BEDROOMS?!” Daddy bellowed, and we all nodded and laughed, even though I knew this already, I got shivers of anticipation.
“Do you think you’d like to live in a house with a DOUBLE CAR GARAGE?!” He roared again, clearly enjoying the loud delivery.
What?! What?! Room for our bicycles? Room for both cars at the same time?!
I was near to bursting. I couldn’t even LOOK at the brothers!
Then, Mama, not so loud, but with intensity, and misty eyes, “Would you like to live in a BRAND NEW HOUSE?”
Silence. Then eruption!
“Whoo Whoo! Yes! Yes!” We leapt up, shouting and dancing happy and shimmying for joy, and me adding a wiggle or two for Mama! Even Mama and Daddy got into the act, and we held hands in a family circle, swinging and swaying, I don’t know for how long.
“And, ” Mama stopped, “Best of all, we get to pick all our paints and carpets…”
OOOOHHHHH, I was hugging myself with hope and joy….
…”And you can pick any color you like!”
OOOOHHHHH, my green shag carpet! My life would be perfect! Green Shag Carpet!
Mama wasn’t done, but she kindly waited until I could gather myself from my revelry.
…”And, all the bedrooms, ” she looked at Sammy and James and then me, straight on, eyes sparkling, “are upstairs on the SECOND FLOOR!”
We had a TWO STORY HOUSE?! A NEW ONE?! With GREEN SHAG CARPET?!
We were going to live, surely and purely and truly, in a castle!
Never ever in the history of ever had a twelve-year-old girl felt the world could be so perfect!
A Stairway to Heaven!