As the depression of the thirties was at its worst, my parents had decided to marry. At that time, Dad had three jobs. In the daytime he drove a school bus, nights he was a riveter at the Superior Bus Corp. where they made the school busses, and on weekends, he sold Bibles, door to door – or as he expressed it, person to person. Mother, before and after she was my mother, went to work with her hair tied up in a bandanna. She worked in a factory where they made enamel signs.
Then one of the duplexes, built in the 20's, all alike, all in a row, was put up for sale for a small down payment. By renting out the other half, my future parents had no house payment while they acquired the property.
The house had a full basement, but it wasn't fully buried. Only about one half of it was underground. This made the first floor perch about five feet above the ground. A broad porch had two front doors, leading left and right to identical living rooms, dining rooms and small kitchens.
I was always amazed when visiting the Hopes to see rooms with the same spaces as ours, but filled so differently with other furniture. Their dining room had no table but a crib and a cot which was piled full with folded or not yet folded baby clothes. Every surface in the kitchen was covered, even the table. One had to push aside baby bottles with rubber nipples, Rev. Hope's Bibles and books, and plates with leftover food on them in order to have a place to color.
If I looked only in the corners of the ceiling, I could sense the differences in the lives lived in the two parts of the one house. The influence of the objects on the spaces, places, people, pressed shadow shapes that overlapped to build the infinity of their lives. All their thoughts, dreams, fears, floated up here in the yellow moldings to nest among the cobwebs.
In each of our dining rooms was a door that led to the stairs to the second story. At the top of the steps was one bathroom, to be shared by both families. Next to that, and facing the street, was Mr. and Mrs. Hopes' bedroom. The right side of the house repeated itself with mother and dad sleeping in the matching front bedroom. What on the left, was the bathroom, was, on the right, my bedroom.
The scene, as it hangs in my mind, was with me standing on the closed lid of the toilet. Rev. Hope knelt before me, nude. In a ritual, with loving reverence, he helped me to take off my pajamas; dropping the tops to my right, and letting the bottoms fall to the left. As I stood there, with him stroking me and sucking wet kisses on my tummy, I felt I had done this several times before. I had no fear. I anticipated pleasure. was impatient that he was spending so much time touching just my tummy and thighs. I was waiting for him to slide his thumbs up my plump legs until they met above the dimpled slit, where they would press in to unfold the curved wings of girlhood. He would watch my face for the least sign of resistance. Finding none, he would proceed to rub his nose on the mound of Venus until his tongue found the pink point of happiness. This he would kiss and suck until we were both shining and glowing. At one point, he leaned back to look at me. I could see the end of his rosy penis sticking upwards towards me.
"Why don't you put that," pointing to his penis, "in there." pointing to my body.
"Oh, my thing is too big to go into there."
I accepted his opinion; seeking satisfaction in getting what I got.
One cloud-gray morning, mother sat me down on a kitchen chair, stood before me with her chin tucked in the collar of her cotton dress, signifying that this was going to be a serious talk. From the accuracy of her questions, she must have been investigating the irregularities in my bedtime routine. Perhaps the curious fact that Rev. Hope frequently took his bath just at this hour alerted her. Or had she heard me running back to my room when I was supposed to be asleep? I only know her question was: Did I ever go into the bathroom when Rev. Hope was taking a bath?
I probably smiled as I answered, "Yes."
"Jane," she said gravely, "I don't want you ever to go in the bathroom with Rev. Hope again." She didn't give me a good reason why not. For her peace of mind, she had to extract a promise from me.
"Be a good girl and promise mommy you won't ever do it again."
"I promise, mommy."
As an after thought, she added the winning bribe. "If he asks you to go with him, say "no" and come downstairs. You can sleep on the couch until daddy and I go to bed, too."
With those words she secured my will to keep the promise. I would have given my soul to the devil if he would have promised that I would never again have to lie alone in the dark, listening to the branch that scraped on the house, or the wind that rattled the window, trying to get in at me, while I waited for sleep stop my fears. If Rev. Hope beckoned to me, I would gladly ignore him for the pleasure of going downstairs, back into the pools of light, where I could curl up with my blanket to fall asleep in the megaphone of faraway voices. Just before the last bump into sleep, I knew I could open my eyes to see mother and dad sitting there playing Monopoly. Waking from a dream, I would feel dad lifting me up and then laying me down in the coolness of my own sheets. Because they now left the doors to both our bedrooms open, I could sleep again to the creak of their bedsprings.
One night, I dreamed a parrot, bigger than life, was hanging on a swing like the parrot in the pet shop. My whole room was dark as if it didn't exist, but the parrot and his swing glowed as if a spotlight shone on them. The feathers on the bird were green and glossy, as if each one had its own source of light. I lay there basking in the green shimmer that became the color of my happiness to have such a friend by my bed. Unexpectedly, the parrot opened his hard curved beak to snap and screech at me. He flapped his wings and leaned so far over me that I feared he would fall, flying, biting and hurting, on me. I was trying to yell at him to frighten him away, when the door of my clothes closet began to open. A dark form slipped out, slithered to where the parrot hung. What I thought to be a man, leaned over me and raised the blanket from me.
Screaming dreaming screaming, I didn't stop when my parents turned on the light, or when mother grabbed me into her arms, or when they were both sitting on my bed looking at each other. Only when I was nestled down between them in their bed, was I quiet.
The next day they moved their bed from the afternoon sun window to beside the door. My bed went from one side of the room to the other. Only a wall and a corner of open doors separated us at night. With my bed in this position, I remember having a bad cold with many nosebleeds. Mother or dad would sit beside my bed reading and rereading the book, Whiskers, a story about a naughty cat, until I knew every sound in the book.
For my coughing spells, mother believed in the magic of mustard and onions. She would carefully fry up a whole skillet full of onions, while in the oven were heating several layers of flannel cloth. On the oldest piece of cloth, she would spread a generous layer of mustard, right out of the jar. This would be laid in the middle of the heated cloths, the onions scooped on top of that, and the whole affair folded and safety pinned so that even in my sleep, the plaster would stay in place. On my bare heaving chest she would lay this offering, button up my pajamas, tucking the tops under the elastic of the bottoms, pull the blanket up around my shoulders, leaving a tented passage from my chest to my chin, so the fragrance could filter through my stuffed nose, into my head. Then she kissed me, put the light into a bag of darkness, walked out the door, leaving it open in case I called or coughed.
I couldn't sleep with all those food smells on the outside of my stomach. I wasn't hungry, so I felt queasy. I heard the bathroom door open. Turning my head I looked down the hall, hoping it was mother coming to take the stinking thing off my chest. At the end of the narrow hall, in the box of light from the bathroom, stood Rev. Hope, inviting me with the call of his hands to come to him. I could only feel he would not like me, smelling like a sandwich, so I turned my face to the wall and pretended I was asleep until I was.
Mother decided to not let Mrs. Hope be my baby sitter anymore. She tried to hire one of the many retired ladies who lived in the neighborhood. She was certain one of them needed money badly enough to keep me eight hours a day. I knew why, one neighbor after another, refused. They knew me. Each day I would roam up and down the street, looking for a playmate, or at least, someone to talk to. The minute one of the old folks came out to sweep their porch, hang up clothes on the wash line or walk the dog, I was right there with a stream of talk that only stopped when I asked my perpetual "why." There was nothing to do with me, but to put an ad in the newspaper. The fat, indifferent girl who answered the ad would not stay long.
My judgment of her ability as a baby sitter was complete, when on the first day on the job, she was dumb enough to offer me the bribe to finish my oatmeal as soon as she set the steaming full bowl before me, instead of waiting for the moment when only the treat of left-over popcorn could induce my tongue to push anymore cold oatmeal down my throat. In our family, Sunday night supper was traditionally popcorn and homemade fudge. By the time I went to bed the fudge was mostly gone, but often some popcorn remained. On Monday mornings, it was my treat to chew on the rubbery oily taste while recalling the pleasantness of Sunday evening.
On this day I was not interested in oatmeal or popcorn. I was still in the dream I had had in the night. Step by step, I reran the events of the vision that was all around me. This ugly girl kept interrupting my reverie by mentioning the cold sticky oatmeal. After an exchange of "you wills" and "I won'ts", we agreed that I had eaten enough of the stuff. She raised the tray to my highchair and I slid down; free to go out to see if my dream was really true.
From the corner of the porch, I got my little blue tricycle, sat down, adjusted myself on its nosy seat, pedaled over to the exact center of the wide brick steps.
Years later, I counted them on an old ochre photograph. There were twelve of them.
I sat there looking into the distance of down, calculating. I was afraid until I recalled how it was in my dream. I had climbed on my tricycle, ridden to the center of the porch, surveyed the steps, seeing that they were all there, I pushed off with my foot and began to pedal so that the rubber tires gently glided over the edge of each step. As I neared the bottom step, a fine golden glow crackled into being, pulsated out from me and my tricycle, until the front of the house, and into the street, was filled with the radiance of the sun as it comes out from behind a rain cloud while the last drops are falling.
With the faith given me by the golden radiance dream, I pushed off. For the first two steps I believed in the dream. The next one brought bewilderment, as this bumping definitely wasn't part of the dream. The rest of the steps were twisted abstracts, smeared in reds, purples, and blacks.
That afternoon, I was back on the porch, crying. Huddled miserably on the wide cement railing with my back against the stucco support, I cried the cry of one wounded in spirit, not just broken and bruised.
The feeble, but very distinguished gentleman, who lived next door to us, leaned out over his porch railing, a sister to ours, and called, "Jane, Jane, whatever in the world happened to you?"
"I fell down the porch steps."
I wasn't about to tell him about the tricycle, and no one was going to know about the dream. How do you explain to people that you dream dreams that don't come true?
"You look pretty banged up. Does it hurt a great deal?"
"Un-huh." I hiccoughed and started crying even harder. It wasn't the recollection of the pain in my arm, now stiff with plaster, or the sting of air on the two large places on my face which were without skin. My penalty was that mother had to stay home from work.
Evidently, as soon as the new baby sitter heard my screams and saw the bloody wreckage splayed on the sidewalk, she turned her back on it, called mother at work to report on the condition of her kid. While she waited on mother to come home she sat down on the top step to observe me. There mother found her. As mother took over from the neighbor who had untangled me and the tricycle, the sitter said she was quitting.
Mother assessed the damage, called to one of the neighbors still lingering at the scene, asking someone to take her to the doctor's. I remember nothing of the trip.
Mother did not talk about it at the lunch neither of us could eat. She spoke only of the lost day's wages, the need to search again for another sitter, and the cost of the broken arm that wasn't in the savings account at the bank.
When she paused in her tirade long enough to ask me how I could pull such a dumb stunt as I had that morning I knew I couldn't tell her about the golden radiance dream and how I wanted to prove that dreams do come true, so I left to take a tearful refuge on the porch.
By now, dear old Mr. Ridenhauer, as that was the way people referred to him, so that for years I thought his first name was "Dearold," was standing in the driveway, calling to me not to cry anymore. Through my noises, I heard his suggestion.
"Come, come, now, Jane, stop crying. Come with me and together we'll walk down to Rumor's to get us an ice."
Not to have it even worse with mother, I pressed my face, only the nose, against the screen door, called out my newest plan, and before she had time to refuse, I walked to the steps. There I paused, looked down, hesitated, was thankful I wasn't sitting on my tricycle, and went, one at a time, down the steps to where dear old Mr. Ridenhauer was waiting for me.
Taking up my remaining good hand in his, we walked, so bound, the whole block, to the store, where he didn't twitch a muscle when I asked for the most expensive Eskimo pie with nuts.
That was the beginning of a summer-long fine tradition. Every afternoon, after our respective naps, we'd walk, hand in hand, some days, very slowly, down to Rumor's. After making our purchases, we'd sit on the butt-sanded bench outside of the store, by the Mail Pouch tobacco sign, licking the melting cream, as dainty as cats, as we watched the other people thinking they were busy.
Dear old Mr. Ridenhauer didn't say much. He told me he couldn't eat and talk at the same time, so in respect for his belief and knowledge, I allotted him respite from my attention getting device of asking "why?" and learned the secrets spoken in silences of sweetness.
With him, there was each day, someone, with ice cream, who for the walk of a block there and back, held my hand, as if that touch was the most important feeling in the whole world.