There were no grown-ups in our world, except the out of breath cook, who climbed steep stairs with our food tray in hand. His was a hurry-up job. Here is your food, be good. He carried prime rib, mashed potatoes, vegetables and homemade pies from the restaurant below. Sometimes we ate it, more often we had food fights. Dishes crashed as we climbed on the table, eager to perform on our make-shift stage. We made wide-armed gestures like the ones we’d seen on television; sang, danced, created costumes, swirled and laughed.
Look at me. Look at me. I am Cruella DeVille.
My oldest brother picked up his guitar, my youngest brother beat out rhythms on his drumset. We all shrieked with delight, often peeing our pants with laughter. We were five kids raising ourselves.
A raccoon ran up and down the hallway, a cat with new kittens nested on fallen coats, and a crow rode my sister’s shoulder like it was born there; even an occasional chicken witnessed our performance. The raccoon was a mainstay, until he bit my father’s balding head, we never saw old Coonie after that.
No one survived very long in that house, especially not housekeepers or babysitters. We constantly fought one another, but became a unified force with outsiders. Those with an idea toward reform or discipline stood no chance at all. There is one vivid memory of a babysitter cornered in the music room. She was literally backed against the wall, as five of us threatened like predators. My brother thought we should have done the – pail of cold water over her head from the second floor trick – but I wanted to give her a fighting chance. She left and never returned, one of many defeated by the Banfield savages.
A Russian woman came once a week, leaving stacks of clean clothes, folded and neatly balanced on our beds. Put these away, she instructed. During the week the stacks were knocked to the floor and walked on, like everything else. There was no one to notice, no one to care.
The playroom was at the far end of the kitchen and housed a rarely changed cat box. I remember it being cleaned when a dance teacher arrived. We pointed our toes and slid them back and forth in the hope of learning first and second positions. Ballet did not stick, nor did tap dancing. The horses, ice skating, swimming and backyard baseball games did.
My father’s mother was trouble. She was serious about rules and best avoided. We had a small white cottage near the pond, where we escaped when she came. The cottage was safe, since she refused to venture across cornfields to further her point. Lucky for us, she didn’t visit often, or we could have been civilized.