Savages

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.

written 9-4-08

Lattice at night

 Hush, I told myself, as I accidentally clanged pots and pans together in my sister’s kitchen. It was three a.m. I couldn’t sleep and had a hankering for lattice-topped apple pie.

Hard to be quiet when I didn’t know where anything was. Four large cupboards lined the walls near the table and six more hung near the refrigerator. Below those were banks of drawers and closed doors full of mystery. In my frustration I pulled a divided casserole dish from storage but could not imagine my tasty creation being squeezed and divided in white corningware. After much not-so-quiet opening and closing, I hit the pie tin jackpot in the corner near the lazy susan.

We’d brought home a large bag of apples that afternoon from the Amish farm near-by. The day was crisp and bright, full of cider, squash and piled pumpkins. The apples called to me in shades of on-fire red to be peeled, doused with honey and butter, baked and enjoyed. I got up in the night to obey.

My sister’s life is full of order, her cupboards and refrigerator the same. Her large country kitchen holds the knotty pine table that served as a banquet table in my parents restaurant. Now her children gather around it with their children and a wayward Aunt Karen from Oregon. She wrote emails last summer telling me how she’d refinished and varnished the table. I would never have dared spread flour over the surface, or used a knife to fashion strips of dough if it had not been 3 am, if I had not been alone in the kitchen with the vision of a warm apple pie where sleep ought to be.

My sister does things just right. She has rules with definite rights and wrongs. I  guessed what I was doing would fit into the right category in the morning, but my time and method would give her one of those looks that said, It’s okay, I love you anyway, if she had found me out at night.

Long story short, I never found the spice drawer, so the finished product was bland, but well received, even appreciated and fussed over. She wrote me an email today, which was my first day home after an eight hour plane ride. It said, I felt a real sadness at your being gone.  So I went upstairs and wrapped myself in the comfort of your corduroy jacket, which I wore for the rest of the day and then put on again this morning. It is a little piece of you and it brings me more comfort than you know.

I miss her too. A sister is a precious thing, especially one that can tolerate a west coast eccentric who can not follow the rules.

written October 1, 2008