Friday, September 28, 2007

Centreville

When I was a little girl, we lived in a small house my father built in Centreville, VA. Back then Centreville was a small place, not much more than a crossroads really. There was a hardware store, a general store, a diner, and a gas station. There must have been a post office too, but I don’t remember it. We lived on Beanblossom Road. The little house survived until about 10 years ago when it was finally torn down. Now it is impossible to recognize the place it stood.

That three-room house in the woods was a great place for kids. By the time we moved out of that house in 1956 there were six children, three boys and three girls. The house only had two bedrooms, but that wasn’t important because we spent most of our days outside, playing in the woods. Dad made us a playhouse, and we all had our secret hiding places under bushes, in gullies, or behind rocks. There were other kids who lived a short distance away, so we were never without someone to play with. Our house didn’t have running water and because the soil wouldn’t percolate we couldn’t have a septic tank. We had a chemical toilet, a sort of upscale outhouse. We heated with wood, and I remember there was a big vegetable garden.

The thing I remember most about Centreville, however, is my parents. They met in England during World War II where my father was stationed with the Army Air Force. After the war they lived with my father’s parents in Falls Church until the little house was finished. My mother was a beautiful English girl, with long auburn hair and a pretty cupid’s bow mouth. Every afternoon she would change into a clean dress and put on red lipstick before my father came home from work. We would all line up along the walkway to meet him. He would stride up the walk, looking so strong and healthy in his work clothes and with his lineman’s tools.

One year for my mother’s birthday Dad built her a rose arbor, painted white, with two seats built in. We loved to sit out there. Sometimes Mom would fix us a tea party, and we would sit like little ladies in the arbor sipping our tea. Other times we’d pick green persimmons for my mother, and she would put them in a wineglass on the table, telling us she would enjoy them later. We’d forget about them of course, and she’d quietly dispose of the puckery persimmons when we were playing.

Mom loved to braid our hair and wrap our heads in “crowns--Judy’s blond and shining like gold, mine with deep red lights in it, Mary—did Mary have braids? I don’t think so—she had black, curly, shining hair that bounced when she toddled around.

I was only five when we moved, but I remember so many things. A hurricane (what year was that? was its name Hazel?) that covered the ground with hailstones the size of shooter marbles. Mom lit a kerosene lamp and all of us gathered around the soft light shining on us while the wind and rain whipped the windows.

I remember:
  • Playing in the woods—the pine needles a carpet of brown under our feet, pricking into my bare soles as I ran
  • riding my Fire Chief car
  • my secret hideout
  • the playhouse where we got stuck on the roof and Dad had to climb up with his lineman's boots and rescue us
  • the maroon-colored daybed with its rough upholstery that we slept on
  • the pump in the kitchen sink (not a faucet)
  • The chemical toilet outside, with it's half-door (there's another whole story about that little building!)
  • the way the front door opened off one side of the house, hidden from the front and the road and very confusing to salesmen who would walk aroud the house, and even look underneath for a trap door
  • Roses blooming
  • visiting Dessie Deems who lived down the road with Nappy and his ancient pickup truck (see it in the picture above?)
  • the way we’d aggravate the old neighbor lady woman by chanting naughty things about our underwear
  • Joe cutting my hair, just one braid, leaving the other
  • falling off the swing and cutting my knee open, how it looked, not really bleeding but more like the inside of an orange, only red.
  • The ambulance ride, the hospital and my baby bottle that they took from me and put on a high window sill in some room (operating room? Emergency room?).
  • Appendicitis--the old cellar on Signal Hill Road at Aunt Helen’s house (who was she, anyway? not my real aunt) with its slimy, slippery walls
  • the green apple tree that hung over the cellar. I ate so many apples, I got appendicitis. What game were we playing when I went in there? Hide and seek?
  • The path through the woods that went to the Moran’s house,
  • rolling on 55-gallon drums
  • putting the washtub on Mickey Moran’s head and banging on it with a hammer.
  • I remember the soil being poor, with moss in the yard. But the roses did well, I remember that.

    All these memories, and yet I was only five years old when we moved. It doesn’t seem possible that I could remember so much, but I do. . We really lived in that house, you see; we lived like kids who were given the freedom to roam the woods, to play outside for hours because there was no television to keep us in, and to be alone outside because no one worried much about strangers in those days. Perhaps they should have, but they didn’t. We were free-spirited, full of make-believe games, and full of the joy of just being a little kid in a big woods in a tiny country community in the 1950’s.

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