When we were little, my brother and I had a unique playhouse. Years ago my grandparents (my father’s parents) ran a small store out of the downstairs portion of their house. On the back of their property was also a barber shop–a white, clapboard one-room little house, complete with a swirling barber pole and a crank-operated cash register. (I don’t really know who the barber was, but if it was anyone in my family, the hairstyling gene must be dormant. Extremely dormant.) After my grandmother died and my father sold the house, he had the barber shop moved to our back yard where it became, to me, the coolest playhouse in the entire world.
I am three years older than my brother and my oldest cousin. Three years is not a big deal now, but when I was 8 and they were 5 it was all the difference in the world. That year, the playhouse became our “school”, where I would spend hours trying to teach them whatever I was learning in school. My mom remembers my brother running in the house one day, crying and screaming that he “don't want to learn times, don't understand times, and could you please stop making her teach me times?!” Apparently I was eager to pass on my newly acquired multiplication skills. The next year the playhouse became the headquarters for our newly formed club –The Chicken Gang. The membership rite was simple –present one chicken feather and you’re in. Later the playhouse would be our “apartment”, our “store”, our “frontier home”, and on and on. Besides providing a pretty cool backdrop for our imaginative play, the playhouse was filled with old things-a giant Dr. Pepper sign shaped like a bottle cap that my brother and I used as a sled, the cash register, and best of all, to me, old books. I was a fervent reader as a child. I read any and everything -cereal boxes, encyclopedias, the church bulletin, my mom’s old textbooks, user manuals, the backs of hairspray cans- I wasn’t picky. So naturally I was delighted to find old books, especially old books that had belonged to my grandmother. (Imagine my elation the day I opened one of those old books and found a letter addressed to my grandmother from an author. It was a rejection letter, but it might as well have been the original Declaration of Independence. I was thrilled. My grandmother wanted to be a writer. She actually submitted material. Someone actually responded, and although it was a rejection letter, it did acknowledge talent. And, best of all, I had the letter!) Later that day I found another book with a title that, to an 11-year old, sounded very ominous: Up the Golden Stair: An Approach To A Deeper Understanding Of Life Through Personal Sorrow, by Elizabeth Yates. I remember sitting on the concrete steps outside of the playhouse and thinking how it must be hard to grow up and have to face death, and personal sorrow, and loss. I couldn’t imagine someone buying a book to cope with such. It was pretty heavy stuff and I didn’t read much of it that day. I ran across it again years later and brought it home with me, and I have found comfort in it several times. Here’s another snippet from it, which really hits home after yesterday.
Keep your relationships current. Follow the impulse to do that small kindness for another whenever it comes to you. Then you will never be beset by the thought, oh, if I had only done it when I thought of it. This is one of the discoveries I have made this year: that if the inner promptings of heart and mind are obeyed there will never be an echo of the words “too late.”
Not bad advice. And a little more meaningful now than when I was eleven.
Cheerier posts ahead. I promise.