A few weeks back I shared a story about the dangers of maraschino cherries and George Washington and one boy's heroic efforts to save my second grade class. I thought I would share another little tale of adventure from my childhood on the dangers of locked doors. I grew up on the outskirts of Chichester, a small rural town in New Hampshire. We had moved there from Dunbarton, NH in the summer before my first grade year.
When you grow up in a rural community you develop an internal bullshit meter that gets triggered when you read or hear people romanticizing small town living. There are no "simple, good people" outside of the magazines dedicated to making you think that there are. Neither are small towns terrifying insular groups who sacrifice a "lottery winner" each year to keep the town safe. Small town living is made up of human beings, who all posses the complete human map of emotion, gifts and flaws. What is unique is the tightness of the social space and the expansiveness of the physical space. I was in class with the same 20 people for eight years; I lived on 40 acres of wooded land next to a highway. No neighbors at all. I had to ride a bus for 45 minutes in the morning and the same at the end of the school day to get me back home. One of my favorite elementary school pastimes in the morning was getting passing truckers to blow their air horn as they drove by. One time I was waiting for the bus with my siblings when a group of hunters parked across the road, all climbed out and mooned us as they urinated in the woods.
I also got to wander the woods- when it wasn't hunting season- by myself, but often with my sister and almost always with my dog. My father had marked trails in the woods by painting red circles on the trees- you stood under it and looked forward to the next circle, and so on- throughout the 40 acres. There were vast fern fields ( Fern City), a seasonal brook that in later years beavers damned up causing a wetlands to form, countless birch trees where we would collect the bark to write messages on, and small caves where I liked to hide sleeves of saltines- in case of emergency. I have no idea what my mother thought when we would go through so many saltines so quickly. I loved to find salamanders under rotting sticks, and frogs in the stream. A bear would come down once and awhile, but our dog would always seem to know and bark at us until we went home. I can't imagine not having that childhood.
One of the less romantic aspects of my childhood was that there were 6 of us living in a house with one bathroom. We were raised in a very modest household: it would have been impolite to share bathroom space with each other. "One at a time" was the family norm. That taught you a very specific sets of skills. How to wake up before your parents- adults always seemed to take longer. How to wait. How to lock the door. How to pick a lock.
It goes without saying that when you live altogether with one bathroom there is an unspoken code about not taking too long. And being a middle child who was very concerned with the rules, I was diligent in following all unspoken rules. Until it happened. I am an adult in the last gasps of my forties, and I still feel embarrassed by what happened.
I was ten years old and I had started to jump out windows. Not high windows. First floor windows. I can't remember why I had started to do this, the most likely reason was that I had either read about a character doing this in a book, or seen it on a cartoon. I don't think my family really noticed this habit. There were a lot of us, and my parents were very hard working. Our house was a converted Cape, and though I was tempted by the tree growing outside my second floor bedroom window, I never tried that. But the regular first floor windows were too easy, and I was looking for a challenge.
The bathroom window looked out over the backyard, which dropped away from the house, creating a much larger drop down from the window. I needed to climb up on top of the toilet, climb backwards out the window, and then fling myself out, so that I didn't scrape along the house as I dropped down. It was probably a six foot drop and it felt so great. Again, no one had noticed that I was doing this. And they probably never would have known, if not for that time.
I had gone into the bathroom for normal business, and afterwards, decided to drop out the window. Off I went into the woods by myself and didn't come back for over an hour. When I walked in the door I saw three of my family members sitting outside the bathroom, silently waiting. Not realizing what I had done, I asked with some indignation if they knew who was taking so long. Nope.
"We didn't want to knock- the door is locked."
In that second I realized that I was the one who had left the door locked when I exited out the window. Almost an hour ago. I still feel embarrassed to this day that I had to walk over, pick the lock, and explain to my very polite family that I had made them wait. If they were angry with me they never said, but from that day forward, everyone knocked on the locked door- because you just never know when someone will exit out the window.