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Sunday, May 28, 2017

They Had to Build Me a Room

When I came home from the Northern Pacific Hospital as a newborn, there was no room for me. Well, there was room—in my parents' bedroom—but no room I could ever call my own. 1469 Van Buren had three bedrooms: my parents in one; the “big girls” in one, the “little girls” in the other.

I do not remember my time in a crib in my parents' room; I vaguely remember standing in my crib after I got kicked out to the hallway. There was a little nook opposite the bathroom, behind the chimney. My dad eventually built a linen closet in that space.

I needed a room, of course, so they decided to build a tiny one for me by making the bathroom a little smaller and extending the new room from the north side of the second floor, over the back door and pantry area of the kitchen below--the only one-story part of the house. Dad cantilevered the outside wall a foot or so beyond the kitchen wall and gained another foot by pushing the inside wall of the bedroom a foot or so into the bathroom, which, though the only one for a household of seven people, was ample in size.

I presume I was sleeping on the front porch during the summer when “we” built my room. I often slept on the porch during the summer. I liked it. It was the least hot place in the house. (My new new room would prove to be the hotest.) Sleepiung on the porch also seemed a great freedom. My mom readily dispensed this freedom, partly because it freed up my room and bed for somebody else—most often for my grandmother, Sarah Jane Pratt, but also sometimes for a cousin. During room-construction summer the porch got me out of the way.

To get the framing up and the space enclosed, Dad hired an old carpenter he knew. Then finished the room himself. I have a few clear images of the process, which, of course, I watched with fascination. I was too young to help. But, oh did I love to watch! I remember, for example, being fascinated by how all important information seemed to get jotted down by writing or drawing in pencil on scraps of wood.

I remember Dad installing the radiator and pipes. In its place, Dad had to install the new, smaller radiator. New pipes had to be run to the basement. He hired his plumber friend to advise and to make the final connection in the basement; Dad did the rest. He used his brace and bit to drill two holes in the bathroom floor, he had to put two holes directly below those on the edge of one of the treads in the stairs to the basement. This is when I was introduced to the plumb bob. I couldn’t take my eyes off it as it swayed slowly to a stop suspended on a string from a nail across the hole above. Eventually that same plumb bob and the memory made their ways into my tool box in Colorado.

I remember him trying to finish this new-fangled stuff called “sheetrock”, trying to follow the instructions for taping, but unable to figure out how to smooth it out. I now suspect his problem was that when he sanded after each coat of “joint compound” plaster he sanded away too much of it. In any case, despite his putting sand in the paint to texture the ceiling, those clearly visible seams became a permanent part of my room's decore. The walls were no problem. Those he finished with beautiful knotty pine.

Next to the door into my bedroom Dad built some deep shelves that held our children’s library, a few toys , the family's set of the Book of Knowlege--including the annual updates. Next to that, I had had the only closet in the house with modern sliding doors. These things, it seemed to me, my father built like a pro.

The room was too small for a standard bed and chest of drawers. I had what they called a “three-quarters” bed, bigger than a single and smaller than a double. My chest of drawers was Grandmother Pratt's old oak wash-basin stand. I remember putting some small decal on the front of the top drawer of this oak cabinet to personalized it. The wash stand followed me to Colorado after Mom and Dad died. Mom had refinished it and removed the decal. As the base for the storage cabinet in our new-in-2015 downstairs bathroom at 324 E  Plum Street it every day brings memories of "up-home" with Grandma Pratt and of my knotty pine bedroom upstairs on Van Buren Street in St. Paul.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins 

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