Summer had its high points, one of them the opportunity to attend writing workshops. One seminar stood out for its time travel back to childhood: “Excavating the Home.”
The 10 minute writing prompt: Think about a childhood home and map it from the front door to the back, from the cellar to the attic, wandering in each room:
The first place to come to mind was the housing projects in La Colonia, Oxnard where I lived until I was sixteen years old. La Colonia means “the neighborhood.” The words come from the Spanish land grant given in the 1800’s to seven Santa Barbara Presido soldiers. Lots of history in those projects.
The square concrete porch sits in front of a cream colored door. A tiny peephole, too high for a nine-year-old to peer out, is in the center. When you open the door too wide it hits the wood staircase, always polished and slippery. My sister fell down those stairs more times than I could count.
An alcove fit underneath the stairs, the perfect altar for the Virgin of Guadalupe. She stood two feet high in her sky blue robe atop a crocheted white doily, surrounded by smoky votives. A yellow towel neatly folded on the floor under the altar for Mom to kneel on when she prayed. A plaster St. Jude, in a deep green robe, stood next to the towel.
To the left of the staircase was our living room. Our Zenith TV, a huge hulk of a thing, lorded over the room in front of our avocado couches covered in plastic. A sleek black ceramic panther with emerald eyes stalked invisible prey on our coffee table.
An oblong table, five chairs, and crocheted runner sat behind the couches, next to it the rectangular kitchen, with painted cabinets.
There was a white radio, with a gold-toned dial, on the kitchen counter next to a back door with a key chain latch, long enough for a junkie’s arm to reach through and snatch mom’s prized Green Stamps bought treasure in mid-song.
Funny how I remember the big Zenith TV. Mom said it had blonde wood, very proud when she uttered “blonde.” She made years of payment on it and we weren’t to touch it except to change the channel. A bright white round doily sat on top, like the head covering mom wore to mass.
One or the four of us kids watched television from seven to ten p.m while Mom sat in a hard student desk at night school. We sat on a rug in front of the Zenith, not on the plastic covered couches.
Sitting on those sofas were not only uncomfortable, squeaking sounds beneath your legs, but they left a tell tale butt print of depressed plastic.
Our favorite shows came on between eight and ten p.m. The Man from U.N.C.L.E, Mission Impossible, and reruns of the Twilight Zone.
We heated up floury tortillas, slathered in butter, and enjoyed the shows.
We felt grown up watching TV shows that began at 8:00 p.m. because that was our bedtime. At five minutes to ten we shouted for the show to hurry up and finish, lest we be caught by Mom who felt up the back of the TV set when she got home at 10:10 p.m.
If the back of the set was warm she knew we hadn’t been in bed at 8:00 p.m.
One night she returned early, at 9:45 p..m. We heard the car door close, lifting our heads to the sound like startled deer. I punched in the knob, cutting off the most exciting part of the Mission Impossible while the four of us scrambled off the floor, grabbing pillows and racing up the stairs, tripping on each other.
We jumped into bed, listened for the click of her shoes across the linoleum floor to the kitchen but instead we heard nothing. We waited, under the bedcovers, because we knew she was feeling up Blondie.
“The Zenith is hot. Who had the set on, who was watching TV?” she yelled upstairs from the stair landing. We burrowed into our beds, silent, pretending to sleep as her heels clicked on the staircase, closer and closer.
My ten minutes were up before I completed the exercise, but I did have fond memories of our downstairs living space and a tiny slice of my life.
You can find hundreds of writing and poetry prompts at Poets & Writers. The Writer Magazine has 90 writing exercises to stoke your imagination. An interesting site is Random First Line Generator. I had fun with that one.