The Empty Bedroom


This was once my bedroom.

There was a time when this room was packed full of the stuff of life…

From a crib made in the mid-1940’s, I would look out at the flowered wallpaper.  Maybe a mobile hung just out of my reach, and moved about when a breeze caught it from a partly opened window.  Maybe I held onto a teddy bear, tightly…oh, so tightly…to keep my young boy dreams from turning into night terrors.

In the early 1950’s, my crib found a new home in the attic where it stayed until my mother sold it to a neighbor.  I had a small single bed…a “Hollywood” bed, my mother would call it.  It remained in that room until someone bought it and dismantled it and walked away with it when my wife, my brother and I had the tag sale a year after my father died.  I could never fall asleep on that bed.  My mother tried everything.  She put in a little white AM radio and I would listen to Doris Day singing “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” so often, I thought it was the only song that existed.  I would crawl from that bed and creep to the top of the stairs.  Below me, in a dark living room, the black and white TV flickered.  I would call quietly to my mother and tell her I couldn’t sleep.  She’d have me come down to the sofa and together we’d eat chives and cheese on saltines.

Eventually she’d send me to bed again.  There was a landing halfway up the stairs.  I would almost always linger and ask her whether the war was ever going to come to Owego.

“No,” she would say.  “Korea is a long way off.”

I would linger still.  I was fearful of something.  I knew there were no monsters under my bed…but I was afraid.

“Promise me you won’t die before me,” I would ask her every night.

“I promise,” she would replied.  She never kept her word on that.

In high school, I would lay on the bed, see it?  Below the sconce.  I read Macbeth during the summer (I wasn’t even required to do so).  It put me into a dark mood of evil and murder.  I should have been reading Romeo and Juliet instead.

I spent my final night in that bed the day before I went away to college.  A few months later, I sat on the same bed with my father during the Christmas holiday and cried.  I cried because my childhood girlfriend had broken up with me.  He sat and watched.  He didn’t know what to say to me.

He was like that.

Years later, the bed was against the left wall. The empty left wall. I was living at home because my marriage had fallen apart.  I was not a teacher in Connecticut anymore…I was working as a temp in IBM and living at my parent’s house.  It was the worst humiliation you can imagine.  But it was the same old bed in the same old room that had seen me grow up and become a man.

Just around the corner, there by the radiator, a doorway led into the hallway.  On the molding of the door sill, there were many pencil marks and dates.  I had kept track of my son’s growth.  How fast it all happens.  How fast they grow.  It’s all painted over now.

In 1992, I came to the bed at 8:00 am to try to sleep.  I had been up all night watching The Robe on TV.  It was Easter Sunday morning…what else would they be showing?  Behind me, on a hospice bed, my mother was dying.

I came to that bed and closed my eyes.  Not thirty minutes passed when my sister-in-law came and knocked.

“Pat, I think you should come downstairs.  Your mother is gone.”

Now, the bedroom is empty.  The family that bought the house, sold it not too many years later.

The photograph above was taken by a real estate agent.

It shows a bare room, a radiator, a sconce and two windows.  You can hardly see the trees that are bending over the front porch.

And, you can not see the stuff that used to be in that room.

Not unless you close your eyes and try to imagine a baby sleeping there and then, quick as blowing out a candle, you may be able to see the stuff that belongs to the ages of a man’s life.



The Brick Pond



I grew up in a small town in upstate New York.  The name is Owego, which is derived from a Native American term that means “where the valley widens” or something close to that.  The village has everything that a typical small American town should have.  There is a beautiful cemetery on the hill above the valley that holds the grave of an Indian Maiden.  There is a stretch of road a few miles out-of-town that has a famous haunting, The Lady In Lavender.  There is a Fair Grounds, where I, as a young boy, would wander through the midway, munching popcorn and hoping for a sausage sandwich and ice-cold coke in the late afternoon.  Nearby was a half-mile oval cinder track where I ran the two-mile for the high school track team.  On Main Street was the Tioga Theater where saturday matinees cost 25 cents and root-beer barrels were just a nickel.  In the back row, in the dark, couples would kiss on a friday night.  I know, because I was one part of those that smooched through the main feature.  Across the street was the Cookie Jar (also called the Sugar Bowl) where my girlfriend, Mary, and I would share a cherry soda with a dip of ice cream.

One glass of soda and two straws.

At my end of town was a very special place.  It was called the Brick Pond.  Apparently, there was a certain clay in its banks that was used to make bricks.  It was just a few steps from my front porch and it became a second home to me.  Even though I had the great Susquehanna River in my back yard, I could often be found at the Brick Pond with my friends.

The water of this shallow lake stretched from the railroad tracks which bordered its west shore, to a marshy wetland to the east.  The Pond never was a swimming hole because it had too many lily pads and the bottom was very mucky.  At least I assumed it did.  I wouldn’t know, because I never went barefoot into the water.  To enjoy the area, we would walk the partly hidden paths that edged alongside the railroad and a small wooded section.  In the summer, it was buggy.  From my back porch, I could hear the crickets buzzing in the late afternoon and into the evening.

No, in the summer the Pond was interesting and adventure-filled…but in the winter, the Pond became a fantastic new world of snow, ice, bonfires, skating and…romance.  Puppy love romance.  The earliest and the most exciting kind of romance.  We were at the cusp of adolescence.  Holding the hand of your girlfriend was a mind-blowing experience and a kiss, well a kiss was beyond description.

The heart-pounding ‘high’ that came with young love was often more than my head and brain could contain.  Nothing else seemed to exist.

Yes, it was the winters of my youth that I recall the most when I hear or think about the Brick Pond.

Only a handful of people in town ever visited the place when I was young.  There was a small group of us, perhaps six or eight boys and girls, that had the pond pretty much to ourselves.  The names of David, Angie, Greg, Toni, Marie, Jim, Peter and Chuck come to mind.  Jutting out into the pond from the woods near the tracks was a small peninsula that had a very small mound on it.  There we would build a bonfire and skate.

Someone’s father would come over and shovel the snow away, leaving a smooth surface to do figure 8’s.  There was a small shack just below the RR tracks that functioned as a place for the train men to store tools.  We used it to put our skates on.  I remember every eyelet of my girlfriend’s white skates and I had her put her blade on my thigh while I tied her laces.  Not too tight, not too loose.  It had to be just perfect…like the white fuzzy hat she wore and the mittens (were they red?) that kept her hands warm.  As I led her onto the ice, I missed her bare hand but I knew her fingers were toasty.

After we would skate with the others, Mary and I would break off and skate the lonely stretch to the east.  Along the way the channel narrowed but the wind kept the snow off the ice.  We would come to a fallen tree, naked of any bark, and we would sit.  We would sit and I would kiss what little bit of face that peeked out from the fuzz and hat.  Her cheeks were cold.  Her lips were cool but just beneath the skin, I could sense the warmth of her inner being.

Sometimes, the moon would light our way.  On those nights, it was pure magic.  We held hands and skated farther away.  I turned back to see the bonfire.  No one was worried about us.  They knew where we were.

I felt dizzy.  I was standing on the edge of something but I didn’t know what it was.  Time passed like cold molasses in those days.  I thought I would never grow up.  But I was holding hands with my future, that I knew.

When I think back on those nights, I know now what made me light-headed.  It was the impossibly open future of my life.  Mary, myself and my friends back at the fire were about to be launched like Sputnik, into a vast unknown place called adult life.

In the years that have passed, I’ve felt those wings of happiness flutter, but not in quite the same way as they did when I was twelve.

Many years later, the Brick Pond was turned into a protected wetland that is watched over by the Waterman Center.

In the late 1980’s, when I was going through a very rough time in my life, I found myself living with my parents for a short time.  I had a son who was two and a half years old.  Visits with him were set for Sundays.  Once, I took him over to the Brick Pond.  The Waterman Center had put a board walk across the eastern end of the Pond.  I took my little boy over the bridge and stopped half-way.  He tossed sticks into the melting ice.  I sat and saw the ghost of a young couple skate right through the bridge, as if it wasn’t there.

I know them, I thought.

No, I thought again, I knew them.


[Top photo from the Waterman Center]