Space fantasy

photo 1I have a theory about space: the less room you have, the more efficient you are with it,  everything in its place.  With more space comes a mushrooming mentality,  a catalyst for clutter.  The mind can’t help itself.  Space, psychological as well as physical, begs to be filled if not imagined. Beyond what we perceive with the naked eye are the mysteries and magic of outer space, popularized in movies like Gravity, the visually stunning if overrated Sandra Bullock/George Clooney box-off hit. For a price, even you, too, will soon be able to hop a balloon into the stratosphere.

A house, if you’re lucky, really is a home. In Gaston Bachelard’s profound and beautiful book, The Poetics of Space, he writes:  “ . . . thanks to the house, a great many of our memories are housed, and if the house is a bit elaborate, if it has a cellar and garret, nooks and corridors, our memories have refuges that are all the more clearly delineated.  All our lives we come back to them in our daydreams.”

An entire past comes to dwell in a new house.

I grew up in a small apartment, two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen with just enough room for my mother to do her magic (not a second thought to the washing machine crammed into an eight-by-ten space). Brooklyn in the 1950s/60s was a great place to live, and a housing project designed to bring middle-income families to a developing neighborhood was just the thing. Instant community. Doors you didn’t need to lock, except at night. I shared a room with my brother until those pre-teen years crept up on us and my parents decided the sofabed in the living room was good enough for them. An accordion door afforded some semblance of privacy.

Oh, heaven, a room of my own! Only just as I’m getting settled in, guess who moves in with us? Oh, Grandma (otherwise known as Bubby), what an unrelenting snore you have! Trundle bed, sharing a room—you get the picture. Not that I didn’t love her.

* * *

My grandparents had had a candy store that would become my uncle’s after my grandfather died. The candy store was a storefront in a building where my cousins lived, down the street from Macy’s on Flatbush Avenue.  My mother often helped out on Saturdays, and one of my favorite things to do (when I wasn’t scooping out ice cream or making egg creams) was to wander on over to Macy’s, two departments in particular: the furniture department—comfy couches and chairs in my land of make-believe living rooms—had me in its thrall. And the toy department (duh), especially at holiday time. I had thing for Lionel train sets.

Saturdays sometimes had my cousins and me off to the movies, the Loew’s Kings Theater within walking distance. Majestic may be a word lost on a young girl, but even then I sensed it. The Ladies’ Room, with its privately grand sitting area set apart from the bathroom stalls, was where I held court, imaginary as it was. I could be a princess there. Or just a girl longing for space.

Is it irony, or destiny, that had me falling in love with (and eventually marrying)  a man whose sense of space was as spare as mine was cluttered? An interior designer when I met him, he had a subliminal effect on me: often, after spending a night at his modernist, exquisitely designed East Side studio apartment, I’d find myself discarding a thing or two from West Side studio, cozy as it was choked with chochkes, books, records, you name it. A spinette piano, to boot.

The house we now live in is nothing if not a reflection of his vision. Lots of deconstruction and reconstruction photo 2when we first bought it, followed by an addition years later, largely to accommodate a business run from home.  The girl who grew up in a small Brooklyn apartment, who has already felt as if she’s died and gone to Heaven, had a request: could we work a walk-in closet into the plans? Nothing too big. No point in too small. Just right, as it turns out, at six by ten. No more storing shoes in boxes hidden beneath shirts and pants doubled up on hangers. No more stuffing a new tee-shirt into an already filled-to-the-brim drawer. Nor is it lost on me that the closet is almost the same in size as the kitchen of my childhood.

So today—like magic—I’m standing on the new deck off my  colorful kitchen (a replacement/redesign of the preexisting one weakened by years of weathering), a sense of wonder at how what was now is gone and what is quickly feels as if it were always here.

I have room for a Lionel train set, too.  If only I can figure out where to put it.


26 thoughts on “Space fantasy

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the architecturally challenged moments of your childhood…a life so different than my own that I’m fascinated and a tad bit jealous of the instant sense of community enjoyed when living in small spaces. I love spaciousness, but I also love the beauty and simplicity of non-cluttered, elemental, and impeccably designed spaces…simply beautiful.

    • As a writer yourself, you know only too well the emotional/metaphoric implications of space. Looking back, I have to appreciate what I had, even if everything changed to the point when I ask myself — what happens when that thing we called ‘home’ disintegrates over the years and trips back no longer hold that safe, cozy feeling?

  2. My grandfather owned a candy store also and one of my favorite treats to make as a child was the egg cream. Do kids now even know what that is?

  3. Having moved more than twenty times in my life (most before college), and having remodeled many houses, I have an appreciation for all kinds of spaces. I have an even bigger appreciation of your writing, which never ceases to transport me to some place special. Lovely post, Deborah!
    PS: I’m jealous of your closet. 🙂

    • Sometimes I feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface of those early years in my fiction. What makes a story compelling for me to write has more to do with the fictional twists and turns it takes than the settings, scenarios, etc., rooted in real life that sparked it.

  4. Such a beautifully written post, Deborah. The description of your childhood home just came alive in my mind. As I still live in the home I grew up in (we also remodeled and added on) I also value the sanctity of this sacred space. I often think that even if I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t want to move. I truly enjoyed reading this piece.

    • To live in the house you actually grew up in — modified for you and your family — has to be sacred. You must read Gaston Bachelard’s book — even in small doses.

  5. I love the nostalgia and could smell the candy store and see the egg cream in it’s tall glass with those sculpted tops they all had. Never did like soda though, so never tasted one, but the visual is heart warming. And find a place for those trains – wish my mother hadn’t given my brother’s away – Thomas the Train just doesn’t do it.
    Love the line “how what was now is gone and what is quickly feels as if it were always here. I completely agree, with my kitchen just renovated. It all seems so important at one time, and then mundane at another.

    • Sometimes I was stationed at the window of the candy store where penny (give or take) candy was sold. It really was a place that holds so much power re: those early years for me. Re: the Lionel train set — I may just have to get it 😉

  6. Gorgeous descriptions of your place- Very appropriate for me now, as I begin learning the design elements of our “new” place.

    • I think of it as work-in-progress. And sometimes I really do feel as if I’ve died and gone to Heaven. Not that the elements of all the places I’ve lived — especially that place we think of as our childhood home — aren’t always with me.

  7. What a journey you’ve been on! I too have lived in some pretty small spaces, and it taught me early on that simplicity can bring great joy, and size does not always matter 😉

    I loved the description of your Brooklyn childhood. Lovely.

  8. Deborah,
    I love your history, the candy, the toys, Macy’s…I love picturing your struggle with your Bubby’s snoring after you’ve finally achieved the ultimate: a room of your own. Wonderfully vivid. Loved it.

    • When you’re a child, you have little choice but to accept things as they are. When you’re a grown-up (kind of), you’ve earned the right to see things for the impact they had on you. And to share those stories as you see fit.

  9. Love how you move from the expansiveness of “Space” to the specifics of your own and all the spaces you’ve filled along the way. This piece brings back memories of the places I’ve called home, right down to my own mother sleeping on a pull-out so I could have the bedroom in one of our tiny apartments. Lovely, as usual, my friend, and lovingly told. 🙂

  10. Loved the early memories of your cluttered apartment. Reminds me of our second home in Queens. A two-bedroom apartment for my parents, baby sister, two brothers and me. Guess where I slept? On the sofa in the living room after everyone went to bed and the TV was turned off. It was only for a year, but what a year. Anyway, your remodeled kitchen sounds like a beaut.

    • My kitchen is beautiful, Monica. And my house really is a work-in-progress.

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