I remember as a kid the forts I would build in the house, draping blankets and towels over chairs and tables. I don’t remember printing signs that said, “Keep Out,” but I valued my privacy in these often-dark places. I built them near a television in the basement of our Carolyn Avenue home, so I could watch Captain Kangaroo or Romper Room without interruption. Sometimes, I would share this space with my sister Judy. It was the indoor camping that I have always preferred over being in the wild.
One might think that I would have loved being in a tent outdoors or even a small camper, but that never appealed to me for some reason. I will say that I am still intrigued with tiny homes. I made such a mess of my room as even a young adult, so the smaller the space, the less the clutter. For this reason, when we moved to 1565 North Bay Drive, I chose the smaller bedroom with a single window, and let my sister have the bigger, corner, bedroom with two windows. My parents had the other corner bedroom, finally a private space of their own after having sacrificed for years by sleeping on a fold-out couch in the living room. This way, Judy and I had our own rooms, as required by the adoption agreements.
The new house had much more space. It was a split-level with the bedrooms on the top floor, a short flight of stairs down led to the living room, kitchen, and front entry. A second stairway down took you into the family, laundry, and utility rooms, while a sliding glass door opened to an outdoor patio. A third stairway down led to the basement where I spent most of my time. I liked to think of it as my private fort, with a pool table that doubled as ping pong and the radio that played my favorite tunes. The walls were decorated with jig-saw puzzles that my mom had covered with the same clear shellac that she used for her hobby of decoupage. Any important document, newspaper article, or picture was permanently enshrined on a piece of wood under numerous coats of shellac. They were our family trophies, proudly displayed throughout the house. The puzzles were relegated to the basement.
I really thought that the basement was all mine, but apparently Judy spent a lot of time down there, especially when I went off to college. Years later, after our parents passed on, she somehow claimed the upright radio that I always thought would be mine. I wonder if she ever knew about my secret hiding spot that was the ultimate fort? The plumbers had cut an opening in the ceiling to access some pipes behind the laundry room. I found that I could squeeze through that hole and hide between the walls. It was about 3-feet wide and 10 feet long, a secret, dark cavity where I had that same feeling of privacy that I found under the blankets of the forts that I built in the basement of our first house.