We are downsizing. That is, we are moving out of our beloved century-old monster of a house (really just a comfortable old four-square hip-roofed full-basement three-stories-high place) into something with fewer stairs.
The stairs in this house are like the stairs from houses of my entire growing- up years as well as most of our married life.
The stairs to the second floor here have two landings, one big with a big window, the other just a few steps up, off the entry foyer. The basement steps have one landing, which turns, goes on down, and ends in concrete. No attic steps here, just a pull-down ladder that is truly impassable for one of my age and size. Outside, both the front and back porch have steps and there are steps off the street that lead to the stairs up to the porches.
The front walkway to the house, the first steps to be maneuvered — the construction bits are from the renovation of the front wrap-around porch
Anyway, we must escape the stairs. We hadn’t thought this would happen. Not to us.
But one day I noticed that I wanted the light at the top of the second-floor stairs on, all the time. And I found that when I descended, I didn’t want to be holding anything in my right hand; I wanted to clutch the railing. The basement steps to the first landing doesn’t have a railing. If I fell there, I would hit my head on the foundation; the shorter flight to the bottom with its railing isn’t so scary, at least so long as I don’t have a laundry basket in my hands.
The basement stairs to the landing.
But I love stairs. I have always loved stairs. One of my first memories was of playing with my paper dolls on the landing at our first house in Pine Station, the house beside the run (a small creek), the house that sat just at the point at which the road went up over Pine Mountain. That landing had a big window, a bit like the window in this house, and it was where I learned to love sitting in the sun, like a cat.
The stairs down to the first landing (there are two) in the big house we currently inhabit.
Our next house in Pine had curved steps that were narrow at one side and wide at the other — a bit dicey, now that I think about them — but I always loved the curve in those stairs.
For kids, the advantage of stairs, especially the kind that curve or have landings, is great. Listening to grown-up parties or to the sounds of Christmas Eve preparations is easiest done when the steps keep the adults from spotting you.
In our next house, across the river in Avis, there were also many stairs. That house sat on a bit of a hill, so unless you went in the back door, you climbed the steps to the front porch, more steps, and then into the front hall. More steps to your right and upstairs, in the middle of the hall, were the attic steps.
I was fifteen when we moved to Avis and my room was in the attic. I don’t remember much about the room and the steps were a straight flight (as I remember them). What I remember most vividly was my mother, standing at the bottom of the steps, holding my lunch and books and papers as I flew out the door, inevitably late, to catch the school bus. That bus sometimes stopped in front of our house — why, I have no idea. But it allowed me to stay in bed until the last possible minute and then, with my mother’s help, breeze out the door and into the bus, where I finished my hairdo.
The second (big) landing of our current house
At the foot of those stairs, which were wide and spacious like those of our current house, was the telephone on its stand. Sitting on those stairs, my mother spent hours on the phone with my cousin Doris; I spent hours on the phone with my best friend Sandy. No cell phones those days, so when my father came home, both Mom’s and my phone time was limited to “business.” My father hated the telephone and often made one of us do official business calls for him. And I can still hear him hollering at me to “get off the phone.”
The steps leading to the art studio and the back porch
I don’t think we had a party line in Avis, although we did through the mid 1950s in Pine. A party line is very like Facebook (everyone could listen in), although the news was a bit more limited. And there were no ads. The extended phone calls (before my father came home) were just an early version of the teenage cellphone usage. The princess phone was around then, and some “spoiled” suburban kids that I read about in Seventeen Magazine had private lines in their bedrooms, but it was totally outside the realm of thought in our house. We were just lucky to have a phone line without a party; at least that was my father’s opinion.
The back porch stairs at SE Main
So stairs, in all their glory, lead directly to other realms of observation, some personal, some a bit less so, some dating me, some seeming to be current.
I have photographed and painted stairs in many ways. We had stairs in a lot of places we lived during our 50 years of marriage. Our stay in Jerome, Arizona, delighted me with its stairs, and I attempted to record them in oils. Those stairs, outdoors, hand-crafted, made of uneven stones and with different riser heights, are beautiful and treacherous.
This house, out of which we now see we must move, has wonderful stairs, spacious, well-lit, leading to delights both up and down. Comfortable stairs, the kind of stairs that one thinks could never betray one.
And certainly, these stairs haven’t betrayed us. Only time, the Old Trickster, could do that.
JOU, Mary’s Stairs, Hand-painted Cotton, Machine-stitched, @2005