Downsizing: Homage to stairs


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

This entry was posted in hand-painted, machine stitching, Portland, quilting, textile and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Downsizing: Homage to stairs

  1. Tani Miller says:

    Just reading this . . . many months after you made the original post. A sign of how life and my job gets in the way.

    Hey . . . that Avis attic bedroom was MY BEDROOM TOO!!!! Wasn’t that space just wonderful! No one bothered me there, no one would come say “get your nose out of a book and go outside and play.” I could read to my hearts content, just hours and hours of peace and quiet and lots of reading. I loved the sloped ceilings and loved that I had to walk through the main part of the attic to get to it. The railing around the stairway was wobbly but I never worried about falling into the abyss. It was freezing cold in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer . . . unless I stole a fan from downstairs, and then it was pleasantly cool. I had an old antique bed that my mom had purchased at a yard sale and refinished. I wish I still had that bed, it was delightfully creakful . . . is “creakful” a word? . . . I also had an old oak desk that seemed to fit perfectly in that space. My mother painted the walls a light barely lavender color to satisfy my wanting for my room to be purple. I wonder if the white/light peachy colors were left over from the time when you lived there with Pappap and Grammy Ann.

    They don’t build houses with large rooms like that anymore. Thanks for sharing. I never knew that anyone else had lived in that room . . . even though I knew that we had bought our Avis house from Grammy and Pappap.


  2. janet says:

    Lovely essay


  3. olganorris says:

    A wondrous homage, how I enjoyed it – the narrative and the illustrations, and started reminiscing about my own past encounters with stairs. The ones I remember were mostly in Belle Époque buildings in Greece.
    We too had our phone in the landing/bend in the stairs when I was a teenager in Edinburgh – a party line too. My father also was so strict about use: we had to ask permission to use the phone, and had to tell who and why, etc. I rarely used the phone, and am not a chatterer to this day.
    Well, I look forward to continuing episodes. With my knackered knees, it will not be too long before we are looking for an even tempered dwelling.


    • june says:

      Thanks, Olga. Stairs are so much a part of our lives that we seldom even notice them — until we must. Funny about phones and people of our age. We too dislike taking phone calls and chattering just makes me nervous. Even after all these years, I’m more comfortable with writing and face to face than on the phone.


  4. snicklefritzin43 says:

    June….Today as I was going through my various e-mail accounts and dealing with a hefty dose of communication, there was a post from you; your posts are not the every day, always present in my in-box variety. So I saved until the end of my time on the computer your story of stairs; and what delight there is in this lovely, and endearing work of prose. Read through… now twice…..and in the words some smiles of memory of growing up with some of the same bits as you present here. Your photos awaken memories, and the painting and stitched work of expression the story of stairs are truly wonderfully made by the artist you most certainly are.
    I will visit this story again; the energy of your heart that flows through the memories, the sense of time passing and still being alive within you is magical and captivated my very soul.
    Thank you for sharing your story of stairs, giving pictures in words of times left in the history of your life’s walking on, sitting on and truly finding a place for your dreaming, reading and imagining to just be.


    • june says:

      Aw, shucks, Kristin, thank _you). Isn’t it interesting how we all have so much in common that we don’t know until someone expresses it? “Oh yes, I remember that.” I like those moments very much.


  5. Looking at your stair painting, I thought “June Descending” as in the famous Nude descending painting (but no – I was NOT seeing you nude!) We certainly don’t think much about all the stairs we live with until they become more of an obstacle than a vehicle. As my last dog aged and I found myself boosting her along as she struggled up to bed at night, I promised her our next house would be all on one level, and it was, except for a few step onto the porch and off the back deck. Eventually, even these became almost too much for her. And I realized how much unintended exercise the stairs in previous houses had given me. So when the dog was gone and I was looking to move, I was actually happy to find a place with two levels again. But always in the back of my mind is the thought of a tumble down them in an unguarded moment.

    Did we have the same father? Mine too hated the phone, calling it that black monster. Mom thought it was mostly that the ringing startled him which he didn’t need after his tense and dangerous shifts underground in the mines. Or maybe he saw it as an intrusion into the little bit of privacy he felt he had. At any rate, I could spend all day with my best friend at school, come home and get right back on the phone with her to talk for hours. Dad would comment that he couldn’t imagine what we still had to talk about (and yes, hollering get off that phone!). I do remember a brief period when we were on a party line and my mother’s strict admonitions not to listen in, but of course I did sneak a listen or two when she wasn’t aware. And I too remember the advent of the princess phone (is that legal? Can you really choose something other than the black monster?) and the scandalous private lines a few teens at my school had -of course, they were of the “upper class” families who had the money for such things.Such is the way things are looked at in a small town where most are working class.

    Really enjoyed this homage and the photos/art works that accompany it. As I looked at all those different sets of stairs, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for the guys who will be moving your things out to the next location. Those movers really earn their fees!


    • june says:

      Sheila, I almost put in the Nude art (but not nude art) but forgot to do it. I should have:-) I do like the exercise that stairs gives one — I’ll have to find a substitute. And I too could talk to my best friend all day and then come home and call her. I can’t remember what we talked about — can’t remember a bit — except we could and did talk endlessly. My mother was very tolerant.

      And yes, the black phone, the classic black phone. My grandson just looks at me strangely when I mention it, and yet, everyone had one. We “rented” them from the phone company, but when ATT&T broke up, we had to decide whether to buy them. They were so sturdy, nothing could break them (I imagine they were notorious for causing injuries among troubled families).

      Worry not so much about the movers. We carried all the small stuff to the basement, with only the beds (gulp) and dressers (gulp, gulp) left for the guys to handle. And to think, we used to move ourselves. I am so glad those days are over!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s