My Year in the Yellow House—Revisited

My Year in the Yellow House—Revisited (part of my Blowing on Embers series)

As I wrote “My Year in the Yellow House,” I wondered whether the story would have broad appeal since it didn’t have any overarching theme or message. Just random memories. Nothing much to see there.

The yellow house many decades later—no longer yellow, but with the addition of front and side porches

I was suddenly taken aback at that notion. My essay was full of big deals. Unstated, but implied, was the fact that my youngest brother was conceived the year we lived in the yellow house, rounding out our family. How would my own life story be changed if that hadn’t happened? Most assuredly, he and his children think it was a pretty big deal.

Questions bubbled up.

For the family who lost their home and all their household belongings right down to their shoes and underwear, the blaze that destroyed their house was monumental. I wonder how it changed their lives. Did they have family nearby to put them up temporarily? Did they have a savings account in the bank to help get them back on their feet? Was their life savings, however large or small, stashed in a mattress that went up in flames? What happened to them, I wonder.

Was Glory’s tumor malignant? That’s what I always thought. If it was, did it go into spontaneous remission? Did her family’s faith cure her? How did she turn out? Or did the tumor kill her? When? How was her family—and their belief system—affected?

What about Carol’s family? Is there a more devastating blow than losing your young child? Did her family survive intact? Many don’t. And what did the world lose with no Carol to grow up in it? What about the family that never was? Would she have changed the world? Questions the answers to which no one will never know.

It was an eventful year on our small block. My own travails were pretty petty compared to what was happening all around me.

And yet, they weren’t. I heard something on the radio recently about how important it is to listen, really listen, to all the insignificant things your young child wants to tell you, no matter how busy you are with more important grown-up issues. The point was that if you don’t listen now, they’re unlikely to tell you the really important stuff later. But it was the next phrase that really struck me: “to them [the children] it’s all important.” Of course it is. It’s all they know.

To five-year-old me, it was all important. It would have been to any five-year-old.

My most potent memory from that year is the one where I was pushed into a tiny but formidable dark space, locked in, and forced to allow my most valuable possession to be desecrated in order to gain my freedom, having no confidence that the bargain would be honored, even then. My doll was my baby; it was an intolerable choice. And all because of someone’s inexplicable need to be cruel.

I don’t know all the ways the doll experience colored my life. Was that the moment the meek, compliant girl I grew into was forged? Was it what made me forever seek to avoid confrontation at almost any cost? Was Glory’s taunting what birthed my empathy for others? Or was it just a terrible moment with no particular future consequences other than a bad memory?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions.

What about you? What questions still linger from your early years? Were there childhood moments—little or not so little— that changed your life?

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