When I go back home to visit my folks I stay in my nieces and nephew’s room. The walls are painted a muted pink and two large north-facing windows provide a view of the spacious front yard. Cartoon owls decorate the walls, sitting in flat, plastic trees that arc over the white iron bed. On the wall opposite the bed is a large blackboard decorated with drawings or words written by unpracticed hands. Above the blackboard are large letters, each accompanied by a small drawing of an object whose name begins with its companion letter. “A—apple”, “B—Bee”, “C—Cow”, and so on.
At night, when I can’t sleep in the unfamiliar surroundings, I stare at those letters and their partnered drawings and think back to an earlier time when I was the kid sleeping in that same exact spot, when the room I sleep in now as a visitor used to be my own.
Then the walls were not pink, but dark with varnished wood paneling. Even when the sun was out and the sky clear, the amply-sized windows didn’t provide enough light for the room to be considered ‘bright’.
Once my cousin used a pocket knife to carve his name into the wall when we were kids. I’m sure my parents were less than pleased about that at the time, but it’s one of those memories that seems stuck inside my head, fastened with whatever glue is responsible for holding in the foundational elements of my mental self. These days that carving resides in the only spot in the room where, at my request, the new paint didn’t fall. Now, pulling back the small picture that hides it, reveals the only spot on the wall that still has its dark wood-paneled varnish.
‘X—xylophone.’ I struggled for a while with the ‘X’ letter in the A-to-Z challenge. That is, until I went back home for my nieces’ birthdays. The wall’s alphabet reminded me instantly of the small, wooden xylophone my sisters and I used to play with as kids. It was made by Fisher-Price® and rolled around on wheels. Eight metal keys in bright colors ran atop felt strips, each pinned down with metal bolts. Sliding the keys up and down the metal bolts controlled how long the sound rang out. Along its side were music notes, sound painted as color, forever sustained.
Pulling it around the house on its yellow string would elicit a pair of repeating staccato notes from the strikers embedded inside, their tempo matched by how fast we pulled it along. We used the yellow hand-striker to bang out notes or, when that got boring, as a magic wand or microphone.
Sometimes the xylophone doubled as a skateboard or handle-less scooter. How many uses can kids’ imaginations create for one product? Is that capacity lost as we become adults, or do we just forget that it’s there, waiting for us to pick it back up.
As far as I know, that xylophone is long gone, and now its notes ring out only in the vestiges of my and my family’s memory.
Now the only xylophone I see is the one I watch on that wall at night, while all the dolls in the room watch me, standing guard over the rest of the kids’ toys.