Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ON THE BOTTOM STEP

The house where my parents live and where I grew up is a split level house.  It has three half floors.  The main floor is the living room and the kitchen.  There are stairs that go up a half flight to the bedrooms and stairs that go down a half flight to the basement.  It is one of the standard house layouts in the neighborhood.

The steps that go up to the bedrooms are worn.  Who knows how many feet have gone up and down those steps over the last fifty one years.  One step is a little more worn the the others and yet it probably had about two thirds of the feet on it then the rest of the steps.  That step is the bottom step.

The bottom step held a special meaning for all of us kids and for my mother.  This step was visible from almost anywhere in the house.  It was, of course, clearly visible from the living room where it was located.  It was visible from the kitchen just by taking a step one way or the other to bring it into view..  From the bedroom level of the house it was clearly visible through two of the three bedroom doors.

This step became home to me for much of my childhood.  Whenever any of us acted up or got out of control the command "Go sit on the bottom step" would come from my mothers lips.  I spent a lot of time on the bottom step.  I venture to say that I spent more time there than my siblings, it seems like it anyway.  Anytime I got into an argument or fight with my little brother, I got sent to the bottom step.  I don't ever remember my sisters having to sit there.  It seems that this form of punishment did not occur to my mother until after the girls were too old to sit there.

I became to find out how to be comfortable on the step.  You could not see the television from the step so it became an opportunity to sit and read for a bit while I served my time set by my mother to sit there.  The most comfortable position was to sit on the step and lean your back against the wall while you rested your feet on the rod iron banister.  If I was in big trouble and was sentenced to a fair amount of time on the step, my back would start to hurt a bit, but it was still the most comfortable position there was.

The trick to surviving the bottom step was not to be serving time there when dad arrived home from work at four in the afternoon.  If you weren't on the bottom step when dad arrived there was a very good chance that it would be forgotten by the time dad came home and nothing would be mentioned of it.  If dad walked in and you were on the step. there was no getting out of it.  He would immediately ask you what you had done and with  out waiting for an answer would go into the kitchen to get the lowdown from mom.

Mom would give a detailed account of what had happened to dad.  Sometimes I think she exaggerated the offense a bit but dad got an outline of what had gone down just before he came home.  A lecture would then ensue and possibly more punishment to do chores for him, especially if it was summer and nice enough to work outside.  There was always grass to be cut,  trees to be trimmed and in the fall leaves to be raked.  This usually fell on the kid on the step while the other kid involved would skip by.  Most of the time it was me that was caught sitting on the bottom step.

Sitting on the bottom step did serve a purpose.  Not only did it serve as a form of punishment, but it taught me to be patient as I waited for mom to decide I had sat there long enough.  If you complained while sitting on the step, the time that you spent on the step would lengthen.  So I learned to sit and keep my mouth shut and wait out the time.

It gave me extra reading time which helped grow my love for books.  There was nothing else to do except to read and there was no way mom was going to take away any time any of her kids were reading.  I think because of the bottom stair I fell in love with books earlier than my siblings.

There were other types of punishment that was used for different offenses.  Spanking was of course a staple for the more severe offenses.  Getting grounded was also an option although that was mainly reserved for my sisters.  I don't remember being grounded very often at all.  Extra household chores were given out which had the effect of freeing up one of the other siblings from one of their chores.  I often wondered if my sisters tried to get me in trouble so that they would not have to dust the furniture or vacuum the floor.

Many times punishment was a chore that was already your chore to do.  It was just that you had to do it immediately instead of in the time span you had originally planned. Once I figured this out, I kept my half of the bedroom clean and made my bed every day.  Then if I got in trouble during the day and was sent up to clean the room and make my bed, it was already done.  I would simply go upstairs, close the door and lay on the bed and read.  Keeping a step ahead of the inevitable became a valuable lesson that I still carry with me to this day.

Yes, the bottom step and myself became very good friends over the years.  Every time I walk into that house and see that bottom step I think back to all the hours I sat there contemplating what I , or one of my siblings had done to get me sitting there.  It is worn a bit more than the others but there is a history behind that wearing.  I still believe most of that history belongs to my rear end.

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