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Yellow Curtains

Once when I was about 14, I guess, my family went to Hay Springs, NE for some errand. Hay Springs is a little, shabby town of no especial distinction. You can find towns of similar stature and countenance pretty much anywhere in the central United States. Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, Ohio, Minnesota, Illinois…you name it. Towns between 800 and 2,000, Windblown, maybe a little weather-beaten. The water tower may be the highest point on the horizon for quite some miles around. Populations dwindling since a peak in the 1920s.

Anyway, on this particular day that we were in Hay Springs, I chanced to notice a house that comes back to my “mind’s eye” from time to time for some reason I can’t divine.

Just like Hay Springs is no Great American Ideal of a town, this house wasn’t anything special or noteworthy. It was a mostly-rectangular storey-and-a-half house with a gable end facing the street. An addition had been built on the back of the house at a right angle, probably not too many years after the main body of the house had been built, and the whole structure was painted white, which was chipping away in large patches, exposing graying lapped-siding beneath. It had a porch built across the front of it, with green Astroturf on the porch floor and grey asphalt shingles on the porch roof, matching the grey asphalt shingles on the main roof of the house.

The main distinguishing feature of this plain little house in that plain little town was that the two windows in the street-facing gable were open, and the bottoms of a set of frilled, lemon-yellow curtains had been sucked out the open window and were fluttering gaily above the grey porch roof.

Presumably it was a bedroom. At the time, I guessed it was another girl’s bedroom, and I hoped she was hanging out in there, enjoying a library book, FM102 (the sole popular music radio station in the area), and maybe a popsicle. That’s what I’d have been doing if I’d been at home in my own room, rather than out running errands with my parents. Holding the pages of my book or magazine with both hands against the stiff breeze racing through the rooms, and vicariously going “somewhere else” through those printed words.

So, sometimes, unbidden, I remember those flapping, be-ruffled yellow curtains, and the idea of what I’d do with a free afternoon if I were 14 and living in a tiny Midwestern town. And it’s not necessarily that different from what I might do with a free afternoon, at age 34, in a sizeable Midwestern city.

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