Susan S. Emerson
---- — I remember an occasion when, at the age of 5, I lay alone in my parents’ double bed resisting the suggestion of a nap. Perhaps they chose their bed rather than mine because there were fewer distractions in their room.
Too old for naps, I thought, and was perplexed by the prospect of daytime sleep. It must have been in preparation for some evening event later on — an unusual thing in our family’s quiet life — that I was put to bed in the afternoon.
Finding myself in this seemingly impossible situation, my eyes scanned the room, seeking points of interest.
On the bedside table I spied several bobby pins, the hair curlers of post-war America. Endlessly fascinating to me was watching my mother arrange circles of hair on her head after shampooing, securing each with an “X”of bobby pins, the end product being curls.
I recall clearly still, 60 years later, reaching for one and tugging on the rubber tip with my front teeth until it surrendered, sliding off into my mouth. I flicked it onto the floor, and embarked upon a secret venture born of boredom coupled with a slight resentment.
The smooth, polished maple headboard above me beckoned. Mine had not been a pre-meditated deed; it simply, seductively, presented itself.
I remember rolling over onto my belly, bobby pin in hand, as my imagination peaked. Before me lay a tabula rasa, first beckoning, then challenging. Hesitating for hardly a moment, I was emboldened by some measure of entitlement, having been banished into the dimmed room while the sunshine surely danced gaily beyond the drawn shades.
I scratched a small square on the very lower left corner of the pristine surface, filling it in with a window and a door. It looked fine. Now it was a house. I added a chimney, and on the ground, some stick figures of reindeer and a rabbit with extremely large ears.
There was no turning back. I sent looping curls of smoke from the chimney that grew larger as they rose higher and higher across the headboard. Well-satisfied with my clever and unusual creation, in the quiet of the dim room, I settled into to sleep.
When my parents discovered the graffiti on their headboard in the light of morning, they asked if it were mine, and I answered hesitantly, “No.” I anticipated a challenge to my reply, but no accusation came, even though I was still an only child then (my brother would not be born until I was 12). Clearly there was no one else on whom to pin the blame.
In the days following, I worried at what might happen to me if found out. I might have to go to jail, or even leave home and get a job to make money to pay for a new bed.
But the only repercussion that surfaced was discussion among the three of us regarding the wrong in telling a lie and the disrespect in menacing someone else’s property.
What had seemed, before I’d fallen asleep that afternoon, a daring maneuver and a rather nice picture, became instead a quiet shame. My punishment was private, and entirely self-inflicted: I had to see the headboard every time I entered my parents’ room.
Years later they bought a beautiful mahogany “pineapple” bed, of which my mother was very proud. The maple bed moved into my room, its appearance somewhat improved by sanding and staining.
My mother bought some decorative pillows to hide the imperfection on the headboard. “You don’t remember,” she began, “but when you were very little …”
“Oh, I remember, all right!” We both smiled, for different reasons, I suppose.
Susan S. Emerson is a regular Times columnist.