Rite of passage - FamilyEducation

Rite of passage

March 31,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Many, many years ago, long before my grandparents lived in the last apartment of theirs--the apartment they owned, and were so proud of (downstairs from the apartment where the boat sits, waiting), they lived in a wonderful garden apartment in a quiet suburb. My childhood summers were mainly spent there, up until I reached my late teens. There was a wonderful garden encircling the apartment, with fabulous rose bushes, and scores of stray cats who would curl up around the base of the plants and sleep in the shade. At lunchtime my grandmother would twitch the curtain across the kitchen door window with a loud swish and the cats would appear from nowhere, meowing, mouths flashing light pink, curled tongues, and tiny white teeth. In the mornings, after breakfast, my sister and I would wait eagerly for the clap-slap! clap-slap! sound of our friend from upstairs, and for the sound of her wooden Dr. Scholls clogs on the marble steps. She lived in the apartment upstairs. We would play for hours in the garden, that magical place with a tall jasmine-covered wall and the sour-plum tree. She had a set of plastic dishes which I sorely coveted--the goblets and plates were red and purple and green and when set out together on the marble steps they caught the sun like a pile of jewels.

Around that time I had a recurring dream: in it my sister and I would descend down the cement stairs at the back of the apartment building and a door would magically open for us. Once inside, we would find a magnificent playroom filled with all kinds of treasures. Needless to say, I loved that dream. It stayed with me; I told my family about it, and my sister and I searched in real life for a magical door but never found one.

One summer, when I was 14, I had the dream again. Only in this dream I descended down the steps with my sister, watched her disappear inside, and then discovered that the door was closed to me. I couldn't get inside, no matter what I did, and I never dreamed of that playroom again. Coincidentally, that same summer, my period started for the first time; I had crossed, symbolically, over that threshold and left girlhood behind.

I am astounded so often by the power of the mind, both the waking mind and the sleeping one. Recently I awoke with the memory of that dream again. I'm not sure if I dreamed of that back stair and the magic door, or if I simply awoke thinking about it, because I spent so much time remembering the cardboard boat from that magical trip the last summer before my grandmother died. That I thought of it, though, seems so symbolic to me, and so captures the feeling I  haven't been able to shake since my grandmother passed away--the sense that a gigantic door somewhere has slid closed; that the garden, and tranquility of both apartments is lost to me now. That somewhere, behind the door, my grandfather sits painting and there is my grandmother, making jam from the sour plums, and we can scarcely wait to try it.