We are ranch people…Not a house in my family had stairs, an indoor staircase. We had functional steps that went down to a basement, out the screen porch into the yard, but no living space stairs. I remember my mama saying she always wanted a set of beautiful stairs and a two-story house. But, my Daddy was a builder’s child from south of the fall-line; folks down there have cheap land and no worry of frost. Ranch houses are the tried and true way to go. His Daddy built sprawling country club ranch numbers and tiny cheap cinder block squares that made most of his money. So, as I grew, we just kept getting bigger and bigger, more and more spread out ranches.
The only staircase that stands out in my memory was in the Sunday School of my childhood church, Young Harris UMC in Athens, Georgia. The SS building was actually an ante-bellum beauty and Young Harris’ former home. Intricate New Orleans style iron work, stand in the sill, running glass-paned windows and ceilings that soared 20 feet or better made the once ballroom, we five-year olds somehow warranted, a lavish place for felt boards and finger painting. I loved the sound of my Mary Jane’s on the checker board floor where ladies once twirled.
But, the center, the core of that house, was the staircase. Sleek and perfectly polished wood, it snaked from the second story and came to a stop just outside our k-5 door. We dreamed of a ride down, aware that every old woman about us was wary of just such occurring. I remember longing for the day I would be unchaperoned and left to it. As my sister and I got older, occasionally, we road a rung or two, undetected.
My Nana is the one who let me do everything my mama dared not, or cared not to watch with my baby sister ever clasped to her to side to keep her from crying. My sister’s colic grounded me. The phrase, “I’ll watch you. Go!” summarizes who my Nana is to me.
When Nana died and we had the funeral, all my children and their cousins, who had also long been seduced by those stairs, asked but two things: to ring the great bell in the courtyard and to ride those stairs. We rung that huge bell loud, it pealed across the city block grounds, down the avenue and into town center. Then they raced toward the great staircase, ties and matching dress sashes working free. My sister stood guard for blue-haired wardens. At her “the coast is clear” sign, I told them each, “I’ll watch you. Go!”