When I was in late elementary school, my sisters and I constructed entire worlds within our house. It was a great old house, which I have only come to fully appreciate after having lived in apartments clothed in the mass-produced drab of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Three and a half brick stories. A mish-mash of renovations whose beautiful white oak floors were hidden, except in the front hall. The basement ran the full length of the house and itself had 2 and a half levels. It was in that outdoor-carpeted cement walled space that my middle sister and I created our school. We each took a side of a large room separated by steel poles. She on one side and I on the other; we instructed our imaginary pupils. She was harsher, always making an example of the slow kid in the class and marking his worksheets with red pen gusto. She slapped down worksheets emblazoned with Fs. I wrote tests and convened book groups.
If the basement was the world of the school, the attic was the world of the store. In addition to being educators, my sister and I were entrepreneurs. Once every month or so, we would go throughout the house collecting items and gathering them in the attic. I had always wanted to live on the top floor and was excited when my parents allowed me to move up to that room. It had a long narrow yellow-tiled bathroom and a huge closet. The shelves in the closet were so long that I used to beg to sleep on them. My parents occasionally acquiesced, even though my mother contended that I never slept as well in the closet as I did in my bed. On store days my room would be transformed from living quarters into a thriving small-business. My sister and I set up our respective shops, populating them with a variety of treasures. Necklaces that we had made, artwork, loop pot holders, heavy bronze bowls pilfered from the living room coffee table, books taken from my mother’s library. We priced these items between 5 and 15 cents. Negotiating was permitted, and my dad seemed to take especial thrill in talking us down on the purchase price of an item he already owned. We kept our cash and made change, I in an old cash box of my dad’s and my sister in a pink wooden music box. In the early years, my youngest sister was not old enough to peddle her own wares, but she came along with my mom and seemed to enjoy the excitement. After the customers were satisfied, my sister and I would tally our day’s takings. My dad wanted to instill the idea of good budgeting in us and so we had cups into which all our money had to be put. I have long since forgotten the exact categories or percentages, but I remember the bright plastic cups emblazoned in paint pens with words like long-term savings and tithe.