Even when I was a child riding in the backseat of my father's car as he drove us somewhere at dusk, I tried to look in the windows of houses we passed if lamps had been turned on in the rooms. I wondered who lived there. Were they a happy family, how many children did they have, were there any boys or just daughters as in our family? I never outgrew my curiosity and still look in and wonder.
My favorite view looking in, though, has always been that of looking into my own house from outside at twilight time, through windows revealing softly lamp lit rooms. It is then that I see my home life from a different perspective. I know the people in my own house better than I do any other people in the world, naturally, and yet as I see them moving about they become elusive, but strangely much more real.
I remember when I was sixteen going outside at dusk on Thanksgiving Day. I put on my warm high school jacket over my best Sunday dress as it was not only cold but had snowed, a rare thing in Middle Tennessee. We get excited here if Jack Frost visits us for Thanksgiving. Snow on Thanksgiving Day, any amount, would make us think we'd died and gone to New England. Snow on that special night gave the occasion even more importance, and the centerpiece for our dining room table, my responsibility, had to be special too.
I clip sprays of bright red Nandina and holly and probably some evergreen gleanings as well since our father has planted many conifers in our yard. If it were June there would be many of Daddy's roses for the table, but this is November and dusk has fallen on the snow-brushed shrubbery around our house. I take my time. It is important.
Through the kitchen window I see Daddy, the head of our family. I love him but darn sure have a healthy respect for him too. This night though, in his dark wine-colored plaid Arrow shirt, my father seems almost vulnerable as he helps Mama with the last minute cooking for the most important meal of the year, Thanksgiving Day dinner. Why this perspective of seeing my father through the window makes him seem more human to me, possibly with worries I know nothing about, I do not know.
I look at Mama. She has not dressed up much. Cooking Thanksgiving dinner is a warm job even when there is snow on the ground outside where I stand. There is a small frown of concentration on her forehead, but the red plaid wallpapered ceiling over her head makes the kitchen look cozy and snug. I don't wonder if my mother is worried about something. She is just Mama, doing what mothers do on Thanksgiving Day.
My three younger sisters are there inside also. Deb, dark haired and vivacious at twelve is always willing to entertain three-year-old Jenn, the bouncing blonde late addition charmer in our family, keeping her out from under Mama's busy feet. Teresa, a Mia Farrow twin, even as young as ten, moves with the poise and posture of a young queen.
These are my little sisters. I argue with them, boss them around, take them as much for granted as I do our parents. Now, in the frosty evening with purple shadows falling all around me, with my hands full of the cool leaves and red berries of Nandina, my sisters too seem imbued with a majestic somber beauty that satisfies something deep within me. I shiver with the mystery of it all.
If this is not something you have experienced, go outside at dusk, be a voyeur in your own yard. Look into your rooms and see how attractive they are, how mysterious the people inside seem. See them as people separate from you, individuals. See your house as a stranger would see it, like a stage set.
You might come back inside a different person yourself.