This isn't a picture of the linen closet in the house where I grew up, but the closet in the picture is definitely of the era. It's the same idea.
Have you ever lived in a house with cupboards in the walls? We had one upstairs that had the sheets and blankets and towels and things in it. Our linen closet was on one side of the center square of space on the second floor of the square house. The bedrooms were ringed around it.
Across that little center room of the second floor of the house was the cupboard where we kept the vacuum cleaner, and next to that was the door that opened to the dark stairs that went up to the attic.
The stairs that came up through the middle of the house from the first floor opened into this space, and so we had to pass through this center square whenever we went to our rooms, or to the upstairs bathroom, or to the attic.
Downstairs there was another cupboard in the wall, near the kitchen, in what we called "the playroom." That cupboard was also in the center of the house, on the main floor. It butted against the back wall of the front coat closet in the entry hall, across from the front door. That deep, deep front closet reached under the stairs at the back, where it gathered old coats and mittens into its belly, and gave us a good place to hide in a game of hide-and-seek. There was one long winter and slow spring when opening that closet would show you the box - right at the front - under the coats hanging on the rod - the box that contained my new roller skates. Grandpa Les gave them to me for Christmas, and oh, it took so long for spring to arrive so I could go outside and skate on the sidewalks! (Mom wasn't all that tolerant of indoor roller skating for some reason.)
For me, a home is a place you go into for shelter. Within the shelter - at its center - there are stairs to go up or down, and in that center space, in and under and near the stairs, there is a cupboard in the wall. In the cupboard are clothes for the beds, or favorite puzzles, or vacuum cleaners sitting like fat pigs with hoses extending from their noses and metal tubes leaning near them against the closet walls.
Recently, I've realized that this is not only a description of the house where I became a person, but it is a description of me as well. I wonder ... are we all shaped by our homes in this way?
I don't want to live a life open to the street, for instance. Our house was above the street, and our folks removed the stairs that once led up from the sidewalk (which I would keep), and so it was necessary to walk up the driveway to the front porch steps and then up to the door. That's the right amount of privacy for me. I want a public face exposed to the world, and also a separation, but with a way through so that I can go out and come in when I want to.
It was a "single-family" dwelling, and I don't like apartment living. I also don't like too much time spent too near to too many people, and have a few close friends even though I'm hospitable to many in my life.
We invited people over, and my parents still love to invite people over, and I wonder ... all of those nights when I was up in my room, listening to the sounds of grownups together downstairs in that house ... did that form in me my deeply abiding longing for the writerly life of observation more highly valued than participation?
Lots of things about that house seem to me like pieces of myself. Today, I do not know why, it's the linen closet that pulls and draws me. I remember that I used open the doors to stand in front of it. Sometimes I would pull boxes down from the deep, top shelves and open the boxes to see what was in them. Photos, sometimes. Mementos. Bits and pieces of gift-giving or vacation-taking, hidden here. Baby books and a box of buttons. The things to be found inside a closet which is inside the middle of the inside of our house ... they were not hidden. But I had to go looking for them to find them.