Key Note

Dear J-

Every time I pull my keys out I flash back a little to when I got my first key to the house — it came in its own little leather wallet (this kept it from rattling around and alerting everyone that I had a key, and I was five kinds of secretly pleased by another stealth tool), just like my dad’s, but scaled down, and represented a new sort of freedom,  not having to wait on the porch to be let in after shopping or other errands.  I could also let my parents in when their hands were full with bags or other sundries.  Later on, though, it became representative of my generation of latchkey kids, entrusted to go home, go straight to home and do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Every generation has new challenges, I suppose; when I was little and ran off in the store to stare hungrily at the video games, hot dogs, toys, or cereal, my folks knew where they could find me after getting through the rest of the store and shopping in relative peace.  Now, of course, if you haven’t already embedded a GPS tracking device or LoJack somewhere in your child, chances are that they will be stolen as soon as they wander out of arm’s reach.  Latchkey kids were the scourge of the streets, coming after a world of always-sunny Leave it to Beaver stay-at-home parents; dad with slippers, pipe, and newspaper, mom with apron and a ready smile, each rigidly locked into their roles without question.

I understand why — my mom worked 70 hours a week in the store for ten years, and my dad’s time was split between teaching and office hours; there’s no question that if they could have avoided it, they would have.  I still have fond memories of the ages before seven, with mom picking me up after school and whiling away afternoons in quiet play (Tinkertoys, you will note, do not typically make as much noise as LEGO or wooden blocks; we had a lot of Tinkertoys scattered around afternoons).  But it’s spooky coming home to an empty house; winters you hurried back to beat the sudden slide into night and stayed put in the rooms you’d managed to get lights on in time.  When the smoke detector battery ran low and started signaling, it sounded like the pulse of monsters in closets and dark corners.  You put the key in the lock and hear the tumblers fall, open the door (ours always gave a slightly reassuring shriek) and enter with trepidation and joy.  Keys to the heart manage to unlock all manner of old thoughts and dusty treasures, naturally.



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2 Responses to “Key Note”

  1. warwalker Says:

    I really like that last paragraph. Nicely done.

    There is something viscerally pleasing about turning a key in a lock. Our new car has keyless ignition – there’s a smart chip in a key fob that allows the power switch to operate – but I kind of miss jamming the key into the steering column and giving ‘er a crank. Odd.

  2. dearJ Says:

    There are certain things that are just right; man has been jamming little bits of metal into doors and unlocking them for thousands of years. My favorite home improvement class came when we were shown a key-cutting machine (not the kind with the grinding wheel and pantograph; this one was made by Schlage and nibbled the right height out of your blanks) and how to calculate the right pins to set for a master-and-unique setup.

    I decided that if this engineering thing didn’t work out, I could be a locksmith. I think I still could.

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