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Every year, starting when I was six, my family spent a week in a
cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. This was a special treat for
everyone in my family.
My parents were second-generation Americans (more or less). Their
grandparents had come to this country from Germany, Ireland and Scotland in
the late 1800s. My parents had grown up in the rented halves of two-family
homes in Bridgeport, Connecticut. And when they were teenagers, the
Depression started. So the only family vacations they ever took were to visit
They married during World War II. And when my father came back from
the war, they had to live with my grandparents in half of a two-family house.
Plus my teenaged aunt Merilu lived there AND my Aunt Margaret AND my Uncle Joe
AND their baby Laurel. In case you lost count there, that's 6 adults, one
teenager and one baby in 5 rooms on the first floor and 2 in the attic, and
So when, 10 years later, my parents owned a one family house in a nice
suburb of Bridgeport AND could afford to take a vacation, it was quite a treat
My brother and I didn't appreciate any of that. We thought the
cottage was great because it was right on the lake, with a beach and a dock.
We could swim and fish and go out in the rowboat. AND there were woods on
both sides of the cottage and behind it too.
Even that first year, though, I think we realized that it was a very
beautiful place. The cottage was on a cove about a half mile wide. The other
side of the cove was an evergreen peninsula. If you stood on the end of the
dock. you could see the end of that peninsula where there were 2 tiny islands,
the larger was almost completely covered by a house. And just to the right of
those islands was where the loons hung out at dusk, singing their wild song
and dancing just above the water as they landed and flew away.
One afternoon, when everyone else was outside, I became fascinated,
absolutely fascinated, with the lock on the bathroom door.
Now you're probably wondering, why anyone, even a six year old,
ESPECIALLY a six year old, would be fascinated with a lock on a bathroom door.
Remember me mentioning my brother? He's 3 years older than I am. And
at the time, one of the things he LOVED to do, while I was taking a shower at
night, was to quietly open the bathroom door, and turn out the light, and
listen to me shriek.
So I knew very well how the lock on the bathroom door back home
worked. It was a dead bolt lock, you turned the knob, and the hasp went into
the door jab. And you turned the knob the other way to unlock the door.
However, the lock on the bathroom door in the cottage was completely
different. You closed the door, then pushed in a button in the middle of the
door knob. To unlock the door, you had to turn the door knob very hard. So I
practiced this a while.
And then I became curious. I wondered if, while the door were open,
you pushed in the button, and THEN closed the door - would the door be locked,
or would closing the door have unlocked it somehow?
So I decided to conduct an experiment. And I decided that in order to
be completely sure whether the door was locked or not, I had to close the door
while standing in the hall. If I were standing inside the bathroom, I might
not be able to tell. From the inside, all you had to do was turn the knob
hard enough and the door would unlock.
So I conducted my experiment. With the door open, I pushed in the
push button, then backed into the hall and closed the door. I tried the
doorknob and discovered that the door was locked.
AND THEN I REALIZED THAT THE DOOR, THE ONLY DOOR TO THE BATHROOM,
Have you ever done something, and then realized a second later,
WHY DID I DO THAT?
WHY DIDN'T I THINK AHEAD A LITTLE BIT?
and most importantly,
WHAT AM I GOING TO DO NOW???
I decided to hide for a while. But then all the guilt and anxiety
built up in me, and I went to find my father.
Now, usually in my father's eyes, I could do no wrong. For example,
earlier that summer, my mother called my father at work.
"Kenny, you're going to have to stop at the hardware store on your way
home. One of the kids broke the glass in the storm door."
"Oh, just wait till I get home. Kim will never do that again."
"No, Kenny, it wasn't Kim, it was Kate."
"OH! Was she hurt???"
I don't know if it was because I was the youngest, or a girl, but
usually I could do no wrong in my father's eyes. But then again, usually I
didn't lock him out of the bathroom....
"You did WHAT?"
"Ah, er, ah, I accidently locked us out of the bathroom..."
"How did you do THAT ???"
"Ah, I was just trying to figure out how it worked..."
"This is a big problem, young lady!"
"Yeah, I know. I didn't _mean_ to do it..."
The only way he knew to get in was to pry the screen of the
bathroom window. Now he wasn't happy about that. You see, the owners
of the cottage were friends with a state trooper who stopped by now
and then to see how things were going. And the bathroom window was in
plain sight of the entire driveway...
My father was upset for another reason - the bathroom window was only
12" wide. He couldn't fit through it, my mother couldn't. My father decided
that I should be pushed through the window.
As he was pushing me through feet first, I cried, "Don't push so fast!
I can't get my foot on the toilet - I'm going to fall all the way down to the
"I don't care, young lady, just get in there and open that door!"
So I survived that fall of three feet. As I was opening the door, my
father was putting the screen back on the window.
End of my FIRST experiment with the lock on the bathroom door.
Later that week, when I was again inside the cottage while everyone
else was outside, I was exploring in the hall outside the bathroom door. And
looking up, I noticed a nail was hammered in the molding above the bathroom
door. And hanging from that nail was something that looked like a key, but it
didn't have any teeth on the end - it was completely smooth. Then I noticed
that the outside of the door knob had a very small hole right in the middle,
and it looked as if that key-like thing would fit in that hole...
So I decided to conduct another experiment. I got a chair to stand on
so I could reach that key. And then, with the door OPEN, (I had learned
something from my previous experiment), I pushed the push button in, inserted
the key into the hole, and unlocked the door.
Then I had to find my parents and brother and share my discovery with
them. My parents wondered why I hadn't made this discovery before my father
pried the screen off the window. I wondered,silently, why they just hadn't
known how to unlock the door. At the time, I thought that parents knew
It's been almost 40 years since I conducted my experiments on the lock
on the bathroom door in the cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee. As you can tell, I
have never forgotten how that lock worked. In fact when I see that kind of
lock, I laugh, and then hope that no one saw me laughing at a door.
I don't know that my parents ever laughed when they saw that
kind of lock, but I think that lock was always a part of my parents' memories
of their first family vacation.
Copyright © 2003 Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.