During World War II, we rented our garage apartment to Army Air Corps officers and their wives. The Army had commandeered a small airfield just outside of town, where instructors began to train fighter pilots. When the local newspaper published an appeal for citizens to rent rooms to servicemen and their families, my parents felt obligated to offer our unused servants’ quarters above the garage. After all, Ophelia, our maid, owned a house in the colored section of town and traveled to and from work by bus.
My father had never considered renting before, since to do so would have suggested that we were interested in money. In a region perennially poor, such a concern was deemed tasteless, the preoccupation of Yankees and other common people. However, the duty to further the war effort was another matter; and the extra money certainly came in handy.
An outside wooden stairway led up to the apartment, and along the railing ran a spectacular flame vine, its orange flowers hanging down in rich clusters from an abundance of dark leaves. The vine had claimed the staircase, completely hiding the railing, spilling onto the steps like rushing water. When it reached fullness in deep summer, you had to stoop at the top of the stair to avoid the torrents of flowers that flowed down from the extension of roof that sheltered the landing. And the vine’s tendrils clutched at the screen door.