In a previous contemplation, I described how the floor grates in the upstairs of our old house allowed a bit of heat to seep up into the bedrooms. Those old grates offered another function. Although it was not likely an intentional part of their design, they also provided remote access into the conversations of the first floor.
In the years on both sides of me being seven and him being eleven, Paul and I sometimes found ourselves upstairs when Mom and Dad—and occasionally friends or relatives as well—remained downstairs. I don’t recall that we ever deliberately sneaked upstairs for the purpose of eavesdropping. On the other hand, I could not with completely clear conscience affirm that it never happened. I do know that we did occasionally and without deliberate disclosure take advantage of the situation.
Barely suppressing our giggles, we’d grin at one another as we scrunched down onto the floor beside the grate, turned our crewcut heads sideways and each slid over until we had an ear right above the grate. Sometimes, we’d bump heads and snort as we choked back laughter. And… we’d listen. As long as we were quiet, it seemed that everyone below us would forget about those open grates.
All these years later, I can’t recall a single specific conversation we overhead. I do remember hearing adult voices, sometimes low and quiet, sometimes animated, often punctuated by laughter. I don’t recall any arguments of note, no yelling or raised voices. Always civil, sometimes boisterous as the jokes and quips passed back and forth.
I suspect that neither Mom or Dad, nor any of their visiting guests, had any idea how powerfully they were teaching two snoopy kids the process of polite conversation. I don’t think any of them were deliberately restraining themselves because of their awareness that “little pitchers have big ears” (thank you, John Prine). I reckon it was just how they thought grown folks ought to behave.
Some of the most powerful statements we make are when we forget that anyone else is listening.