I GREW up with the stars and the moon. There were green shutters on our house but they were for decoration, like bright ribbons. I slept with the window wide open, watching the stars and waiting for the moon. In the early morning, I'd listen to the songbirds in the maple trees close by.
My French husband grew up with closed shutters. He slept in a pitch-black room. The maid closed the shutters tight each evening - there were 10 children, in five rooms - and opened them each morning. That was when she'd air the room, sticking the bedding out the window and bringing it in at noon.
When we were first married, we didn't pay much attention to the windows and shutters. We were living in the States, close to my home in New York, on the second floor of a yellow clapboard house that had no shutters, no decoration. Pierre was studying, and I was teaching. Our days and nights were full, and we gave no thought to the missing shutters.
Then we moved to France, into my husband's family home. There were no longer any maids. His parents had transformed the maids' rooms on the top floor into an apartment for their oldest married son and his American bride. The windows had dark wooden shutters, and Pierre showed me how they worked. He said it would be his job to close them each evening and open them each morning. He also closed the windows.
Sleeping in complete darkness was something new. I didn't miss the stars and the moon, not yet, but I missed the cool fresh air. I'd wake up in the early morning and sneak to the window, trying to open it quietly, but still there'd be no air. The little slits in the middle of each shutter were slanted at such a degree that no breeze could get past them. I thought about trying to unlatch them but decided to be patient. We weren't going to be living forever in his parents' house. In the meantime, I slept w ith fewer covers.
I never tried putting the bedding out the window. I had brought with me across the ocean American sheets, which were lightweight and easy to wash. They were half the size and weight of my mother-in-law's embroidered damask sheets, extra long to wrap around the fat bolster pillows. When Pierre went to bed, he would try to keep his wife's sheets tucked tightly in place to make them seem heavier on his legs. I'd blithely loosen them on my side of the bed.
Fortunately his first job took us to Belgium, a more neutral country for a French and American couple. We rented an apartment in a row house, with wide windows in the front and in the back, and gray metal shutters which rolled up into gray boxes at the top of each window. There were handles to make them function, hanging on long arms along the side of each window. The handles had to be grasped firmly and shaken into place, otherwise the arms remained limp in the middle.
We were living on a large avenue in downtown Brussels. Our bedroom was in the front, above the noise of the street. I still didn't try suggesting to Pierre that he change his childhood habits, but I did try letting in a little fresh air once he was asleep. I'd slip out of our bed and grope for the long-armed handle, trying to shake it noiselessly into place, and then I'd try to rotate it, raising the shutters just a little. Then I'd fall asleep instantly from all the bother.
Next we moved to Italy, a country still more neutral for a French-American couple, now with three children. There were again shutters, i scuri in Italian, instead of les volets in French. They, too, rolled into boxes, but with simple cords to make them work. And there was a halfway position, which the Italians used all summer long during the day to keep out the hot sunlight.
We celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary, and decided to try keeping the shutters in the halfway position during the night. We were living in a large, white apartment house, on a hillside overlooking Lago Maggiore, far from any city and from any main road.
I once again felt fresh air on my face and listened to the birds in the early morning. And there was something new, the perfume of flowers. Our Italian neighbors grew roses, fragrant pink roses on bushes as tall as little trees, just below our bedroom window. Maybe this helped my French husband accept the open shutters and the open windows.
When we moved to Switzerland, we had five children. I thought our nights with open shutters had been successful. But our first apartment was near the airport in Geneva, with planes flying in and out all night long, and back we went to closing the shutters, as tightly as possible. We were also back to our one-armed bandits, the same limp arms hanging to the right of each shutter. I still had trouble making them work, even though our children could manipulate them easily.
After one more baby, we decided to look for a larger home, not so close to the airport. We found a house, full of windows and full of shutters - old-fashioned wooden shutters, ones that latched shut. The house was in the middle of a large yard, with hedges all around. Every night I'd open the windows and shutters a crack wider, slowly accustoming my unsuspecting husband to sleeping with a little light and a little fresh air. He'd fall asleep just as easily and not wake up any earlier. I reveled in the co ol semidarkness, feeling free and unfettered.
Then it happened. I awakened one night to a full moon poised in the middle of our bedroom window. I remembered back to my childhood room in New York, when I used to look out my window at the stars and the moon. I woke up Pierre. From our bed, we gazed at the round ivory moon, its light illuminating our room, our covers, our arms.
And now, every night, we sleep with the shutters and windows wide open. Once again I watch the stars and wait for the moon. And sometimes Pierre does, too.