Philadelphia, PA – Late 60s, Early 70s
When we were kids we had this little pool in our backyard. It was actually set up in our carport, not our yard. My mom would put down a big blanket on the ground, and then haul the pool out of our garage. It wasn’t very big, but we had a good time playing in it. It was probably only 6 feet square and less than a foot deep. But it was a fun thing that we could play in to cool off and frolic about.
My mother would fill it up with water from the hose. She’d do this before lunchtime around 11am. By the time we were finished eating, the sun would have warmed the water and we could all go in.
Some of our friends would come over and we’d all have a grand old time on a warm spring day.
The Mitchell family down the street had acquired a large above-ground pool and that became the popular spot in the summer for the neighborhood. I didn’t ever go over there for that because to me it was too crowded and too deep. Not for me.
Besides, once school let out we’d be down the shore for the summer. Which was 1000 times better than any pool in our neighborhood.
Anyway, when we were done playing in our little pool, we’d obviously have to come in and get into some dry clothes. But for some reason, my sister and I would leave our wet bathing suits on our beds. I have no idea why we did this. We could have turned them into mom, or hung them on a doorknob or something. Who wants a wet bed?
But we did that a number of times and my mother was not pleased. She finally told us that if we did it again, we’d have to write: “I will not leave my wet bathing suit on the bed.” 50 times. Which when you’re a kid is a tedious and time-consuming process. I suppose because we didn’t listen to her initial request, this punishment would drill the idea into our thick heads.
So, it happened again and my older sister and I had to write. She was a good student and had mad school skills, so she blew out the punishment in an hour or so. But it took me forever. I finally got it done, and never left a wet bathing suit on my bed again. Effective punishment. It got the result my mom desired. She also figured a little exercise in penmanship never hurt anyone.
My mom had a wooden trellis bolted to the sidewall of the garage in our yard. That’s where all of her rose bushes were located. I remember we always had nice roses growing out there. My mother always liked nature and animals, so she was a natural green thumb out there in the garden.
You had to be careful out there by the rose bushes because as lovely and fragrant roses are, they all have thorns. Much like the women I would meet later in my life.
But when boys see a trellis bolted to a wall, they don’t see a structure to support the flora and fauna of mom’s garden. They see a ladder. What do you do with a ladder? Yep. You have to climb it.
The only reason we climbed the trellis was to get up on the garage roof. Kids love climbing and exploring new spaces. It’s fun to get up on top of things when you’re small. There’s a feeling of power and safety at that height. The garage rood instantly became a cool hiding spot and hang-out spot.
When I think back on the construction of that trellis I’m amazed it never broke under our weight. It was just thin slats of wood nailed together. It was meant to support the vines of plants, not the bodies of young boys. But we climbed up there all of the time.
My mother caught sight of this, and told me if I didn’t stop climbing her trellis, I’d have to write as I did after the wet bathing suit incident.
I may have stayed off it for a week, but in no time we were back up there. Sure enough, I was caught, prosecuted, and sentenced to writing the same sentence over and over. “I will not climb the trellis.” I had to write it 100 times. Not just once… but this time, for a week straight.
That seemed a cruel and unusual punishment for such a simple infraction, but it wasn’t about climbing the trellis, it was the fact that she’d told me not to and I willfully disobeyed her and did it anyway. That sort of repugnant behavior was always met with swift justice in our house. That, or a good smack!
So, each day I would write the same sentence over and over after lunch. It was horrible. After a while, the words you write mean nothing to you. It’s just the same thing over and over. Sometimes I would write the same letter or word over and over down the page and then go on to the next one. Anything to change up the sheer monotony of the task.
I think by the fourth or fifth day, she lightened my sentence and I only had to crack off 50 sentences. Did my handwriting improve? Not in the slightest bit, but it kept me off my mom’s trellis for good!
But I missed going up on the garage roof and hanging with my friend Mike. That was our little throne up there. But what to do?
A year or so passes.
One day Mike comes over and tells me he found an old wooden ladder in the trash somewhere. Back then we were always picking things out of people’s trash and making stuff out of it. But this was a big ladder. Sturdy too!
So Micheal brings it over and we carefully place it in the garden and lean it up against the edge of the garage. It fits perfectly! It was just the right height to get us safely back up on the garage roof. We left it there and it became the way up and down to our little clubhouse. We’d sit up there and chat, and eat peanuts, tossing the shells everywhere. We didn’t care about the mess. The shells were organic material and anything we left up there couldn’t be seen from the ground so who cares?
The most important person who didn’t care was my mother. She never said anything about the old wooden ladder leaning against our garage. I suppose as long as we weren’t on her trellis, we were fine.
To be continued tomorrow!
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