Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Fort


     When my mother took me off the meds the doctor prescribed for me because I had an attention span of about an inch long, my school worked suffered, but my imagination tripled. Being a child with an ADD afflicted mind can be a disability, and a wonderful thing. Millions of adventures were at my fingertips because of my ever-churning brain and massive imagination. My world was an intriguing conundrum of colors, movements, and ideas, many of which I interpreted differently than the majority of neurotypical brains around me. Something so simple as a spare mattress mounted on the ceiling could become a magical fort that carried me into a world of fantasy. And consequences were eye-opening experiences that I realized only after the fact.
     I am going to take you back to the summer of 1968 in Omaha Nebraska. Lyndon B. Johnson was president, Richard Nixon was waiting in the wings, and the protests against the Vietnam War were escalating. I was just shy of nine-years old and not much interested in the news. My world consisted of playmates, mulberry trees, and mischief.
    My best friend Gayle lived directly across the street. She was a grade below me, but her birthday was early, and mine as late, so we were the same age most of the year. Gayle was the third born child out of four.
My sister Donna, my dog Sam, and Gayle, standing Mary
    Although I was welcome in Gayle’s house, her mother never smiled at me as broadly as she smiled the other kids who came over to play. This bothered me. Mrs. H. was “a cool mom” and I vowed to figure out why, but on this particular day, I had more important things on my mind.
     After an hour or so outside, Gayle, Stevie, (her five-year-old brother) and I came inside to play. Mrs. H. promptly escorted us down to a finished room in the basement and told us to behave ourselves and not make a mess. The room was 60’s mod! It had a poster of Jim Morrison on the wall, a record player, and indoor/outdoor carpeting on the floor. It was cool enough, but to my right was a door that remained shut, making it an all consuming point of interest to me.
     “What’s behind the door?” I asked.
     “That’s my dad’s workshop.” Gayle answered.
     “Wow! Can I see it?”
    “We’re not supposed to play in there.” Gayle shook her head warily. Stevie mimicked her.
    “Okay, we won’t play, but it couldn’t hurt to just take a look around. Could it?” I persisted.
     Gayle shrugged.
    Now, Gayle and I got along really well, I came up with lots great ideas, and she was always a willing accomplice. Without giving it another thought, she opened the door and the three of us entered one of the most fantastic rooms I had ever seen in my life. There was a workbench with a slew of power tools. Along the wall, was a metal shelving unit with hundreds of little glass jars with all different sized nails, screws, and small metal hardware Gayle’s dad had meticulously labeled and organized.
     My eyes followed the line of the shelf past the jars, and all the way up. That’s when I saw it, our next fort. Mounted to the ceiling with two-by-fours was a spare mattress. At one time, the bracket must have contained two mattresses because there was a space of about two feet between the hanging mattress and the ceiling.
    “Look you guys!” I said. “We need to climb up there. That could be the neatest fort in the world. We could bring food and clothes, we could stay up there all week and our parents would never find us.”
     Gayle and Stevie thought it was a great idea too. The three of us were always concocting ways to live parent-free.
     I put my brain to work. “Before we get all our stuff, lets climb up and check it out so we know how much we can bring. Once we reach the top of the shelf, we can get on the mattress with no problem. It’s your house, so you go first Gayle.”
     Gayle began her ascent. Stevie and I stood directly below her to catch her, incase she fell. She made it all the way to the top in a minute or so, and slowly tried to maneuver her body onto the mattress. At that moment, something went terribly wrong. The metal shelving unit began to quake. Loosing her balance, Gayle latched on to the outer rail of the shelving, wrapping her leg and arms around it as if she were a bear hugging a tree. The shelving unit rocked forward. Stevie and I tried to hold it in place, but Gayle’s weight on the outer rail was more than we could handle. The unit began to tip over.
   The glass jars, that Gayle’s dad had so meticulously organized, began fall off the shelf one by one and then six by six. Glass was breaking all around us, sounding like an out-of-tune version of Tubular Bells (The theme song from The Exorcist) Hundreds of jars crashed to the floor, sending shards of glass and a millions tiny screws, nails, nuts and bolts sliding across the floor in different directions. Stevie and I were quickly losing our battle with the shelving unit, as Gayle watched from above with a look of terror on her face.
    “What the heck is going on in here?”  Mrs. H. screamed as she flew down the stairs.
     Her eyes popped and she gasped when she saw Stevie and I with panic stricken faces about to be crushed by the shelves, while her second born daughter dangled from above.
    She sprang into action and rescued Gayle first, and then she helped Stevie and I push the shelving unit back into place.
     “Steven! Gayle! To your rooms,” she growled. They ran.
    I was alone with Mrs. H. whose face was red as a beet. She looked around at the glass and metal all over the floor and then her eyes shot flames directly at me. I got the uncomfortable feeling that she knew I was the instigator of the disaster.
     In an attempt to calm her down, I asked, “Do you want me to help you clean up?”
     “Susan, the only way you can help me is to go HOME!”
     I crunched though the broken glass and quickly fled out the back door, leaving Mrs. H with a broom and dustpan in her hands.
     This was not my last visit to Gayle’s home. After a couple of weeks, I was allowed back in, but it was quite a few years before I got any kind of smile out of Mrs. H. again.


  1. I can totally relate to the falling glass...it wasn't my father's workshop (I knew better than that)...but, a few years back, we had this shelf of glasses...beer glasses, tumblers, wine glasses, champagne flutes...well, as you can guess, the whole shelf came down on top of me and my baby girl one afternoon right before I had to go to work. I kept telling her not to come over to me, and luckily, neither one of us was hurt.
    BTW, my next door neighbour's mom always had a hate on for me too...never quite figured out why. LOL

  2. Ouch....

    I can see why it took years before Mrs H. could smile at you again.....

  3. Why would anyone mount a mattress to the ceiling unless they intended it to be a fort? I'd say Mr. H was asking for it.

  4. What an interesting story told with vivid detail. I agree though, Mrs. H sounds like maybe she needed a few more shelves and glass jars to come tumblin' down! LOL

  5. I don't remember that basement. I always remember the telephone in the bathroom right by the throne. I don't know if I was ever in their basement. I seemed to always be in Vickie's room. What was the other brother's name? I never realized you had ADD. I just thought you were a normal kid. Shelley



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