|front row 3rd from rt. Sara, |
Gayle, and then me. Back row 4th from rt. Claudia, then Paula
Occasionally we would get into mischief. For example, one summer, angry they were clearing a lot right middle of our yearly winter sled run, a teenager gave us the idea to stuff toilet paper in the exhaust pipe of the shiny yellow digger. He felt sure that would stop the construction crew from building the house. So, about ten of us went home and swiped a roll. We used a large stick to make sure the pipe was packed tight and none was sticking out the top. The builder, Mr. Asgar, or as we kids called him ASS-gar, didn’t like it too much when his tractor wouldn’t start, and he liked it even less when he found out why. He marched around from house to house, talking the neighborhood parents. There were many kids involved, but nobody squealed, and everyone pled innocent, so no one got in trouble.
And then there was the time, four of my friends and I lay on our stomachs on top of a dirt mound, spying on an unsuspecting cement finishing man. When he quit for the day, he left behind a large patio of uncured cement. Like little commandos, we slid down the other side of the mound, and crept up to the patio. We placed our hands in the fresh cement and signed our names, pretending it was Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. By the time the builder came back the next morning, the cement had hardened, with our names and paw prints included. We left a little too much evidence that time. Mr. ASS-gar went straight to our parents. But miraculously, all five of us came up with the same story—we were good. We all told our parents, “I didn’t do it. Someone else must have signed my name.”
Because we stood united, and there was a plethora of children in the neighborhood with small hands, no one could prove anything for sure so; we got off with merely a warning.
Apart from those two mildly, vandalous, incidents, we never did much more at the sites than have dirt clod wars, or remove discarded wood and nails from the junk pile to make our forts. Well, maybe a little more.
Our forts, the monstrosities made with different sized scrap boards hammered together with an endless supply of nails. Our parents took turns housing them in the backyard a month at a time. Dilapidated sheds would have been a better word to describe them, which is what led to big trouble when it was my turn to supply the yard.
It took almost a week of begging and pleading, before my parents finally caved in and said we could build the fort. But they attached a stipulation—a big one—my mom had to pre-approve the building plan. The fort had to be neat, or we would have to tear it down immediately. Now that was not an easy thing to accomplish when the wood came from a junk pile, and the experienced builders were between the ages of 7 and 12.
Nonetheless, Saturday morning, elated to be back in the fort business even with stiff code regulations, my friends Claudia, Paula, Gayle, and Sara, and my kid sister and I went to scavenge wood. Much to our dismay, all we found on the various junk piles were a few small pieces, most of which had been charred from fires the workers had set the night before.
I shook my head. “My mom will never allow us to start building with this junk.” I said to my friends. Their faces fell. Everyone looked so saddened by my words I figured I needed to come up with another plan. I kicked a rusty nail on the ground and then, eyed the empty, half built, house up and down. “I got it! Let’s go inside. Maybe we’ll find some better scraps in there. “
“But, Mom said to only use wood from the scrap pile outside.” My sister reminded me.
I patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll only take the junk.”
Immediately we started checking all doors and windows, in search of a way in. Fortunately, for us, Mr. ASS-gar conveniently left the back door to the kitchen unlocked. The six of us entered and began our hunt. We didn’t have to go far, because right before our eyes, just beyond the threshold, was a pile of perfectly cut blond 4’x6’s. They were about ½ inch thick, with feathery grain, and smooth as a baby’s butt. There had to be about twenty of them, so I was sure Mr. Asgar would’t miss a mere four. This had to be our lucky day because we also found a matching 4’x4’ that would seal the rear of the fort perfectly. I gave the small piece to my kid sister, and then my friends and I divvied up the remaining four boards, and dragged them up the hill to my backyard.
We dumped the pilfered wood in the yard, and I pounded on the back door. “Mom, come quick! We got the wood!”Mom came out to observe our bounty.
“Look, Mom. We are going to nail these pieces together and it will make a perfect rectangle. Our fort will be neat, just like you wanted.” I said eyeing her anxiously.
My Mom looked surprised “My…Susan,” she said. “That looks like awfully good wood. Are you sure you got it off the junk pile?”
“Of course. They were getting ready to burn it. Weren’t they you guys?” I asked my friends. They all swung their heads up and down.
Now, my mom, being a girly, girl, did not know much about wood grains, or building supplies. Or maybe she just thought her daughter could tell no lies, but the important thing was, she gave us the go ahead to build. Everyone cheered.
"Don’t worry Mom. You won’t be disappointed.” I assured her.
With her back to us, she waved her hand in the air and hurried into house. My friends ran home to get their hammers. I went in the garage, grabbed a bucket of nails I’d collected earlier, and a can of army green paint that had been sitting around in the garage unused for years.
We all met up in the back yard. First, we painted all the wood and let it sit in the sun for an hour or so. We did not mind the few pieces of grass that stuck in the paint. It was a fort, you know. Then we took one side, my sister and Gayle held it secure against the bottom piece while the rest of us tacked in a few nails. We did the same to the opposite side, the top, the back, and before we knew it, we had a perfect rectangle.
“Okay, guys. Get busy hammering, ” I ordered, “We need this baby to be strong.”
And they got busy. They pounded in nail after nail, about an inch apart. If a nail did not go all the way in straight, they pounded it sideways into the board, and used another one. In the mean time, I took my dad’s manual drill and cut air holes. When I thought I had created enough holes to be able to breathe easily, I circled around examining our creation with pride. This was gonna be the best fort ever.
But, when I saw the opening in the front, it just didn’t look right. It was too large for a door. It wouldn’t allow any privacy, so I headed back to the empty house to find one more board.
I reentered into the kitchen and found what looked like a pantry door, not yet attached. It was a little too tall, but I figured I could saw it off when I got home. Then it would fit perfectly, leaving a small open space for us to crawl in. I set off for home, holding onto one end of the board, and dragging the other end on the road behind me. I was about half way home when a car pulled up beside me and stopped. I gasped. It was Mr. Ass-gar and he looked pissed. He slammed on the breaks and jumped out of the car. I dropped the board and took off like a racehorse.
“Hey you!” I heard him scream after me. And then I heard a car door slam. I kept running as fast as I could. But, he was closing in one me. Barefoot, I cursed myself for not wearing my PF Flyers. I dashed into my back yard to warn my friends.
“Ruuuuun!” I screamed as I passed by. I ran, and I ran, for a few blocks. I didn’t stop until I got into the park. Once there, I shimmied to the top of a large Mulberry tree, and hid out.
My friends, who were found at the scene of the crime—so to speak, told the next part to me.
Mr. ASS-gar ran behind me into the yard. He rounded the corner behind the house, slid to an abrupt stop, threw his hands in the air, and screamed, “My wood!”
Claudia froze in place; hammer in air. Sara, Paula, Gayle, and my kid sister ducked down on the opposite side, and continued hammering away.
Mr. ASS-gar had a look of shock on his face that quickly morphed into anger. “You stole my wood. You little brats.” He spat. “You’ve totally ruined it.”
At this very moment, my little sister popped her head up from the back of the fort and said in a nasally voice, “Who’s he?”
Mr. ASS-gar turned purple. He marched around to the side of the fort and saw the other three with their hammers still pounding on the wood.
“Stop that!” He screamed. “What makes you think you can just waltz into my house and steal my wood and hammer it to bits?”
“Susan said we could.” Claudia told him. Everyone else agreed with her.
He shook his finger at them. “Well, you go get Susan, and you tell her I want this fort torn down, and I want my wood back! Now! Do you understand me? Now! You tell her I’ll be waiting for her at the house.”
And then, he stormed off.
I had hidden in this same tree before, so my friends knew exactly where to find me. Frankly, I was a little relieved, if they hadn’t come, I would have probably stayed up there all night, I was that scared.
“Susan, come on down.” My friends yelled in unison. “Mr. ASS-gar said we have to bring back the wood.”
“No, he’s going to kill me.” I yelled back. I trying to guilt them into handling the return, but they refused to leave without me.
“We told him it was your idea. He wants you to help bring it back. Don’t make us come up and get you,” Sara yelled.
Knowing I had no other choice, I climbed down, and went to face my punishment. The six of us tore our neat fort into pieces and dragged the green wood back to the empty house. Mr. ASS-gar stood on lot with his arms folded across his chest, scowling at us.
“Where do you want it?” I asked sheepishly.
“Over there,” he said pointing to the junk pile. “And don’t ever let me catch you around any of my houses again.” We all nodded and tossed the wood in a heap. And then, he made us stand there as he set our former fort on fire. It was painful to watch.
“Can we go now?” I squeaked after most of the wood had burned. ASS-gar gave us one last disgusted nod, and we all scrambled away in different directions. I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face when she explained her part in it to Mr. ASS-gar, “She told me it was from the scrap pile.”
It was great to be a kid growing up in Nebraska.
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