Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tales from the Woods, Part I

"Here they come. Run!"

Suddenly six teenagers broke ranks and scattered in five different directions. It was nine p.m. on a summer evening in Huntington Woods, Michigan, in 1979.

Tom ran through Hall’s yard and hid behind one of their bushes. Pat ran two houses further down the street and hid behind three large garbage cans sitting by the side door of the Robinson’s home. John headed across the street, jumped a shrub fence, and hid behind the large fireplace chimney located on one side of Shafer’s house. Rob sprinted back the way they had come one house finding cover behind a stack of fireplace logs neatly arranged by the side door of the Moeggenberg’s. Caryn and Mary Ann ran off together and took cover behind Neff’s back porch.

Moments later, a police car drove slowly down the street, shining a big flashlight up and around each house it passed, first on one side of the street, then the other. Lucky for John they were coming east down the street instead of west or the probing light would have nailed him.

Whenever this group gathered together for their nightly excursions through the neighborhood, it was understood that spotting a police car meant "you scatter" which, of course, increased each individual’s chance not to get caught. They called it, "Hassle the Cops". And it was Grand Fun!

Just one of the many pranks pulled by this rag-tag group of boys and girls who lived across the street from each other back in those halcyon days of teen, pre-teen, youth in this suburban Detroit neighborhood. Their mothers were 'coffee cup’ neighbors who exchanged recipes, neighborhood gossip, and parenting tips along with their coffee. One had six kids, one had four. There was always plenty to talk about.

Getting together 20 years later to reminisce about those times, which in retrospect seem so innocent, made for an entertaining and enlightening evening.
* * * * *
My neighbor, Joyce, had six kids, all adopted. The two oldest were twin girls. They began babysitting for me when they were about 14. Next came Pat, a year younger. Then Robbie, a year younger than Pat. Then Tom, then Mary Anne.

My four were Tom, the oldest, John, a year and a half younger, then Caryn, 18 months younger than John. Lisa, my youngest, was mostly out of the loop as far as these group shenanigans were concerned. She was too little. Except she did earn the reputation of neighborhood delinquent. At the grand old age of two yet. Which I wrote about in The Story of Pie.

One of the funniest things occurred when Julie, one of the twins, was babysitting. Jerry and I had gone out to eat and to a movie. Julie and Joyce took turns sitting for us. This night it was Julie. She love to knit and crochet and often brought her projects with her for when the kids had gone to bed.

Whenever we returned from our evenings out, we would always ask the girls, regardless of which one had baby-sat, "How did it go? Did you have any trouble?" "No, no; the kids were great. No trouble at all." That was all we ever heard.

It was only years later we learned that their mother, Joyce, had told them when they first started babysitting, "if you’re old enough to babysit, you’re old enough to handle the problems." So, of course, we never learned of any problems.

That is, until years later. When my kids, now grown, began to "confess" to all sorts of activities and escapades that ended up being quite different from what I thought at the time.

The babysitting incident being one of funniest and least delinquent in nature.

One night Julie brought her yarn and sat happily crocheting and watching TV after she got the kids to bed. I don’t know how long it was before she realized what had happened. Quiet as mice, two boys had slipped downstairs. Hiding behind the two chairs facing the TV, they pulled off large amounts of yarn from the ball of yarn so Julie would have plenty of yarn at her disposal and not realize what else was going on. Then they started "weaving" the remaining yarn up the stairs, into the bedrooms, into the bathroom, down the stairs, into the hall, into the bathroom, et cetera et cetera.

I wish I could have been there when Julie finally reached the end of her available yarn and felt a tug at the other end!

When we got home that night, we asked our usual, "how we’re the kids?" "Oh, fine. Just fine," she said.  Right.

We have all laughed about this many times through the years.

Too bad all their shenanigans weren’t so innocent.
Like when I had to go to the police station to pick up my eldest, Tom. He was about 15 at the time. He sat there and I sat there and we listened to the officer explain that Tom and his buddy had been caught throwing lighted matches into the trash that had been set out by all the neighbors for pick up early the next morning.

"Oh, you’re mistaken. It wasn’t Tom; he told me so. And he wouldn’t lie. He’s such a good kid, really. You’ve just made a terrible mistake."

And then I started to cry; indignant and hurt that he would accuse MY son. The officer must have thought I was quite a Dip! I’m sure he had all he could do to keep his patience with me. It wasn’t until I got back home, talked with Tom some more, talked with Jerry, and finally got it through my head that Tom did. Do it.
One of the favorite things the boys did was sneak out of their rooms after everyone had gone to bed. At the time their room was on the main floor; front room, right side. The grade school was just six blocks away with an Olympic-size swimming pool outside on the school property. My children had taken lessons and swam there every summer. Our community had an excellent school system and recreation program, which was one reason we had moved there back in 1963.

They would sneak out dressed only in their underwear (why? I still don’t know) and jog over to the swimming pool for a late night swim. Of course, if they encountered a police car patrolling the neighborhood, they played their usual game and took off running.

This particular night, however, Jerry and I had gone out and come home a little earlier than planned. Jerry stuck his head in the boys’ bedroom as a matter of course as fathers and mothers often do to check on their sleeping "angels".

Lo and behold, there’s no "angel" in the bed! And a window is ajar!

The "angel" had quite a surprise waiting for him a few minutes later when, after an hour or two of frolicking in the pool, he stuck his wet little butt through the window and found his father waiting on his bed!
Then there was the time Caryn and Lisa, about nine and six-and-a-half or seven, were discovered smoking upstairs in our alcove by their father (a smoker).

Our house had two bedrooms and a bath downstairs and two bedrooms and a bath upstairs. One upstairs bedroom had a walk-in closet, however, with a short door that led to an alcove off the closet. You could stand upright in the middle of the alcove and we often talked about finishing it up as an extra bedroom with built-in beds on either of the sloped sides. But we never did.

It was a great play house for the kids, however.

(What prompted Jerry to discover them up there I have no idea. But discover them he did. And then he sat there with them and made them each smoke a cigarette--all the way--in his presence. Caryn cried and choked and spit and had a terrible time. "I’ll never, ever do this again, dad. I promise."

Then it was six-year-old Lisa’s turn. She didn’t choke. She didn’t spit. She didn’t cry. Not once. She smoked that cigarette all the way down as though she had done it all her life. That was Lisa. She would never let you see her hurt or cry. Except sometimes, me she did.
There was one other time the police brought Tom and John home. I was at my part-time evening job at Sears in Troy. So they had to deal with Jerry and I heard about it later.

The police had discovered them in the park and accused them of smoking marijuana.

The story I heard was the police found the marijuana stubs on the ground near them.
Typical Mom response from me.  "Well, I don’t think they did it. Did you see them do it? If we didn’t see them do it, then how can we accuse them?"

This from me because with four kids running around getting into each other’s stuff all the time I had always told them not to accuse each other of doing or taking something unless they saw the person do it. So when it came to disciplining them, I tried to follow the same rules I asked of them. I tried to practice not blaming them for something unless I had the facts.

In retrospect, I have learned this marked me as "a pushover, mom."

But that’s okay.

--To Be Continued