by Eloise Hawking
Emily and I were in the tree house when we heard the rumble and pop of car tires rolling over the limestone at the apron of the driveway. Jack was here. My aunt was dropping him off.
“Jack! Jack! Come see what I’m doing,” Sam exclaimed, putting extra stress on the word I’m.
Emily and I walked up the driveway to greet Jack. Mom leaned in Aunt Karen’s window to talk to her.
“What’s he doing?” asked Jack, nodding in the direction of Sam.
“I’m painting the house!” Sam said. “Come see!”
Sam had a bucket of water, a big bristled paintbrush, and some old shampoo bottles. Sam proudly dipped the brush into the water and “painted” the vinyl siding in a side to side motion. The water darkened the siding a shade, and Sam really believed that he was painting the house a different color.
“I think you need a touch more brown,” Mom yelled over from the driveway.
“Otay!” lisped Sam. He picked up one of the shampoo bottles and yelled to me, “Onion, does this say brown?”
“Yes, Sam. It does,” I replied.
Sam inverted the bottle and gave the water in the bucket a couple of squirts. There must have been some shampoo residue left, so the squirt made the water in the bucket nice and bubbly. Sam stirred his paint concoction up and was very proud to demonstrate the back and forth motion that mom showed him.
Aunt Karen handed my mother some things through the driver’s side window, honked twice, waved and backed out of the driveway. “Don’t forget to put on your rain slicker!” she yelled to Jack before she drove away.
Aunt Eloise turned to her nephew Jack with her crooked half smile. “Mommy gave me orders that you are not allowed to get wet if it rains at the game later,” she said to Jack, holding out his neatly folded up, designer raincoat.
All four of us laughed. We all knew that there was no way that blue raincoat with the little whale insignia was coming to the game with us. If there was anything a kid knew was that staying dry at a football game was nerdy. Totally nerdy.
“Here, Jack. Put this stuff in the garage. Let’s remind each other to forget it before we leave for the game.”
Jack smiled. He liked coming to our house because he said there was always something fun to do here. Because my parents were both teachers, they always knew what kids liked to do, and had a bunch of ideas if we ever got bored. They also understood children and instinctively knew a kid would much rather chance the weather wearing a hooded sweatshirt than be assured of dryness in a blue rain slicker with a whale insignia on it.
Sam was engrossed in the mixing of his paint, so our trio took a sneak out to the tree house without our three year old, uninvited sidekick noticing. We stopped along the way to say hello to Rocky who was lying in a puddle.
“That dog is so dumb he doesn’t even know enough to move out of the water,” said Jack.
“Hey, he’s just soaking in a bath,” I said defensively. I reached out to cover Rocky’s long, soft ears. “You’re not dumb, are ya’ Old Boy?”
I looked around the area of Rocky’s dog house and it was a complete ring of mud. Rocky had been chained to that dog house on a four foot leash for all of my life. The Thompsons, who now were old and reclusive, never walked him or brought him inside out of the weather. It was puzzling to me why anyone would get a pet and then completely ignore it.
We all patted Rocky one more time and headed to the tree house. Our trio climbed the steps and latched the door shut behind us.
“That was a heck of a storm last night,” remarked Jack. “Did it damage the tree house any?”
“No,” I replied while giving the trunk a couple of pounds with my fist. “She’s a sturdy one. There were a few puddles on the floor from the sideways rain, but I mopped them up already.”
Jack found a seat on a not so damp spot and the three of us discussed school in general. Emily showed Jack how to flip his eyelids inside out, and Jack told us tales of the nuns from the Catholic school.
The nuns that ran Jack’s school seemed pretty strict. No talking in the hallways meant no talking in the hallways. One kid in Jack’s school got paddled in front of everyone for breaking that rule. Jack said that Sister Colleen, Principal of the School, had a secret side room off of her real office that only the really bad kids got to see. Jack said that his friend said that there was a TV in there and CNN was on.
“I didn’t think Nuns watched the news,” thought Emily aloud.
“They have to know what to pray about,” Jack replied.
We all pondered this a minute and discussed some things we could do. A pickup game of Home Run Derby was voted down because everyone was sick of baseball. There were not enough kids to play Kick the Can. We thought about cards, but all we really wanted to know how to play was Poker, but none of us knew how to play, plus we had nothing to bet with.
“I bet the Nuns play Poker,” Emily said.
“Why?” asked Jack.
“Because the churches have all those Casino Nights and stuff. I bet they smoke cigarettes and drink beer and play cards after everyone leaves.”
I thought it was best that I steer this conversation in a different direction, so I wondered aloud, “Hey, I haven’t heard Sam in awhile. We better go check to see how the painting is going.”
We all decided to go check it out. A quiet Sam usually means a naughty Sam.
Sam was singing when we found him. “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stweeemmmmm."
I was relieved I heard his voice because I knew he wasn’t lost. He wanders away every now and again and gives everyone a heart attack looking for him. I half expected to find him floating boats in his “paint bucket” but the other half of me knew better.
Sam was floating things all right! He had filled all of our rain boots to the top with the water from his paint bucket.
Because we live in such a wet climate for nearly half the year, my mother purchased rubber boots for all of us to wear in the yard so we don’t get our good shoes dirty when we go out to play. Sam has Spider Man on his. Dad’s are camouflaged. Mom’s are bright green with daisies all over them. Hope’s are plaid, and mine are rainbow colored polka dots. A yellow rubber ducky was floating in my left boot.
“Onion! I made Ducky a nest in your boot. Look at him splashing.”
Sam looked so proud of himself and was so excited about his cleverness that I just couldn’t squash his joy. All three of us started laughing and we did what most kids our age do---pretended we didn’t see it and went right on into the house.
We were milling around the kitchen, opening cupboard doors looking for something to munch on, more out of boredom than out of hunger, when Mom came upon us. “What’s your brother doing?” she asked.
“He’s along side of the house playing with his water,” I craftily replied. That wasn’t a lie, now was it?
“Oh, good,” said Mom. “Hopefully he’ll stay busy for awhile. I still have some more cleaning to do. You look bored.”
We all looked at one another and shrugged. We didn’t really ever come up with a game plan for the hours between the present time and the game. Mom must have had an idea, because I saw the telltale gleam in her eye.
“You could go on a quest, you know,” Mother Eloise dropped the line.
Emily bit. “What’s a quest?”
“You know,” Mother replied, “the journey you go on when you are looking to find something."
“Well, don’t you first have to know what you are looking for?” inquired Jack.
Jack is a brain. He is only a little over a year older than me by calendar age, but he is two grades ahead of me because he got to start school early because he is so smart. You can’t get much past him.
“Yes, that is true, Aristotle,” Aunt Eloise replied to him. “I know something that you can search for. I looked for it a long time and I finally found it when I was a teenager. You are a little bit younger than I was when I went on my quest, but I think if you put your three minds together and keep your wits about you, you will find it, too.”
Comments like this from my mother were things I had grown very used to. They were, however, new to Jack and Emily. They had their eyes glued to my mother waiting to see what she would say next.
Emily, ever the excitable child exclaimed, “What is it? What is it? I’m soooo in. Betcha I can find it. I am a good looker.”
“Okay, you’re on, Good Lookin’,” replied my mom. She thrust a straight arm into the center of our gathering. “Anyone else?”
Emily slapped her hand on top of my mother’s signaling she was in, too.
Jack and I looked at each other and nodded. Jack’s hand layered Emily’s and I slowly dropped mine on top of the pile.
“Well, this isn’t easy,” Mom paused, “but you can give it a go as long as you three promise to stick together and stay tight like this.”
She put her free hand on top of mine and squeezed our hand pile together.
“Remember, trios are strong. If someone gets hurt, one can stay with the injured one, and another can go for help. Things work best in threes. Do you promise to stay with one another?”
We all nodded seriously.
“Come on, do it now. Pinky swear,” my mother urged. All three of us linked our pinky fingers and repeated flatly, “We promise to stick together.”
“Good,” said mother. “You are ready for your quest.”
Mother Eloise paused a moment to let the anticipation build. When she was sure all eyes were on her, she continued.
“You need to search for the secret that lies within a little red house. This is no ordinary house though. This house is very special in its design. It has no windows and no doors, but it does have a little brown chimney and a star inside of it.”
“What?!?!” asked Jack. “What kind of house is that? And how could a star get in there with no door or window to go through?”
“Oh now, Aristotle, you didn’t give it enough time. Think it through like the great thinker that you are,” replied Mom.
“Oh, I got it!” chimed in an excited Emily. “The star inside must be Santa Claus ‘cuz he slid down the chimney!”
“Nice shot, Sherlock,” said Mother patting her shoulder. “That’s not it though.”
“OK, is the house in walking distance? Do we need our bikes? How do we know if someone is home if we can’t peek in the windows or ring the doorbell? Can we have a clue?”
On and on and on my best friend went. I knew full well my mother would not pay any mind to those direct questions. She’d totally turn us loose and let us figure it out for ourselves.
“Take a pack with you with some water and a cell phone. Throw in some Kleenex, too . The golden rod is flowering now Ellen, and you’ll swell up like a blowfish if the wind is blowing the pollen in your direction.”
Thanks, Mom, for reminding everyone that I am prone to seasonal allergies. How embarrassing.
“You have a couple of hours, but I want you back in time to eat a little something before the game. We can order pizza. I don’t know if they’ll open the concession stand tonight since they are just going to play a couple of quarters. Keep an eye on the sky, too. Grandma says there could be more rain later. Call if you get into trouble.”
I grabbed the lightest pack I could find and put our supplies in it and threw in a couple of extra things that probably weren’t necessary, but I did it anyway while mom was giving us our final directions. We were excited and it seemed like we were in store for a fun afternoon. Then a horrible thought crossed my mind.
“We don’t have to take Sam along, do we? Please, Mom, No,” I protested.
Mother shot me a look and I knew to go no further.
“Please allow me to answer before you go on with your needless begging.”
Mother paused a minute and then said, “No, Sam can’t go with you. He is too young for this quest. He will go on his own quest one day, but he isn’t ready now. Today is for you three. Good luck.”
We smiled with relief, tied our sneakers a little tighter, and went off on our way.
Just before I crossed the threshold, Mom grabbed my arm and said, “Be careful, Little Red. Stick together. You know what happened to Miss Riding Hood when she didn’t listen to her Mother. Bad things happened to her out in the woods.”
She looked at me right in the eye when she was saying it. I knew she meant it and I got the sense that even though I knew there was no Big Bad Wolf lurking out there ready to eat me, she was still warning me of many potential dangers a kid could encounter when they separate from their parents.
I nodded and said, “I will.”
Jack and I headed east through our grandparents’ yard, with Emily in tow. We had a pack full of unnecessary supplies, and heads full of adventure. As our steps grew further away from home, we could hear the creak of the door to the garage open. Someone must have come out looking for Sam.
Wait for it.
Wait for it.
Wait for it.
Here it comes: "SAM!!!!! What did you do!?!?!"
A two hour escape was just what we needed. Escape. Maybe that was the key to all things.