The unknown danger

My father never spanked me before. The only thing I knew was that I hated him. I sat on the blue porcelain toilet with my black patent leather Mary Janes kicking the sides. Tears ran down my cheeks streaking my dirt stained legs, as I stared out the window, at the wooden ladder going to the roof.

It was 1975 and I was 4 years old. I didn’t know I was supposed to be scared until I felt my Dad’s large hands grab me down from the ladder before I reached the roof. He was so mad he spanked me across the butt and talked so fast about falling in my fancy shoes, how I should never climb the ladder to the roof and to get in the house.  I ran into the house crying and sat on the toilet in the bathroom. At the time I didn’t know why he was so mad.

All morning I played hopscotch and climbed the mimosa tree in the front yard while my Dad and his friend worked on the new roof.  A case of Schlitz sat on the trunk of my mother’s teal green convertible Monte Carlo and Tammy Wynette played on the radio. In those days, in our neighborhood, you didn’t hire a roofing company. My dad would call his friends and ask for help promising a case of beer. That was usually enough to get help from at least one or two guys. That morning I watched as my dad and his friend climbed up and down the ladder many times replacing wood and shingles on the roof.

I looked at that ladder several times wondering what it would be like to be high on on the roof. My dad and his friend were “Tankies” or what other people called iron workers or welders. Walking on the roof to them was like walking on the sidewalk.  They built bridges and water towers. My mom even brought me to the job sites a few times to bring lunch. As I watched them climb the ladder, it looked so easy. I could fly free like a bird. Sliding across the grass in my slick dress shoes, flapping my arms, I practiced the freedom of flying high on the roof like a bird.

When my dad and his friend went in the back yard to get supplies, I decided to climb to the roof. I remember taking the first step and looking down at the dried peeling wood of the gray ladder my dad had taken from the job site. As I stepped on each rung, my little black shoes would slide from side to side. I got lucky when they caught on the large splinters. It wasn’t as easy as it looked. I climbed to the eighth or ninth rung when my dad came around the side of the house and caught me.

While I hated him at the time for spanking me, as a parent I understand the fear that took over him when he saw me halfway up the ladder in my shiny Mary Janes.


(a writing exercise on the first time I encountered danger)



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