Saturday mornings when you're eleven and it's fall! You get up early, and it's still dark out. Inside the house, the oil furnace kicks in with a hot smell that's still new for the season. Outside everything is full of frost, and the grass is slippery when you run on it. There's a smell of burning leaves always in the air. And the freedom of two whole days away from school stretches out endlessly before you full of uncharted opportunity. There were chores to do around the house, but since we put the wooden storm windows on the house the week before, (a mandatory full-family project.) the parents were kind of easy-going about anything that really has to be done today. Early Saturday morning!
My friend Max was here - somebody else liked getting out of the house early in the morning! We took turns at the inner tube, and there were some other small baby buggy wheels below the garage. Rolling the wheels around, devising different trajectories to run the wheels into one another. There was a certain backspin you could put on the inner tube, and roll it up the slide on the neighbor's gym set. It came hurtling down the slide with twice the normal velocity. So one of us would roll the smaller wheels cross-wise, and the other would try to time the inner tube so that it could take out the smaller wheels as they rolled by. Demolition!
Max wondered out loud if it was cold enough to freeze over the creek that ran in back of his house. We decided that this had to be investigated first-hand. So, we put away the wheels and headed for Max's house. My mother suggested we be back for lunch. Max was delighted for the invite, and looked forward to it. We walked. Max didn't have a bicycle at the time. And we'd have to stop at Max's house and ask permission in order for us to go to the creek. This made the trip all the more adventurous - I'd never seen the creek. His dad might not be home, yet, He could ask Lil, though.
Lil? I told Max: "My mother doesn't want us to call her by her first name"
"Oh, no, Lil's not my mother. Lil is our 'housekeeper'"
Max's mother, it turns out had "gone away". She wasn't dead, but he never saw her. "Housekeeper" it turned out, was his father's euphemism for a live-in girlfriend. In those days, especially among Lutherans, "living in sin" was something whispered behind someone's back. And I could give you a list of Lutherans who never ran out of things to whisper behind people's backs! Had my mother been as strict a Lutheran as some of my classmates' parents, I wouldn't have been allowed to play with Max. They would have considered him "wild", and a bad influence, visiting upon the children the sins of the parents, Thus Saith the Lord. I didn't take any chances, and only filled in as much information as my mother asked me about. Being with Max was being on the cutting edge of adventure!
We got to Max's house. He told me to wait outside. "I'll be back in no time".
Max had learned survival techniques for living in a broken home. He knew that Lil would probably still be sleeping, if his father wasn't home, because she had no doubt stayed out late the night before. Lil would be missing out on the freedom and frosty wonder of this glorious Saturday morning. Waking her up too suddenly would be a very bad idea, when there were favors to be asked... I went around to the back of the house to wait, a dark olive wooden pre-fab with no basement. The walls were very thin, and from the back yard I could hear Max walking around inside. Something spoken softly, then, a loud cigarette-low bellow thick with sleep voice: "You're not supposed to go there." More soft spoken pleading, and then again, the Voice of Lil: "Go ahead, then, and I don't give a Hell if you fall in." Something all too sincere in that tone of voice. I pictured the rest of the day wilting away into gray ordinariness, under the shadow of this moment. To me, it sounded like a "no". And it sounded like she really, truly did not give a Hell.
Max came back out. I expected him to say that maybe we shouldn't go to the creek today. But he was wearing a slightly contrived grin. "She said it was okay." He didn't know that I had overheard practically the entire exchange.
"You sure?" I asked.
In a Curly-Joe Three Stooges voice "Wy, Soitenly!" and socked me in the shoulder.
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