When people get all nostalgic and say – “kids today watch too much tv and play too many video games! They should go play outside, like we used to!” I gotta wonder if the people waving that flag had brothers growing up. Or fun. It’s seriously amazing that my genius brothers and I survived all the “fresh air and healthy activity” we got as kids.
To be fair, we did still watch a lot of TV. That’s where we got some of our best ideas. One summer day (1986ish?), during Thundercats or something, we saw a Lucky Charms commercial with a bunch of kids chasing that damned Leprechaun down a zip-line into a tree house.
Holy shit, we thought, that looks AWESOME.
Now if we’d been at mom’s that would’ve been the end of it. But we weren’t at mom’s. This was dad’s house and dad was working…or fly fishing. That meant:
- There were three of us. MILK and Whiskey have a brother. Let’s call him Smokey. Two boys. That math is simple enough: Boy x2 = bad idea100
- We had access to a loft full of dad’s rock climbing gear. Plus a perhaps overinflated opinion of our own skill at using it.
Don’t get me wrong, my brothers are geniuses. They didn’t stop at any of that point A to point B rope tying shit because they knew, being geniuses, that the rope would just sag in the middle and be super lame. No, they tied one end of the rope about twenty feet up to the limb of an enormous evergreen in the front yard. Then, they WRAPPED it around a telephone pole across the driveway and back again before tying it off on another tree or a lamppost or something. See – genius.
Further genius – dragging out a couple of futons to use as a landing pad. Remember futons? And don’t tell me they still make them, because they don’t. I refuse to believe a market for such things exist*. I’d rather sleep in my closet in a hammock made from my grandmother’s afghan.
After that, it was easy. Tie a knot in some webbing for a handle. Climb the tree. Make peace with your God and then jump.
And let me tell you, it was awesome. It was everything that crazy sonofabitch Leprechaun had said it would be. Except with adrenaline instead of marshmallows. I let the boys go first, cuz of not being stupid. Then I went. Then Whiskey and Smokey fought over whose turn it was. Whiskey “won”. I put that in quotes because as soon as he geronimoed off the limb, with the joyous faith that a single successful run had instilled in him, the knot in the webbing gave and he plummeted twenty feet straight down into the planter box at the base of the tree, narrowly missing braining himself on the edge.
We were sure he was dead. He laid there for a good long time, not seeming to breathe or move, his eyes staring into the heavens. Smokey and I were simultaneously thinking up a good explanation for dad and dividing up Whiskey’s stuff in our heads. Then he blinked and gave a little shuddery breath. Smokey and I closed in on him, huddling nearer to hear what he was trying to say. He looked at me with wild eyes and hissed,
“Don’t. Tell. Anyone.”
By which he meant don’t tell an adult. Don’t tell MOM, specifically. Because we both knew if I told dad, he would come back with the same warning. Don’t tell mom. But I was a little sister. And little sisters tell. Everyone knows that.
Against all better judgment, G.I. Joe training, and just general good sense, we dragged Whiskey into the house and settled him on the nice, soft couch. Apparently, none of us thought Whiskey should continue to have the use of his legs. And, let’s be honest, paralysis would have kept him out of a lot of trouble down the line.
Then, when the boys were watching the Price is Right and pretending that Whiskey wasn’t bleeding out internally, I got the phone and called an adult. I did, at least, call the most rational, least sympathetic adult I could think of – Grandma. Not mom’s mom, who would have called mom, an ambulance, and possibly a medevac chopper (but also shown up with candy). I called dad’s mom. She drove to the house in her gold Duster, looking mildly put-out but not overly concerned. She stepped out of the car, looked at the set-up, the height of the limb Whiskey had fallen from, and the indentation in the planter box from his body. She took a long drag off her Benson & Hedges.
Then we all went to the hospital.
I don’t remember the exact combination of broken ribs and cracked vertebra Whiskey was gritting his teeth through to avoid getting grounded, but it’s pretty much a miracle he can still walk.**
A free-range childhood had a lot of perks, but I don’t know that I’d recommend it for anyone without excellent medical coverage.
* yes, I’m aware they still make futons.
**Whiskey says he fractured three vertebra and cracked his sternum. Any brain damage was obviously preexisting.