Monday, July 27, 2009

Ransoming My Brother

One sweltering summer day, mother opened the back door and told us to go out and play and that was that. We had the run of the neighborhood and we wouldn’t be expected back home unless we were hungry or in tears.

First stop, Mrs. McClannahan, who was always doing laundry because her husband didn’t believe in electric clothes driers.

Bang, bang, bang, “Hello, Mrs. McClannahan, do you have any pretzels?”

She came to the door smiling with four pretzels in her hand. “Turn this way,” she said, and we shuffled around and rotated our ears toward her pointing our chins up to heaven. Mrs. McClannahan would only give us pretzels if she could pull our ears through the holes of the pretzel. The salt scraped our tender little ears and sometimes left painful welts. It was very uncomfortable, but still worth a couple of pretzels. We turned so that she could admire our pretzel earrings. “Thanks!” We took off across the street.

Bang, Bang, Bang, “Hello, Mrs. Jones, Do you have any cookies?”

“Come on in kids. I’ve just finished a batch. They are still warm. That’s the best way, they are soft and bendy when they are warm.” She dumped a chocolate chip cookie into each of our hands with her spatula. We had to toss them from hand to hand because they were so hot. She gave us glasses of milk too.

“Thanks Mrs. Jones.” The screen door slammed behind us.

My brother, John, who had chocolate smeared around his face, followed me to the sand box in our backyard. “We are going to build a tunnel,” I directed. “I’ll go get some water.” My brother was only 5 but he usually took my instructions pretty well. If he didn’t, I would put the pressure on until he saw the wisdom of my plans. I was 2 years older than he was, after all, ergo the boss of him.

Bang, Bang, Bang, “Mom, I need to get some water.” My mother who was washing dishes while watching us out of the back window filled up a plastic tub of water and handed it to me.

“I’m mopping the floor so don’t come in for a while,” She said.

“Thanks Mom.” I carried the water back to the sand box.

The tunnel was a success. We built a couple of roads and poured water into moats, drove some little cars around the tracks...

“Let’s go get some mulberries!” I suggested. The berries felt slimy and got stuck between our toes as we tried to knock more of them out of the tree over our heads with branches.

“I want to go in,” my brother said. Our feet were purple with smashed mulberries, our toe nails black. There was no way mom was going to let us into the house like that. Anyway, I didn’t want to go in. I had to think quickly to keep my brother happy.

“I have some money,” I said. “Let’s go to Shoey’s.” His face lit up.

Shoey’s was a candy store about three quarters of a mile from our house. We hiked past the apartments, down one hill, and up another. The sidewalk burned our bare feet, but we could jump into the grass to cool them down. I was careful to point out the broken glass and bottle caps to my brother, but our feet were pretty tough from a summer of no shoes. We still had to run across the asphalt streets, though.

It probably took us 25 minutes to get to Shoey’s. I hadn’t bothered to mention to my mother where we were going. I thought that she might not agree with my plan, and I also thought that we would be back before she ever noticed that we had gone. She would have thought that we were at a neighbor’s house. I had 10 cents and that was at least enough to buy us some penny candy. We could even get a small chocolate bar and split it. While I was busy making the decision for us, my brother seated himself on the floor behind me where he found the Hostess display. There were Ho Hos and Ding Dongs and Cherry and Apple pies and so much more. Deep in thought about a tootsie roll versus a tootsie pop, I didn’t notice my brother opening a package behind me. He had a quarter of a pie consumed before I realized what had happened.

Mr. Shoey, looked sharply over his glasses at me. “I think that your little brother has made the decision for you,” he said.

I looked around and said, “NO!” but it was too late.

“Mr. Shoey,” I said very worried. “I only have 10 cents.”

“Well, I think you are going to have to get your mother then,” he said. “OK, John,” I said to my brother. “We have to go home and get Mom now.”

“No,” said Mr. Shoey. You need to go get your mother and your brother will stay here with me until you come back with her.”

Darn that John! He just ruined my great plan. I ran most of the way home but I made sure to work up some good tears before I pounded on our back door. Mom was always a bit softer if I looked really distressed about my sins.

Mom dashed out the door with pocket book in hand and drove me back to Shoey’s to collect my brother. When we arrived we found him surrounded by a pile of at least a dozen opened packages of partially-eaten treats.

The pain of my mother’s tongue lashing was far worse than the couple of whiffs with the paddle ball paddle.


  1. Jeri, what a great memory all except the paddle! times sure have changed, i don't think children walk 25 minutes to a candy store anymore, which is kind of sad when you think about all the good adventures that used to be had, but can you imagine a 5 and 7 year old doing that now?

    you are a wonderful writer!
    thank you for sharing,

  2. What a cute story! But darn that Mr. Shoey! I know it may sound odd but in Japan, he would probably get a scolding too! lol

  3. A sweet (bittersweet?) memory you share there. I, too, recall days wandering the neighborhood on bike or roller skates, stopping at candy stores, calling on friends, organizing a baseball game at the school diamond. There was no feeling of not being safe . . . and I always felt the thrill of being in command of my day, making all my own decisions, having choices . . . perhaps it was a gift that our over-worked mothers were too busy to deal with us - we really got to experience freedom and build confidence. Ahhh, it was a time . . .

  4. hi butternut, what a story! it rolled through my head like a film. this will sound terrible but i was hoping that your brother would tuck into as much as he could while you were getting your mum. there's a point in those experiences when you're a kid where you figure "well, i'm a gonner anyway . . . ."
    so lovely. thanks for telling that story!!! have a sweet day! steven

  5. "Mom was always a bit softer if I looked really distressed about my sins." That NEVER worked for me. I did, however, have some success in getting my younger brother to take the blame for stuff I did. Since he was the baby and the only boy, he NEVER got in trouble.

  6. Great story. Enjoyed the whole thing. Do you think Mom told Dad later when you were out of ear shot and they both shook their heads and laughed? (Darn kids).

  7. Lori, I really can't imagine my kids doing that now. I had to think about our ages over and over again. I couldn't remember if John was 4 or 5, but we were very young.

    Tulsa, I agree, Mr. Shoey probably should have called our home, but perhaps he didn't realize how far away from our mother we were.

    Bonnie, My brother and I were just talking the other day about, "What happened to summer?" There is no time to hang out any more. The kid's lives are scheduled and when they have free time they want a screen instead of the neighborhood as a play ground. We as parents want to know where they are at every moment. I do anyway, but I still find it sad.

    Steven, you and my brother are of the same mind.

    Ellen, what a useful little brother you had.

    Leenie, my guess is that my mother never mentioned it to my father. I'm not sure that she would have wanted him to know how far away we were without her knowledge. John had a habit of escaping her attention. At 3 years old the police brought him home allowing him to play with the lights and siren during the ride. He had wandered over a mile away on a busy road. Mom didn't know that he was gone until he was returned to the house.

  8. What an absolutely perfect childhood memory. Love the pretzel story..I too have a younger brother who was a tag-a-long..especially to Saturday matinees..2 features, cartoons and a Batman serial...

  9. Sugar is so addictive, my goodness. We used to walk a long ways, too, to buy (and shoplift) chocolates.

    Makes me sad to hear about the paddling. You were just being kids. Oh well.

    Great story, Jeri!

  10. Weren't we lucky to grow up in a much freer time!?
    Your story is so vivid and wonderful and reads like a children's book or memoir.
    I feel rather sad that we supervise our children so very, very carefully nowadays.
    All I ever wanted as a child was sweets and sweet and sweets
    Twizzlers, sherbert lemons, gobstoppers etc etc
    I'm afraid I still love sugar..........

  11. Those were the days. Disappearing until lunch or dinner. If they only knew the ground we covered.

  12. Ah, those were the days... and you thought I didn't read your blog :~)

  13. I'm sorry, I enjoyed your story much more than lashings or a paddle ball paddle! At least your brother got to eat something though. (Love the snaking through the neighbourhood for treats. Reminds me of the kids that come to my door.)

  14. Forgiveness is a timeless teacher.

  15. Your story evoked some fine childhood memories for me too. Walking to the local candy store, about a the same distance. It was over a small bridge, we would take our candy and eat it under the bridge before we walked home, so the evidence would be gone. I miss those care free days. I used to go to my neighbors for sugary treats too. My mom never had sugar in the house, so we were always making up some kind of plan to get some.