One hot July morning, in the late fifties, the boy wandered outside after savouring a breakfast of orange juice, milk, and toast drenched in syrup. The prairie sun had begun to warm the trees, and as the dew evaporated from the leaves, a bitter green fragrance filled the air. The boy closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and smiled.
It wasn’t long before his lengthening legs had taken him down the main street of the small town and right to the door of his friend’s house. The boy enjoyed this friend’s ideas and his home had great things to explore. In the basement there was a working miniature train set, a pool table, and a fridge for soda pop and snacks. In the backyard, they were allowed to throw darts or shoot arrows into stacked, rectangular bales of hay.
The boys decided to start the day with a little archery practice. At the back of the friend’s garage, the bales of hay were stacked against the faded green siding. Attached to this straw wall there was a large bull’s eye. A line in the dirt marked the spot to stand while making a shot. Cheating was forbidden.
The boy and his friend placed arrows carefully into their bows and aimed at the target. The boy loved the sound of the arrows cutting through the air. He was disappointed when they missed the target. Often, they missed the bales, finding their way into the siding.
The boy and his friend fell into a game of war with an invisible foe. They hid behind a bale that they had dragged away from the garage. They engaged in full battle with an enemy they imagined was somewhere near the target. Their excitement escalated as they ran, yelled, and gestured dramatically. Then it was over. They fell to the ground, victorious.
Calm at last, the boys took in the scene. The garage wore arrows like a porcupine wears quills. Worst of all, one siding board had split horizontally, the full length of the building. Looking into each other’s eyes, they knew what had to be done.
Frantically, they began removing the arrows from the building, only to find that each arrow left a telltale pockmark in the old siding. In panic, they strategically relocated the heavy rectangular bales to camouflage most of their wrongdoings. Satisfied with the cover-up, they walked to the front yard, hoping no one would venture to the back in the next few days. After a moment of penance, they retreated to the front step. It was time to talk about how to spend the rest of their day.
It was very hot outside, so the coolness of the friend’s basement appealed to them. This basement was very dark when the lights were out. They had often enjoyed the fun of sneaking up on one another, each trying to be the first to expose the other with a flashlight. In the intense darkness, the challenge was to avoid tripping over furniture or boxes. There were many obstacles in the basement. The friend’s mother held choir practice for her special singing ensemble in this space, and the boys often increased the difficulty of their game by scattering her stacking chairs, boxes of music, and coat racks throughout the room.
This day began like all days in the dark basement. Shins were bumped. Flashlight bullets hit their targets. Sounds of injuries were dramatized, but when the friend tipped over his mother’s sewing basket and spools of thread rolled across the floor, a new idea was born. They could tie the metal legs of the chairs together with threads, and in the dark it would make movement difficult.
With most of the choir chairs tied together, they blackened the basement, and declared a new kind of war. Walking into a thread would jiggle a chair, and the metal clatter would reveal the location of the hunted. The hunter would shower a beam of flashlight bullets on his prey. Death by flashlight seemed a little disappointing after such complex navigational maneuvers. The boys craved a more exciting conclusion to the moment of discovery.
The friend had another perfect idea. They should soak wads of toilet paper in water and squeeze them into bombs to throw at each other. The boys put aside their flashlights and enthusiastically prepared their new ammunition.
Once again in darkness, the boys were completely caught-up in their game. The battle was intense. An entire hour was lost as they crawled under the webs, ducking to avoid the wet mushy toilet paper bombs, and listening before aiming to throw one. The boy loved the swish of the wet bombs that sailed past him and grunted from the sting each time one hit its mark. This was war!
Then it happened. The door opened, the light went on, and the soldiers, blinded by the brightness, heard a most threatening and unnatural sound. As their eyes grew accustomed to the light, they realized it was the friend’s mother. She was panicked. Choir practice would start in less than an hour. The basement had to be cleaned.
The boys took a moment to look around them. It was a battlefield. Gobs of dripping tissue hung from chairs, which were twisted into unusual positions. Creative blockades made movement impossible. The walls beyond their battle were dripping with paper masses and looked as if a flock of pigeons resided just above. Some wet bombs clung to the floor, drying where they landed. It looked terrible. It looked wonderful. It had been an amazing afternoon. Now, they were prisoners working for their captor. It was the perfect end to their battle.
The last chair was replaced as the choir members began to arrive. The boy headed up the stairs toward the door. The last thing he heard as he left was something about being banned from the basement for the rest of the summer. The boy was sure the friend’s mother would relent, in time. She usually did. Meanwhile, the soldiers had already made a plan for the next day. They would ride their bikes to the nearest lake, just sixty miles away.
When I heard this story, I felt sympathy for the friend's mother. I asked my husband what he could possibly have learned from this incident. He said, "Well, sometimes you can't see your idea until someone sheds some light on it. Also, not everyone will appreciate your ideas. Even more important is the notion that if you make a mess in your life, you have to clean it up, or in some cases, pay it off!"