Monday, May 28, 2012

Climbing the Walls

Some things are generational. I don’t remember ever teaching some of the things my children did nor do I recall that anyone else taught me those things. In our family, which has some adopted children, the message must have passed by osmosis. It would not be genetic. One of those strange lessons that they all seem to have learned, excepting one, is climbing. I was a climber from an early age and so were the other children in my family. I would climb just about any structure that I could get a hand grip on or a leg over. We had a long fence that ran across the width of my grandmother’s front yard. It was a frame made of 4x4 posts and 2x4 caps and braces. The rest was a decorative woven wire with scalloped edges along the top. At the driveway end of that fence was a mulberry tree. I loved to climb that thing then drop down onto the 2x4 cap of the fence and run the length of it, leap over the gate area and keep on running to the other end. That leaping over the gate scared my grandmother half to death. Since the gate was directly in front of the huge double dining-room windows, it was not unusual for me to be in mid-flight and hear her rapping sharply on the panes of those windows. The message was clear. “If you fall and break your neck, don’t come crying to me.” My father’s take on this was that kids do these things, and that she should relax unless there was actual bloodshed. Grandmother was rarely in a relaxed frame of mind. She had taken on the mothering of the three of us as a deathbed promise to our mother, and she was determined to see us grown or die trying. I have to admit we challenged her dedication to the limit, at times; and it was mostly by the grace of God or shear dumb luck that we actually made it. It wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I understood the sacredness of this trust and the fears it engenders. Both my sister and I loved to read and we had a pear tree with a lovely configuration of branches that made it a perfect place to tuck into with a good book. I read Anne Of Green Gables in that leafy perch. There was a large fork and an upright limb just off one side, and the whole thing was high up but almost perfectly parallel to the ground. I have never seen another tree with a similar spot although I hope that there are others out there somewhere. I would tuck my book inside my shirt and swing myself up by way of a large branch then go on up several more steps to reach that special spot. In the depth of summer, the leaves were so thick that I was completely hidden from view. By being very quiet, I could avoid being found even when Grandmother was out calling for me. When she finally learned about this spot, she would head for the tree first and demand that I come down immediately. My sister found this spot as well; and although I never told her what I used it for, she saw what it was meant for and became a tree reader as well. My children didn’t have access to such trees as that, but they all climbed the trees that were near our home and which had branches low enough to reach. The oldest was the most adventurous as he would go far higher than was really safe and then sway the whole upper part of the tree by rocking his body back and forth. Sometimes it looked like he was standing on twigs. The other thing which the children all climbed, were the hall walls. I didn’t do this as a kid since the only hallway in my grandmother’s house was far too wide. I do remember climbing inside of door frames which are similar. I don’t know why Geoff came upon this idea that you could brace your hands and bear feet against the walls of the hall; and in a series of small hops, propel yourself up to the ceiling. Each child, in turn, learned the same trick. It did not surprise me when the oldest grandchild and only boy did the same thing. The second has not done this and is probably too old at 16 to even want to try. She is also very ladylike and would probably not be interested in the first place. She's so well behaved that I sometimes wonder how she got into the family at all. This last week, my younger daughter came home to find her then 7 now 8 year old climbing the walls quite literally. Neither her parents nor older brother admit to having taught her this. She figured it out on her own. However, her mother, an expert wall climber in her day, skyped her sister is Florida and let that one’s child watch as her cousin showed off her new skill. That’s all it took for that one to take off up her walls. The issues there are that the dad doesn’t like the footprints on the wall and their hall has 12’ ceilings. That granddaughter is six and already doing advanced gymnastics so is probably better prepared than most to handle the climb. She also has some knowledge of how best to dismount without hurting herself. I can just see the scores going up. 9.4; 9.6; 10. Many families have traditions that they pass down generation to generation. I have a friend whose family always sneaks a potato into the suitcase of whoever is traveling. No matter how hard the traveler tries to prevent it, somehow the potato is always there when they reach their destination. When her father and mother died, the children insisted that potatoes go with them on their final trips. That’s what her family does. My family members climb the walls.


  1. I never did the wall climbing but DID climb the large mimosa tree in my back yard, for which I'd be disciplined. Didn't matter. I'd climb it anyway. There was such freedom up in that tree.

  2. There was one apple tree that had the grandparents' seal of approval, as far as climbing was concerned. Just one - just reading your story, I feel deprived.

  3. My brother climbed the door frames and walls in our house just as literally as you said. My youngest daughter, now 8, figured out how to do that in our house and I SWEAR no one showed her. Her older sister didn't, and I know for a fact that I did not. Maybe we really are related to monkeys..... :)