Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Night Visitors

Ferris Wheel
Photo by Kate Ter Haar
Even at 11 o’clock at night, the August air was as thick and sticky as the cotton candy that my best friend Debbie and I had devoured at Roanoke’s weekend carnival. The community fundraiser was set up on village’s south side, in the American Legion park, past the railroad tracks.

Giddy with excitement—and too many sweets—we lounged on my bed, sweating in the moonlight that streamed through my open bedroom window. Not even the slightest breeze stirred the curtains as we whispered about the evening’s fun and waited for our expected midnight rendezvous.

We had met our school friends, Chuck and Jim, at the carnival that Friday evening, where we were allowed some pre-teen independence in the waning summer days before we would start seventh grade. With our allowances stuffed into our shorts’ pockets, we careened around the midway, throwing down dimes and quarters on games of chance, sideshows, and snacks. And, of course there were the rides.

We screamed on the Wild Mouse, squished unnaturally close together on the Scrambler, and cuddled at the top of the Ferris wheel, with all of Woodford County laid out below us. Or at least Chuck and Debbie cuddled, as Chuck clearly had a gleam in his eye these days when he looked at perky, button-nosed, brown-eyed Debbie.

To me, Jim and Chuck were just friends. We had gone to school and the Methodist Church together since kindergarten, playing softball in the school fields, riding bikes to the creeks, climbing the Jumbo. The two of them were lots of fun and full of mischief, but the familiarity crowded out any notion of romance for me.

That night at the carnival, the four of us quickly discovered an intriguing symmetry—Debbie was spending the night at my house, and the boys were camping out in a tent in Chuck’s backyard.

A plan was hatched.

A little before midnight, when parents would surely be asleep, the boys would sneak due north through the cornfields to my house, which was just a half-mile out of town, and rendezvous with us. We girls agreed to leave a lawn chair under my bedroom window so the boys could recognize where to find us.

As the minutes ticked past midnight and on towards 1 a.m., all was quiet in the house. We had heard my parents go to bed an hour ago in the bedroom next door. We yawned and stretched out, trying to find a cool place on the sheets. Clearly, the boys weren’t coming. Maybe Chuck’s parents had caught them, maybe they’d gotten lost in the corn and turned back, or maybe they’d just changed their minds. We yearned for sleep, which seemed impossible in my stifling bedroom.
Corn field
Photo by Watt Publishing

Even as a wind was starting to kick up, Debbie and I gathering up our pillows and sheets, and headed for the basement playroom, a comfortably cool retreat on a night like this.

Some of what happened next is still in dispute as everyone had a little bit of the story. But this much is pretty clear:

Sometime after 1 a.m., two figures, flashlights in hand, emerged from the cornfield on the south side of our lawn. The house windows were all dark.

Suddenly, my mom awoke to a light panning across her bed. Seeing a face at the open window, she uttered a dry-mouthed scream, and my dad leaped from bed toward the window.

“Hey! hey!” he yelled, spying two figures scrambling off, lickety-split, into the corn.

“Who was it?!” my mother asked, her heart still racing.

“Just kids,” Dad said. “I think I can guess who.”

At the breakfast table the next morning, my mom casually asked, “Did you two have a plan for Chuck and Jim to come by the house in the middle of the night?”

Debbie and I passed surprised glances, and then, feigned our most innocent expressions as Mom told us about the fright she’d received. As quickly as possible, and saying little, we high-tailed it to the bedroom to giggle about the boys’ mistake:

  • "Can you believe they got your parents' bedroom?"
  • "Why would they DO that when we told them that the window was the closest to the porch, and that's where the chair was?"
  • "I can just seem them running off into the field! Probably tromped down a couple rows!"
  • "It's a good thing Dad doesn't keep a gun!"

Later that afternoon, my dad stopped by Jim’s house to return a cake pan to Jim’s mother that she had left at the Boy Scouts’ bake sale at the carnival. As he was leaving, he spotted Jim in the yard, and remarked with a chuckle:

“I see you made it out of the cornfield last night, Jim. I figure Chuck did, too.”

Never ones to believe their reputations might precede them, Jim and Chuck were  convinced that we had ratted them out—an argument that raged for years, and chances are, could still be resurrected with renewed vigor.

1 comment:

  1. That was a fun story. Ah, Chicago in the summertime. Carnivals and cotton candy. Finding a cool spot to sleep. . . . And shenanigans!