The Girl On The Old Shingled Roof
By Carol L. Bowman
“Wait until your father gets home.”
Whenever I heard that daunting phrase, a veil of gloom passed over me like an invisible plague. I knew what was coming. I knew that my stomach would do flips at the dinner table and our kitchen would become the courtroom, where witnesses testified and guilty verdicts were handed down. With three sisters, there should have been enough blame to go around, but that’s not the way it went. I always held onto the flimsy hope that one of them would be the target. My older sister’s face showed smug satisfaction, aware that she had managed to avoid detection, while the two younger ones winced with relief, whenever Mom directed that warning to me.
I can’t ever remember my mother issuing one reprimand for childish pranks or unacceptable behavior. Never a “go to your room,” “don’t talk back,” not even a “stand in the corner for five minutes.” Her problem-solving skills for child rearing amounted to one solution, “Wait until your father gets home.” Then he would come home, dragging from 12-hours in a hot foundry, working as a tool and die maker at the local steel mill. He wanted dinner as soon as he arrived, but I never knew why, since it often resulted in such unpleasantness.
We’d all take our assigned seats around the table; little Susie and middle Donna across from me, “goody-two-shoes” Judy beside me, and Mom and Dad anchoring the ends. We’d pass the food around, but before one mouthful could be enjoyed, the trial began as Mom offered her opening statement. “Leroy, do you know what Carol did today?” I hated the fact that my behavior served to ruin so many of his meals. I think he hated being the Judge. He’d ask for details, obtain sister witness statements, announce his judicial decision and order a penalty. The appetite-killing dinner hour reflected a dismal end to his hard days labor.
Clearing one’s plate remained mandatory, with Mother reminding us at least once every meal that “children in India were starving.” I gulped down each morsel, swallowing repeatedly to force it into my churning pit, eager to receive permission to be excused from this gastronomic ordeal. And so it went meal after meal.
Once, when Daddy’s work-related toils had been too grueling, his exhaustion triumphed over his role of doling out verdicts and punishments. As Mom’s rendition of “Leroy, do you know what…” poured from her lips, he rose and hurled the ceramic plate. As the gravy, peas, beef strips and mashed potatoes oozed down the oil-cloth covered wall, the dish crashed to the floor. He slammed the door behind him, seeking the sanctity of his beloved barn. Mother sat there, mouth agape.
Then came that spring day when critical events caused a turning point. In our one-hundred-year-old farmhouse, my bedroom could be locked from the inside with a bolt and latch. I scraped the crusted layers of paint until the reluctant rod slid into the brace. I wanted to be alone. I felt like sulking, as only a seventeen year-old can sulk. I heard Mom’s quick footsteps coming up the stairs. She knocked, pressed the unyielding handle and in a fluster shouted, “Carol, open this door, I want to clean your room.”
“Mom, I’m old enough to clean my own room. I’ll do it later.”
I cringed when the familiar response rolled out. “If you don’t open the door this instant, we’ll just have to wait until your father gets home.”
Defiance seethed. I refused, she retreated and I didn’t care. The wait was short-lived. I heard his booming, but tired voice. I heard my name flying back and forth. I heard his heavy footsteps on the treads. It wasn’t even dinner time.
“Carol, open the door so your mom can clean your room.” His voice resonated with its usual authoritarian tone, but I detected a hesitation that he had no appetite to settle another trivial infraction which involved his only daughter who willingly helped him with farm chores. So I tempted fate.
“Daddy, I told Mom that I would clean my own room, later. If you want the door open, you will have to break it down.”
The thud of a foot against wood shattered the moment. Snapping like a dry twig, the hinges screeched as they ripped from the splintered frame. The protective barrier from the rigors of family lay prone on the floor. My father stood on the sheared-off door. I knew I had forced this confrontation. I knew he would never tolerate such a taunt. And now I knew it was too late.
The partially open window remained the only avenue of escape. The scene deteriorated into a flash of teenage impulsiveness. I had a bursting desire to flee, an urge to fight back with biting words. I knocked the screen from the getaway route, and with one crazy move, I found myself teetering on the old shingled porch roof. Curled up tiles waited to trip a silly girl, boards creaked, the slant so steep, I dared not look at the concrete sidewalk below.
My father appeared at the window, shouting for me to come in off the roof. I saw one foot poke through the open space and panicked. Three piercing words, said with a teen’s vengeance to wound a parent, spilled recklessly from my lips: “I hate you.”
His foot disappeared from the opening. I saw his contorted face, wearing a stinging ache that I, his favorite daughter, had inflicted. I saw him withdraw, dragging the fractured door and our ruptured relationship behind him. He didn’t utter another word. Rejection followed.
I had heard the “wait until…” refrain for the last time. My presence within the family unit withered. At the dinner table, my father wouldn’t even ask me to pass the salt. No one cared what I did, where I went, when I came home. I wondered with initial glee how far I could take this carte blanche freedom. Driving my car to wild dances in another county and arriving home well after midnight didn’t even cause a stir. Where’s the punishment, why no trial? Without direction, my attitude drifted into one of recklessness and rebellion. High school graduation loomed in one month and I dreaded the aftermath. What would I do then?
Mom told me that she and my father had been summoned to the Principal’s Office. Although my grade point average placed me second in the graduating class, school officials decided that due to episodes of insolence, I didn’t merit the Salutatorian Award. That newsflash smacked like a wallop. I had earned that accolade, but my cheering squad had “gone missing.”
“Mom, do you think Daddy will come to my graduation anyway? I really want him to be there.” I heard myself pleading, begging for redemption, for forgiveness, for someone to care about me again.
“I have no idea, Carol. You will just have to ask him yourself. Wait until your father gets home.”