My mom grew up in a neighborhood called Orchard Heights, several houses perched around a hill. In winter, it was like living on a wedding cake. My grandparents' house sat on the middle tier. In spring, when the dogwoods were in bloom, it was a terraced garden; and I was a ladybug, climbing concrete steps and rolling down green slopes. Even the clothesline hung at an angle.
My grandma had a flowered umbrella.
I loved that umbrella; but I never dared use it in the rain. It was much too pretty, covered with blue and purple blossoms, a little gold chain dangling from the shiny black handle.
No, that umbrella was meant for more, I thought.
One spring day, I stood on the top stoop, outside Grandma's front door. Hands on my skinny hips, I surveyed the world beneath me. Aunt Marie, my Grandpa's sister, lived next door. A cinder block wall, crumbling in places, kept Grandma's yard from spilling onto Aunt Marie's. I skipped down the curving steps, stopping to jump flat-footed from the last step to the gravel driveway.
I turned and tested the breeze, holding my face up to the sky, eyes closed.
Today was the day.
I ran back up the steps and into the house, and I took that beautiful umbrella.
I was more cautious now, knowing my idea might not seem like a good one...to Grandma especially. She preferred I keep my feet on the ground and all my bones in one piece.
I made sure no one was watching from the picture window. What a picture that would have been! I unsnapped the umbrella's belt and released the handspring. The flowered umbrella bloomed in all its glory.
I wished I had a blue coat with white piping. I longed for a black hat with flowers pinned to the brim. If only Grandma had a sturdy carpetbag, I thought regretfully. I clutched the umbrella with my bare hand, pretending it was clad in a white cotton glove. I touched my throat and adjusted an invisible red bow tie. Then I stepped up, bravely, onto the highest point of the cinder block wall. The wall was pitched forward, toward Aunt Marie's; but I figured that would help with my launch.
I hummed "A Spoonful of Sugar;" because, in my excitement, it was the only song I could remember.
Then, in a Mary Poppins moment, I stepped right off the cinder block wall.
I hit the ground with my heels first; scraping up two long grooves of green grass. My behind hit next, pounding the hill so hard that the last of my breath leapt out my lungs, through my open mouth, and mingled with the breeze that had failed to lift me skyward. My crooked teeth, bottoms and tops, smacked together so hard, they felt bruised. I skidded a few feet, grabbing tufts of onion grass with my free hand. When gravity finally settled around me, I checked the ribs of the umbrella first, and then my own. Nothing broken. I did my best to wipe the grass stains off my jeans; and I used my shaking fingers to spread the clumps of dirt and grass back into the raw places I had furrowed out of Aunt Marie's yard.
Satisfied that I'd done my best to cover my tracks, I pressed in the top spring of the umbrella and slid the runner back in place. I clapped mud from my palms and smoothed the flowered fabric so I could snap the umbrella belt.
Defeated, but still delighted, I trudged around the short end of the wall. Maybe I needed a windier day, I thought...or a better song even...or a carpetbag. Yes, any one of those might have made the difference.
"Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey
chim chim cher-ee
a sweep is as lucky, as lucky can be."
(lyrics from Chim Chim Cher-ee, composed by Robert and Richard Sherman)