My mother loves to read, and has always been able to completely lose herself in the pages of a good book – to the extent that she could sometimes be quite oblivious to the world around her. I mention this only because at the time the two incidents about which I'm going to tell you occurred, it's likely that the heroine in whatever novel Mom had going at the time was in such peril, and the plot of the story so suspenseful that I guess she sort of momentarily lost track of what her offspring were up to.
But before you think too harshly of her, let me quickly point out that it was the 1950's and back then everybody was pretty loosey-goosey with regard to parental supervision. Mom was just a wee bit more loosey-goosey, that's all. Fortunately, our town was so small that it was practically impossible to get into any real serious trouble, and besides we all turned out okay, which is really the only thing that counts anyway.
And now let's move on to what actually happened. Both events took place when I was about three and my younger sister Marsha was eighteen months old. (My older sister Jeri was five, but she doesn't have anything to do with either of these stories, so you can just ignore her.) In the first instance our next-door-neighbors, the Mays, had a huge TV antenna that was accessed by a narrow metal ladder attached to the side of their house. At the peak of the gabled roof, the ladder just kept right on going – and so, apparently, did I. How else would you explain the frantic phone call my mother received from Jane May screeching, "GWEN JOLLY! COME OVER HERE RIGHT THIS MINUTE AND GET YOUR CHILDREN OFF MY ROOF!!”
The astute reader will note here that I said "children” and not just "child.” That's because Monkey Girl (yours truly) had apparently been closely followed up the rickety rungs by Little Baby Sister Monkey Girl-in-Training who was, if you'll remember, not even two years old! By the time Mom arrived on the scene I was already about six feet beyond the rooftop and still climbing, and Marsha had planted her diapered bottom on the peak of the roof with her little chubby toddler legs straddling the ladder, and was happily taking in the expansive view of the neighborhood.
I have no idea how they managed to coax us down or pluck us from our lofty perches, nor do I recall actually being punished. More than likely my mother's relief at having her daughters safely back on the ground overrode her anger especially when, as I'm sure I probably pointed out to her, nobody had ever specifically told me not to scale that ladder, so technically I wasn't guilty of disobedience. The one thing I do remember is that within a week the ladder was removed altogether, and while this no doubt made minor adjustments to the TV picture during west Texas windstorms much more inconvenient for Mr. May – on the plus side it also served to prevent any further trips up to the rooftop by those pesky little Jolly Monkey Girls who lived next door.
The second incident took place just a few weeks later. Mom got a call late one morning from a lady at Montgomery Ward who inquired, "Mrs. Jolly, do you have a little girl about three years old?” My mother, hoping that perhaps the prestigious department store, located just a few blocks from our home, might be scouting for a darling little brown-eyed pigtailed model for their new Easter collection to be featured in the upcoming Sunday ads, allowed herself to entertain glorious aspirations of fame and fortune as she answered sweetly, "As a matter of fact I do!” Imagine her surprise when the voice on the other end of the line replied curtly, "Well please come down and get her at once. She is riding the tricycles in our toy department!”
As I said, my Mother has always loved to read. For her there was nothing like the thrill of a really good book, for in its pages she found danger and excitement and unexpected twists and turns, not to mention a chance to explore a world she'd never seen before, and the possibility of a brand new adventure around every corner.
Funny – that's exactly how I would describe my childhood!