I would hate to leave people with the idea that I was a troubled troublesome troublemaker, but, oh well. We weren't always at war with the Evil Stepmother. There were even times we allied ourselves against more powerful and evil enemies. Like the old lady next door. You know the one. The widow with the immaculate yard, whose walks are always clean and never have snow or ice or leaves on them. The old lady whose house makes yours look like urban blight, even after we picked up all the dog crap and raked the leaves. Her very silence, after I'd say "Hi!" as loudly as I could, just because I knew she's a tad deef in one ear, was the shot across my bow that just begged for a war.
Please don't think I go out of my way to harrass old folks. I have never tripped one, robbed one, scammed one. No matter how tempted I might have been at 14. All I ever tried to do with the old lady was just. say Hi! Is it too much to ask for a simple Hi! in return?
Oooooh, and she would take our baseballs, all the time, too. We used to play catch in the yard with real baseballs, but everytime they either went into her yard, or wedged between the chainlinks of her fence, she would scamper out with amazing vigor and speed and take them back into her Baseball Prisoner of War Camp, where we would never see them again.
In order to make peace with the old battle-axe, my dad gave us tennis balls, or Nerf balls. They wouldn't "damage" her chainlink fence, and maybe she would stop calling the police on us.
Finally, it came down to this ultimatum from the cops:
"If you keep bothering Mrs. Nilsson, we will remove you from this home and put you into a foster home." And we took that threat seriously. So it was decided, that no matter how nice it was outside, if we saw Mrs. Nilsson, we were to come back inside, and not attempt talking to her.
But, even with that preventative, the endless noise and mayhem that eminated from our house made it necessary for the cops and the social workers to begin paying us regular visits.
There were constant house inspections....They were not happy with me after I papier-mâchéed the floor in my bedroom into a relief map of the French Alps. But trying to explain "inspired creativity" was seriously lost on these bozos.
It all came down to one. last. chance. After the relief map incident, (I had to get on my hands and knees and scrape it off completely, and it was a cruel form of punishtment to make me destroy my project, besides) we were told under no certain terms, that anymore visits by the police would land us all in SEPARATE foster homes.
By Christmastime, we'd managed to avoid all contact with the old hag, mainly due to the fact that she was back in Sweden for a time, and thus we had peace, since the cops hadn't come for at least 3 months. But the belief that we had dodged a bullet was about to be shattered. All because of snow.
Now there hadn't been a peep from the old lady's house in three months. Her sons or daughters would come over and keep the place up, but we didn't speak to them, nor they to us, and we kept to ourselves. But with the first snow, just before Christmas, came the overwhelming temptation to lay down in it, roll around in it, make forts and weapons. Lovely weapons; snow... packed tightly into a small balls and dunked in cold water and left to freeze...only the most ideal weapon to use against people who wear glasses. But I ask you this question: If you had the choice of rolling around, making snow angels and forts and snowballs with the snow in your own yard, KNOWING that there was a good chance you would land in Dog crap, or doing the same in the pristine, virgin snow next door....Pure Nilsson's Yard Snow, what would you do? We figured she wasn't home yet, and it was still dark out, and so, one set of footprints became five sets, angel silhouettes appeared, a fort at the far end of her yard sprung up and we were caught white-mittened, munching on tasty white ice cold manna.
We were suddenly startled to see her in her bath robe and slippers, armed with a shovel and hurling the most vile Swedish invective at us. We all ran, and miraculously, none of us were nailed with the shovel. But worse was to follow. We ran through the back of her yard, through the bushes and into our own backyard, into our house and down to the root cellar. We kept quiet, and my older brother opened the shutter that led under the porch. We quietly climbed under the porch to look through the latticework for the cops. No one said anything. We barely breathed.
We had not long to wait. The police rolled up and we saw their feet march up to the porch...we heard their feet on the porch, and then the door knocker rapping. My father and R. were not yet up, so we heard them rouse from their warm bed and and get dressed, while the brass knocker kept rapping furiously. We were quiet as mice as we listened to the police ask my father if he knew where we were.
"They're upstairs in bed, officer."
"Oh? Would you please go and check, just to make sure, sir?"
"Of course, officer. It isn't even 7 in the morning, so I'm sure that they are still in bed. It's dark out, for Chrissakes!"
"Nevertheless, sir, please go and check, just to make sure. We got another call from Mrs. Nilsson about your kids trespassing on her property, and we've warned them and you about what would happen if we had to come out again."
Then we heard dad's feet stomp upstairs and open doors, and calling our names. None of us answered.
'They, uh, aren't here, officer."
"Well, do you know where we might be able to find them?"
"You might try the park up the street, or the school."
"Look, sir, when they come back, I want you to call me, so we can straighten this out. We are really getting tired of the old lady calling us for every stupid little thing. I hope I make it REALLY clear to you that we don't WANT to be coming out on Christmas Eve Night, just because your kids decide to piss her off again. Do you understand?"
The police left, and I heard my father sit down hard on the sofa. It was the kind of sitdown that one does, when one has had all the air knocked out of one. Heavy. Angry. Bitter.
Neither of them spoke. R. went into the kitchen to make coffee. She said nothing. He said nothing. The silence between them spoke more loudly than if they were having a fight. We had really disappointed them. We sensed the straw breaking the camel's back with every sigh they made. It was time for us to face the music.
We went up quietly, into the kitchen, still in our coats to face our parents sitting at the kitchen table. They said nothing. We tried to apologize all at once, but my father's stony glare silenced our attempts. He said nothing, but went to the phone and called the police.
They came, and we knew that this might be the last Christmas we would spend at home.
It was decided that taking us away on Christmas Eve would be pointless, since it would take several days to find five different foster homes. No use in ruining anyone else's Christmas. We were going to be removed for a six month trial beginning in January.
We open our presents on Christmas Eve. It was the new tradition R. had introduced into our family. I had to admit it was a better idea to open presents the night before Christmas. That way, you could stay up late, and sleep in late, have a big breakfast and prepare the dinner without having toworry about picking up trash and putting together presents. She handed me a present. A ceramic doll. I had never had one before. I was surprised. It was a lovely doll. Not like a Barbie, but it looked like a real girl, with long braids and a straw hat and a velvet green dress and black shoes. Her eyes even looked real. I gave R. a hug and gave her the present I had got her: A hot chocolate mug. ( I didn't tell her about the fake cockroach that was glazed to the inside. Why ruin the surprise?)
Dad got us all the best gift of all. We surely didn't deserve it. A brand new stereo system with Dolby speakers....it was like uttering a magical incantation: Dolby Sound. We couldn't believe the difference in the quality of sound, but Dad's gift was only partially finished.
He announced at about 10 pm that it was bedtime, and no ifs ands or buts! Having gotten through the day relatively unscathed, we all decided that the best gift we could give the parents was some obedience, we all went to bed without an argument.
It wasn't yet 2 am, when we all were quietly awakened by dad.
"Shhhh! Don't make a sound. Follow me."
We did, and soon, he led us all down to the dining room, where he'd opened the windows facing Mrs. Nilsson's house. The new speakers were put into the windows.
"Look up to her second floor," he said. We did. Unbelievably, her window was slightly opened, and her bedroom light was on!
"Watch." He pulled out a cassette tape and slid it into the new stereo system.
"Now listen." He pushed the play button.
We listened. Soon, we heard the sound of...frogs! Nothing but frogs, croaking, singing, mating. The volume was low at first, but ever so gently, he began raising the volume a little at a time. Soon, the cold winter night's air was filled with the sounds of joyous summertime! Frogs. In Dolby Sound. Frogs and dragonflies. Frogs and buzzing bees, frogs and birds singing in trees. An occasional plane flying overhead. Children laughing in the distance. A chorus of frogs, with an occasional interlude from a motorcycle or a bicycle interspersed inbetween froggy movements.
"Where did you get this tape, Dad?"
"Your stepmother made it this summer."
For the first time, I began to see why my father loved this young woman. I went over to her and hugged her and thanked her.
We watched the shadowy form of Mrs. Nilsson come to the window and look out. Dad turned down the sound and removed the speakers and shut the windows.
"Go back to bed and pretend to sleep." We giggled and did just as he said.
Not but a few moments later, the police were banging on the door.
"We got a call from Mrs. Nilsson again, sir."
"Look, we were all sleeping."
"I can see that you are probably right, but the woman swears she hears frogs coming from your place."
I wish I could have seen my father's dead pan face.
"Frogs? Uhhh, we don't have any of those. Are you sure you heard her correctly?"
"She said frogs. Would you mind if we took a look through your house? Please, we just want to reassure her that you don't have any frogs here."
"Sure, of course, officer. Come right in."
The police looked through our house, into each of our rooms, where we were suddenly surprised awake and ever so confused at the ruckus....who was disturbing our visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads like this?!
Satisfied that there were no frogs on the premises, they went back to Mrs. Nilsson to tell her that they'd found no frogs.
So they left, and twenty minutes later, we began the whole process again. And once again, the police came, looking for frogs, only to find none.
We waited another hour, and then once again, repeated the process. And this time, the police didn't bother coming to our house. We listened as the cops chewed her out for wasting their time and said they were tired of her petty complaints and that they weren't coming out anymore, and if they had to come out again, they would arrest her this time.
New Year's passed, and my father received a call from the Department of Social Services that we wouldn't be going into foster care after all. Of course, they never said why, specifically. Just that there was a problem with finding five seperate homes for everyone. Yeah, right. Ribbit.