When I was in grade school, we had a class where we’d write journal entries and our superintendent would have various students read aloud their entries to the rest of the school. The favorites were the ones written by the older kids that were obvious rip-offs of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, substituting the names of their classmates. We’d beg for the next installments to hear what happened.
No one ever asked for me to read my writing.
I wasn’t a very good writer and never had anything terribly interesting to write about. Also, I was a little kid.
One day on the way home from church, my dad made a right turn off our route home, then another right turn down a one-lane driveway. “Let’s see where this goes!” he said.
Looking back, I’m sure my dad knew exactly where it went.
Dad knew things. He knew that the tiny gas station with filthy restrooms halfway between our house and my grandparents’ house stocked Yoohoo. He knew that the vending machine in the workshop of the construction company where he worked had grape Nihi, even though the button you had to mash to get one was just handwritten in. He also knew that if you shimmied along between the side of the workshop and the fence separating the construction company’s lot to the next door neighbor, you’d come to an apple tree brimming with delicious apples with a branch than overhung the fence and you could pick all the apples you wanted at will.
He had to know about the long driveway leading to the south with tree limbs overhanging, the weeds growing up tall between the tire tracks. When you’re a kid and don’t know how to drive a car, if you think about it, a one-lane drive is treacherous. What if a car comes up the other way? Will you crash? Will you come to a standstill? Will one of the cars have to back up the whole way? What if the driver isn’t that great at backing up? Will you crash? Etc.
We drove what seemed like miles, the bright sun disappearing behind the thick canopy of live oak limbs overhead. Finally, Dad stopped the car.
We got out and stepped into an overgrown garden. A gigantic fountain lay dry in the center of the garden. Horticulture and weeds jockeyed for position in the sun’s rays. This garden had clearly once been splendid.
Beyond the garden was the most beautiful house I had ever seen. It was tall, stately, ornate, and at the same time decrepit and a little creepy. It was huge. Even in the bright southern sun, it seemed cold and foreboding.
“Let’s take a look around!” my dad said. My mom, always game for a bit of adventure, began peeking in windows. It was no use. All we could see was darkness inside.
My parents chatted about how much the mansion was worth. “How would you like to move into that?” my dad asked, obviously rhetorically.
No creatures emerged to assault us. No ghosts appeared. Nothing bad happened. When we had looked around at everything there was to see, we piled back in the car to continue our journey home.
Still, this was the most exciting thing that had happened to me in months. I couldn’t wait to write about it in my writing class. Maybe I’d even get called on to read it out loud. I was contemplating the adjectives I’d use. The house was just so beautiful. I mentioned all of this out loud.
“Oh,” my dad said, “No, don’t tell anyone about this.” While tramping around an abandoned out-of-the-way mansion wasn’t illegal, it isn’t the sort of thing you want to go around advertising.
That week I wrote about something else. Mushrooms, maybe. Or socks.
(I should probably point out to my parents that I am now publishing this story publicly.)