Easy as Falling Off a Roof

Shingle Surfing 4th of July

For a year and a half, I lived in a Colonial style house in the Beach Park section of Clinton. The house was a Royal Barry Wills design with a Gambrel roof and a shed dormer on the back. It had a kitchen ell and attached carriage house. The roof was cedar shakes, and the siding was real clapboard. A beautiful house.

My bedroom was on the second floor and I found that I could climb out of the dormer window and scamper around on the roof. The kitchen roof was a step down from the roof on the back of the house, and then I could climb down onto the garage roof from there. I was a bit of a monkey at fifteen and had dexterity and balance that I would give my left arm for today.

We had lived there almost a year when the 4th of July came around in 1978. We moved there when my mother separated from her second husband and they were putting their marriage back together as the trial separation ended. I had been sick that day, so the rest of the family had gone off to watch the fireworks without me. It was uncertain if they would hold the show, since it had rained all day.

When I heard the first booms of the fireworks at 9 pm, I climbed out onto the roof to see if I could catch part of the show; out the dormer window, hold the dormer as I went along the back of the second story, then up the house roof and down onto the kitchen roof.

From the kitchen roof, I could see a few of the bigger explosions of color. It was still misty, but the rain had given way about an hour earlier. The finale was partially visible as it started to sprinkle again, and when it was over, I stood up to make my way back to the window of my room.

The kitchen roof received a lot of shade from a very large maple tree behind the house. I think that was the reason for the bit of moss on that side of the kitchen roof. When there was a little rain on it, it turned into a slime. A very slippery slime.

As I stood, I lost traction. With the reactions of a fifteen-year-old, I froze into a skateboarding pose and just rode it out. I would definitely slide off of the roof, so I was looking for a “good” way to land. There was no avoiding the huge maple tree’s trunk. It was dead ahead. The best I could do was to hit it squarely and use it to scrub off some speed for the rest of the fall.

Off the edge of the roof I went, still upright, with my hands and feet aimed at the center of the tree trunk. I hit it very hard, but with four limbs to break the fall, no bones broke. But then I was still several feet off the ground and had no choice but to slide down the rough tree, because there was no way to hold on to the huge trunk after hitting it at a high speed. I nearly bounced off, but somehow got a slight purchase and put on the brakes with my sneakers and landed on the ground, which was soft.

After hitting the ground I fell over, but did not come to any more harm. I scraped my hands up and my feet were a little sore, but nothing was bad. Then I realized one new problem. I was outside of the house, in the rain, and no one else was home. They locked everything up.

Ah! Except the garage. Once into the garage, the kitchen door was unlocked, and I could be back in the house before the rest of the family returned. And I said nothing to my mother until the next day.

Mom was cool about it. She just went out and looked at the roof at the tree and shook her head. She told me I was a lucky kid and asked me what I would have done if I landed in the wood pile instead of hitting the tree. Thankfully, I’ll never know.

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