What I learned from Water Balloons – Part 3 – The Clubhouse

Parts 1 and 2 were written several years ago, and a friend of mine read them recently and wanted to know the rest of the story, so I’m bringing the first 2 back and adding part 3 of what appears to be a never ending story.

The Clubhouse – Design and Acquisition

Having avoided both Mr. Barlow and the cannibal pygmies to successfully reach the clubhouse we were ready to begin planning the ambush. Well almost. First we had to make sure the clubhouse stayed standing.

The idea to even HAVE a clubhouse came from our addiction to “The Little Rascals“. Spanky and Alfalfa had a clubhouse and they were younger than us! We just assumed they built theirs, and if they could then so could we. Once we decided that all we needed were tools and materials. Dad had a garage full of tools, most of which we were forbidden to touch. But where were we going to find wood for the walls, roof and door? What about a window? What about lights, heat for the winter, something to build a floor with to keep us out of the dirt and mud? Fortunately for us there was junk day.


Junk day happened 4 times a year. On junk day you could drag anything you wanted to get rid of out to the curb and the town would pick it up and haul it off to the dump. Obviously junk day was some adult’s idea, because for kids junk day was almost like Christmas! As everyone dragged their stuff out we would explore the neighborhood looking for new treasure. We all did it, but brother Mikie was a master scrounger – he could find all the valuable stuff like he had a catalog in his head. One junk day he brought home a trumpet. None of us could play it, but we had one. Another time he found an entire set of encyclopedia, except for “S”. You’ve got to remember before there was Google there was the encyclopedia – the source of all knowledge and homework answers. No more hiking to the library for the Ward boys after that – as long as we weren’t writing about Saturn or South Dakota or Silver. Anyway…

The next junk day we hit the streets. Our neighborhood was really one big circle surrounding a health clinic and a vacant lot where we played. So we divided up into quadrants and set out on our bikes. If anyone found anything we could use they’d holler as loud as they could and whoever was in the next quadrant would run over to help guard the find until we all got there for the evaluation. We learned to call each other from 3 or 4 blocks away from our mothers. Whenever ma wanted us home she’d open the front door and scream “Charles and Michael Ward get home this instant!”. Ma would scream once and we’d damn well better get home fast. We tried saying we didn’t hear her ONCE. We were over in Jimmy’s yard, about 6 houses down. Ma didn’t argue with us, she just walked over, picked up the phone and called Jimmy’s mother. But she didn’t ask if Mrs. Vincent had heard her like we thought she would. Mrs. Vincent was in the house and maybe, possibly didn’t. But Ma was more clever, she asked Mrs. Vincent to ask Jimmy if HE had heard her. Jimmy had already learned he couldn’t lie to his mother so we were doomed. Ma calmly hung up the phone, looked at us and said “well I guess if you can’t hear me calling you to come home you’ll just have to stay home from now on.” Just like that we were grounded for a week. Junk day…

After an hour of scrounging we heard brother Mikie calling us. He had hit the motherlode! Somebody down the street had been flooring their attic and had a stack of plywood left over and were THROWING IT AWAY. Two full 4×8 sheets and half of another. Almost the whole clubhouse in 1 pile. But we had to get it all home before somebody else tried to claim it. A 4×8 sheet of plywood is big, bulky, and especially heavy for a bunch of 8 and 9 year olds to try and carry home. First we thought we’d tie it to our bikes and drag it home, but 1) there was no holes for a rope, 2) we didn’t have any rope and 3) even if we did no one was brave enough to get their dad’s drill to make the hole so that was out. We asked Jimmy if he’d ask his dad to help us with his truck but Jimmy had just punched his little brother in the head the day before and wasn’t asking his father for anything. So we resigned ourselves to carrying it home.

Even though our neighborhood was a big circle the house that was throwing away the wood was all the way on the opposite side of that circle from our house, a good 4 or 5 blocks in a regular neighborhood. It took 4 of us to carry 1 sheet and there were 6 of us that day, so we could leave two guards and that should be good to deal with any other kids who tried to take it. If an adult showed up we were screwed, but they weren’t due home from work for another hour or so. We set out down the middle of the street because the sidewalk wasn’t wide enough and so we wouldn’t accidentally slam the wood into someone’s car. The problem was every time a car came down the street we had to get out of the way, standing the sheet up sideways and sliding it between parked cars until the traffic was gone. It took us ½ an hour to get that first sheet into our back yard, and we were exhausted. The two guards were calling us to hurry up because they had to get home before their fathers. We dropped off the first sheet and trudged back for the second.

Returning to the pile we knew we had to hurry up or we’d all be in trouble. Not wanting to dodge traffic and too tired to go through that again we decided to cut through the vacant lot behind the health center. Everything went great til we got to the fences of the houses across the street from our house. We had two choices we could try our friend Klaus’ yard. But his father and mother were first generation Germans and when they yelled at us we couldn’t understand what the hell they were saying and we were afraid of what we were being threatened with. So we chose the Pocaczeski’s yard. The Pocaczeski’s were great people, too old to be on the parent’s network they still let us cut through their yard, didn’t take our baseballs when they flew into their yard, they didn’t even make us pay when we broke their picture window! So we were legally safe but logistically challenged – they had a 6 ft stockade fence around their yard because they had a pool. We were a little more than 4 feet tall so you can see the problem I think.

We had just seen a war movie where the GIs made a human ladder to get over some barbed wire fence so we figured we could do that. I stood against the fence and brother Mikie climbed up and stood on my shoulders. That left Jimmy and Klaus to lift the sheet up to brother Mikie and him to shove it over the fence. On the first try Mikie fell off before the guys got the plywood off the ground. On the second try it was actually in his hands, but when he said “I got it” the other guys let go, the board was too heavy and we both went down with the plywood landing on top of both of us. We were running out of time. On the third try we actually got the wood up to the top of the fence and when Mikie shoved it up it knocked him down. This time the board landed edge first on my stomach and knocked the wind out of me. We were going to try one more time, then take the wood back down to the cut through to the street. We’d still have 2 blocks to go but we’d probably avoid a trip to the Emergency Room. Somehow we got it over the fence, we jumped over the fence and hauled it to the yard. Once more piece to go.

We got back to the pile and found our two guards fighting with 2 other neighborhood kids. These were kids we sometimes hung out with, but we could beat the living shit out of them one day and play baseball with them the next. So they weren’t close friends. Mikie and I had pummeled them the week before so they stopped when we showed up and started throwing rocks at us. Rock fights were like original sin in our neighborhood, strictly forbidden by all parents, even the ones not on the network. Rock fights frequently required real medical attention, usually some stitches, once in a while some dental work which parents really hated though it didn’t really bother us too much. We never got closer than 25 feet to throw the rocks, We hated each other in the moment, we knew we were going to get hurt a little bit, but we weren’t savages. We didn’t want anyone to actually have to STAY at the hospital. And none of us wanted the parents finding out, we’d be grounded for a month plus whatever violence our parents deemed appropriate. Usually inversely proportional to the amount of real injury incurred. So it was easy to stop a rock fight if you wanted to, someone just had to start hollering “ROCK FIGHT, ROCK FIGHT” until a parent came out to catch whoever was throwing rocks. Usually the fight ended before the first ROCK got out of whoever’s mouth. That was the case here, and since we only had half a sheet left we got it to the yard with no more hassle. We had our walls, now we needed a roof.

Our dad was always doing “home improvement” projects and one of his early ones was installing a set of sliding shower doors on the bathtub. Which was cool because before that we had semi-transparent shower curtains and ma had a habit of walking into the bathroom while we were showering or bathing to make sure we were washing properly. That’s ok when you’re 4 or 5, but when you’re almost grown up at 8 or 9 you don’t want your mom in the bathroom while you’re naked. Dad wanted privacy when he took his bath after work. He worked two jobs and that was how he relaxed when he got home. But we only had the one bathroom and the man could soak in the tub for a couple of hours. So it was either go out and pee in the yard which was our choice, but Ma thought that was disgusting and made us go into the bathroom and interrupt Dad’s bath. He didn’t like it, we didn’t like it, but that didn’t really matter to Ma. So dad put up the shower doors – corrugated orange plastic sliding doors. Even we knew they looked ridiculous but that’s what he bought, and once he paid for them they were going up.

From the day he put them up ma complained about those ugly doors. Every Sunday she’d scour the weekly ads looking for something on sale to replace those doors. She’d point them out to Dad and he’d say “I just paid for those doors I’m not spending more money on something that works just fine.” This went on for a couple of months, every single week. Every Sunday after church the Rickel’s ad would come out. Ma would cut out the frosted glass doors, and dad would roar we couldn’t afford it. You could set the clock by it. But we knew it couldn’t go on forever. One day ma was in cleaning the bathroom when we heard a crash. Me and brother Mikie ran in and found ma in the bathtub, leaning against the shower door. The cracked shower door. The cracked in half shower door. The now useless cracked in half shower door. Ma swears to this day she was cleaning the tub and slipped, but we went to Rickel’s after church that Sunday and Dad bought frosted glass shower doors. The plastic orange doors were moved out to the alley next to the garbage cans to wait on the next junk day. Fortunately for us ma only broke one door, the other was fine.

And so we had the roof for our clubhouse.

Next – Part 4 – Clubhouse Construction

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