Old Enough to Climb the Roof

LAST year my 12-year-old son actually offered to help with the fall chores. Because he has never liked yard chores, Ramzy's offer came as a surprise. I waited for the conditions which were to be set on me in return for this outburst of generosity. Shortly, I learned that Ramzy's volunteering to help meant that he wanted to participate in a responsibility reserved only for me. Because the leaves and pine needles accumulate very heavily on the sky lights, shingles, and roof valleys, I have found it necessary to thoroughly clean all the debris from the roof. Armed with a dependable broom, I usually take the better part of a Saturday morning to carry out the treacherous and tedious task.

My son's notion of cleaning a roof was to hook up the new blower vacuum cleaner to an extension cord and to let the machine do the work. After all, I was informed, wasn't the machine made for man? No sooner had my second son, Ryan, heard his older brother's proposition, than he too wanted to be part of the project.

When told that the roof was too steep for a seven-year-old, Ryan put forth his best and most plausible argument: Had he not always helped with and finished his older brother's raking chores? And is he not the outdoors type who always helps with the family garden and flower beds? Even though all his statements were painfully true, I had to turn down his request. Ryan's last determined stand proved to be of great importance: ``So what if I am younger, that's no fair, I can do the job. I like helping you, Dad, and I like raking leaves,'' he pleaded.

Much later that night I was going over the day's events. It finally dawned on me that my soon-to-be-13-year-old son was growing up. Was he, after all, attempting to tell me that he could assume new responsibilities reserved for older and more mature individuals? And was seven-year-old Ryan telling me that a steep roof was yet another challenge to be conquered?

No sooner had these thoughts crossed my mind than memories of my first roof-climbing experience come back to me.

I went back to my childhood days in a Jerusalem suburb located in the Judean hills. My widowed mother had instilled independence in her five children at an early age. I am a twin, the second to last of the five, beating my brother by five minutes. On many occasions this proved to be an asset since that meant that I was not last in line. This did not help, though, when it was time for me to climb to the roof.

Our Jerusalem house had a flat roof around which a 31/2 foot parapet extended. Debris collected there that had to be swept from the drain openings to keep the seasonal rains from leaking into the second story. Because the roof was accessed only by climbing a ladder from the second story stair landing, my twin brother and I were not allowed up there. As soon as my oldest brothers Tony and David disappeared through the door of the shed-like structure beyond the ceiling, my twin brother and I would run down the stairs and watch the cleaning activity from the yard.

It was on one of these occasions that my twin brother and I were told that the remains of a German World War II Luftwaffe plane were on the roof. We were referred to father's library and to his World War II books which had numerous pictures of such planes. Tony and David's descriptions of the plane matched the pictures very well. When we begged to see some proof of the plane's existence, an iron rod or some part of leftover construction material was barely eased over the parapet. ``Although it crashed, the plane is still intact, and we can't show you anything else, because it's too heavy to lift,'' we were told.

Although we were told this fabulous story only once, I believed it with every fiber of my being. Not only did I feel cheated by having been denied access to the roof, but I also looked forward to the day that I, too, would get to climb the ladder and see the plane for myself. Many of our neighbors were German Jewish immigrants, and Yiddish was spoken as a primary language in the neighborhood. The admixture of the numerous World War II tales and the daily interactions with its survivors helped me weave numerous fantasies that made the presence of the plane all the more real. Having pledged to the discoverers of this family treasure that the secret of the plane would not be divulged to anyone, I dreamed about the day when I would finally sit in the cockpit to try to make that thing fly.

Seven years later, and at the age of 12, my twin brother and I were finally allowed to help with the roof cleaning only because Tony and David had gone off to boarding school. Although the seven-year period did much to help dispel my childhood fantasy, the desire to climb the roof was as strong as it was that first time. And so, on the appointed day, my very best childhood friend and I placed the ladder on the second story landing and leaned it against the wall.

As my brother Ramzy began to climb the ladder, I could hardly wait. Foot after foot and hand after hand we eagerly took the rungs one at a time. Then he and I slowly and carefully climbed the ladder and helped each other through the door.

Even though I knew that the plane could not have existed on our roof, the first thing I looked for on that day was my secret plane. More important than the plane, however, was the fact that my twin brother and I had proved that we were both mature enough and old enough to handle responsibility.

Even though I never divulged my secret desire to climb that ladder to anyone, this fantasy of my childhood has now come full circle in my sons' desire to climb the roof to prove their worth, not to me, but to themselves. How could I deny them that opportunity?

Armed with an electric blower and an extension cord, my sons and I recently climbed our roof to carry out the annual roof cleaning. I couldn't help but remember that 32 years ago this fall two other children climbed the roof some 7,000 miles away with the same wide-eyed and ecstatic looks as these two boys in a small rural town in Arkansas. And just as I didn't find a secret plane on my roof, neither did Ryan, my younger son, find reindeer tracks on his roof.

What a joy it is to share in our children's experiences and to relive our own experiences through the uniqueness of our children's words and actions. Thus it is that the world's wonders are most frequently seen through the blithe and innocent eyes of children.

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