Secret     Passage     Ways                    

Nobody but us knew where we snuck off to when we did just
that. We were kids who built our secret hiding places amongst
the secret passage ways and trails behind my grandmotherâ
€™s little cottage through the woods that we told nobody else
about.

How we started this none of us recall. I was the youngest in
the circle of cousins and friends involved and it was already
going on the first time I was sworn to secrecy and allowed to
tag along. I was scared enough a few times to want to turn
around and run back to my grandmother’s cottage in the
woods, but didn’t because I didn’t want to run back
alone. Those in the group ranged from 1-5 years older. Ten
year olds to me back then at five seemed almost grown up.

What our secret passage way through the woods took us to
was an old, one-room log cabin about two miles from my
grandmother’s little cottage that I always thought was the
furthest thing back in the woods that ever existed.

The abandoned log cabin was grand looking when I saw it the
first time. But that first time, I was too afraid immediately to
enter, believing one of the kids that an old hunter lived there
and would return home soon to send his dogs running after us
through the woods.

Inside the cabin as I finally decided to enter was culture
shock. Those who walked with me there had been there plenty
of times before to hang their posters and clean the inside.
That’s where my grandmother’s broom went to, I
realized. Same as with her bucket and dust pan that she
blamed her dog for carrying away.

The room was only about 15 by 15 feet in size, though back
then it seemed grand on the largest scale to me. The garden of
wild orange Tiger Lilly flowers growing around it caught my
attention and imagination.  Though my cousin was 10, she was
deadly afraid of Tiger Lillies that also grew around my
grandmother’s cottage. Afraid they’d come to life.

“Wonder who lived here?� I asked my brother, cousin
and friends. Nobody knew. All they seemed to know for sure
was that nobody but them had been inside that cabin for the
longest time.

“You should’ve seen it the first time we came out,�
Richard said trying to scare me. “There were huge spiders
big as my hand crawling around and about 10 snakes in here.â
€�

“Knock it off, Richard,� my brother told him, “or
you’ll get banned for a day.� Banned for a day? I
realized that the majority ruled and reserved that right to ban
one of them if the others saw fit. Only Richard had ever been
banned. He brought a baseball bat with him once and busted
out the one small window he said by accident. He was banned
for 3 days.

“Look at this stuff,� my cousin said to me, showing me
an old chest containing  baby clothes and dolls -- belongings
that made me wonder if someone didn’t just abandon the
little log house or die somewhere outside on the property.
There was a marriage certificate inside it dated 1843 and
some photos of people who looked really frightening to me.

My cousin, who would grow up to be a school principal in
Ohio, pointed out to me that all the baby clothes had ties.
There were no zippers or buttonholes made with machines. â
€œThese clothes are very old, probably from the mid 1800s,â
€� she said. She said they were all handmade.

The photographs were kept inside an old photo book with a
green velvet cover and clasp lock that intrigued me. The date
of 1886 was on one of the photos of a man who looked as
though he could’ve been right off a Viking ship. They
were the scariest looking group of people.

“If we moved, mom wouldn’t have just left that kind of
stuff,� I rationalized to them.

We all had our own versions of fantasy about the place, about
what it was once and what it would become to each of us. I
liked the dusty old dolls that I wanted to take back to my
grandmother’s with me. Of course, I wasn’t allowed,
because then I would have to explain where I got them.

A few empty flower vases sat on one shelf on one wall next to
the door that now also housed some Pittsburgh Pirate player
cards and some of my grandmother’s stolen Lucky Strike
cigarettes.

“Wait till you see this!� my cousin said, pulling me out
back. In the backyard of the cabin was a hand made see-saw,
the largest one I have ever seen. The base of it was a big tree
stump and a large, long board. In the middle a huge metal
clamp attached to a spike coming through the board and
down into the trunk that allowed the board to move up and
down freely. My brother seemed to think that whoever lived
there or at least whoever built the see-saw had been a
woodworker or someone from a big city who built the first
public playgrounds. He wondered how someone out in the
sticks where we were had the technology or tools to build that
contraption.

Children definitely lived in that log cabin. We took turns on
that see-saw that took us at least 10-feet in the air when it was
our turn to go up. My brother would not let me sit on one side
with Richard on the other, because Richard was the biggest
kid there and liked to quickly get off the see-saw when the
other kid was high up in the air to send his unsuspecting
playmate crashing down to the ground in a hurry.

Besides the see-saw, there was a swing that hung from one tall
tree. It was handmade wood and the ropes that it hung on
were old jute braids that remarkably stood the test of time
and exposure to the elements and did not rot. The tree above
was huge and must have protected the jute from rains other
than the heaviest that fell.

“Let the Squirt try it out,� Richard said volunteering
me to try out the swing.

I was afraid, but my friend Missy, two year older, was not.
She sat on the swing and gradually built up to a fun height
above us like a pendulum back and forth laughing and
giggling about how fun it was. My turn, now that I saw
someone else do it. The swing and the dolls became our
reasons to go on the secret passage ways to the log cabin.

It was the ultimate kids’ clubhouse because not an adult
for miles knew it was there.

Or so we thought.

School was about to start after Labor Day and my brother
and I wouldn’t be back except perhaps one weekend a
month. The weekend before Halloween that year we went to
stay with our grandmother and planned with our friends
another visit to the cabin. We always had to pretend we were
at each other’s house or they were at my grandmotherâ
€™s playing in order to be able to leave without anyone
knowing we were hiking through the woods. Only we could
never say we were at Missy’s house. For reasons which we
didn’t understand, we were not allowed to go there to
play.

On that Halloween trip to the cabin, Richard and my friend
Missy came with my brother and me. Larry was sick so he
wasn’t allowed out. Our older cousin did not visit that
weekend, so it was just the four of us going. We had never
gone there without the older cousin, but we weren’t afraid
without her.

Richard and my brother snuck more cigarettes and sat in the
cabin smoking and reading comic books while my friend and I
took turns on the swing and then played on the see-saw. We
didn’t go to the same schools but talked by phone
sometimes in between visits there for updates on the best
cartoons, movies and books.

Missy screamed in horror when Richard came from the cabin
holding and appearing to aim an old rifle he found when he
looked up into the old chimney. He wanted to see if the gun
would shoot and it did. Loudly. He aimed into the air and hit
a tree that was full of resting birds.

Richard laughed when the loud gunfire echoed across the
field and a few dead birds fell from the tree almost
simultaneously as when the rest of that large flock took off
into the sky. My brother came running out and told Richard
to put the gun back where he found it and not to try a second
shot to see if it had any more ammunition in it. My friend and
I were on the see-saw when Richard killed the birds and
probably alarmed people in the few homes around my
grandmother’s house and her included.

When Richard put the gun back into the fireplace, he came
back outside, ran towards my friend on the see-daw and
pulled her off. I fell to the ground from 10 feet up with a thud
but fell backwards off the see-saw and hit the ground flat on
my back. They thought I was dead. I was unconscious and the
back of my head was bleeding. Missy started crying and my
brother came outside and saw what Richard did.

One of them took a bandana that they brought to the cabin
and put it around my head. They were in a panic because we
were 2 miles into the woods. Boy scout that he was, my
brother grabbed a blanket left behind by the ghost family and
they started carrying me back to my grandmothers holding
onto the edges of the rolled blanket.

I woke up when we were in the woods about midway. My
head hurt badly and the bandana was covering my eyes. I
tried to remove it.

“Don’t move that. Leave it alone,â€� Missy told me. â
€œYou busted your head and we’re going home.â€�

“Her brain is oozing out,� Richard said trying to joke
around and minimize the situation. “Oh, the squirt will be
ok. Her back’s not broken.�

“Shut up, asshole,� my brother told Richard. I was
fading in and out but I knew he was threatening to kick
Richard’s butt if I were really injured. He was scared and
that made me scared.

When my grandmother looked up from watering her flowers
and saw the three of them carrying me on a blanket and my
brother and Missy crying that I was hurt, she told them to put
me down gently on the grass. She yelled for Missy’s dad
outside in his yard to call an ambulance and I was taken to
the hospital. I hadn't damaged the corrective surgery that I
had at 3 and wouldn't need another body cast for another 6
months, so Richard wasn't banished from our circle forever as
I might've wished at the time.

When our parents learned where we had been and about our
secret passage ways through the woods to the cabin, we were
all grounded through Christmas except for Richard. His
parents did not believe in punishing him.

In the spring, my grandmother moved from the cottage and I
never went back to the cabin. Missy and I kept in touch by
phone for a while, but the friendship faded because I wasnâ
€™t allowed to visit there. She seemed to get in trouble for
being on the phone and I could hear her dad yelling at her to
hang up.
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