Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There

In addition to the dark and the open-to-the-weather back porch and the lurking spiders there was something else that made me reluctant to seek refuge in our basement during the Palm Sunday tornadoes of 1965 that I wrote about in my last entry.

There was The Telephone Man.

I never saw The Telephone Man, but I heard about him.

He came to visit one day while I was sitting on the living room floor of the adjacent apartment. Helen B. (of Moose Lodge fame) was renting the place and occasionally tending me at the time.

It happened on a sunny afternoon - maybe just a few weeks before the Palm Sunday storm.

Helen B. had disappeared into the back part of the rather long apartment.

Suddenly - and rather frantically - she began calling my name.

It was a difficult thing to process. I knew where I was - and I assumed she did, too - so it wasn't as if I was lost and needed to be found. And whatever I was playing with I'd played with before, so it wasn't as if I was in trouble for doing something I shouldn't have been doing. And I wasn't trying to hide anything I'd done in the past, so it wasn't as if she'd just discovered a prior misdeed and was calling me for punishment.

But she wasn't calling me in the sort of tone of voice that I associated with fun and cookies, either.

Not sure what was going on, I decided to just continue sitting there playing and hope for the best.

She didn't seem very happy with me when she finally reappeared after several minutes of silence.

"There you are! Didn't you hear me? Why didn't you come?!"

I don't think I said much. Maybe I shrugged. I'm pretty sure I looked away from her, unsure of myself and more than a little embarrassed. If Helen B. were still alive today, maybe I'd email her and explain that there had been something strange in her tone - something that hinted at trouble. Continuing to sit and play seemed far preferable to me than getting up and getting involved with that.

I heard her side of the story later - probably when she was sharing it with my mother later that day.

Apparently Helen B. had opened up her back door to the back hallway that our two apartments shared and then gone out to the back porch for some reason - maybe to take her trash out.

A man was there. He shouldn't have been. The locked exterior door at the bottom of the back stairwell should have kept him out. I never found out why it didn't.

He said he was from the telephone company. Checking the lines, I think he was said to have said.

Helen B. wasn't buying it. Frightened by his lame story and suspicious manner, she began calling my name....

I'm not exactly sure what happened during the next few critical moments. I think Helen B. managed to get back into the hallway and lock the door to the porch behind her while the guy just stood there, unsure of how to proceed.

Once she had finished scolding me for not coming to her when I'd been called, she either phoned or went downstairs to the hardware store owned by our landlord and told him what had just transpired. He immediately went out back and searched for the alleged telephone man, to no avail.

A call to the phone company revealed that no workers had been dispatched to our area.

The guy had obviously been an impostor up to no good.

It was unsettling to think of the privacy of our back porch being violated in this way - of our lower back door's lock not being as secure as we had thought it was.

Just inside and to the left of that back door were the steps down to our basement. Anyone who got past that door and its lock could just as easily go down as up.

Although it's doubtful that fake telephone men would be hiding out in that basement during a tornado warning on a dark Palm Sunday night, it was obviously possible - and that possibility was one more factor that kept my sister and I from taking shelter down there when we should have.

As unsettling as all that is, however, it is more unsettling to ponder how different things might have turned out had I actually gone to Helen B. when she called me.

By not going to her, the fake phone guy was left to imagine who I might be. Maybe I was a husband. Maybe I was a huge football player boyfriend. Maybe I was a wacko gun collector.

Had I actually appeared as what I was - a very young and confused child - maybe he would have laughed with relief and killed us both.

All I know for sure is that *not* going back there when I was called ended up working out pretty well for us.

In fact, it's hard to imagine a better outcome.

Had I not been there at all, however, it's easy to imagine a far worse one....

1 comment:

  1. My goodness, you were SUCH a wise child! I admit, the same thoughts you summarized as having caused a better outcome occurred to me, too, but then, I have years of reading mystery novels to bolster my deductive ability. ;-) Now I can't help but wonder if the spinster Helen B secretly considered YOU something of a protective male, age notwithstanding??