It seems as i f I have always found curiosity to be more compelling than fear. My mother insists that my explorations started as soon as I could walk. I was born in Florida. My father was the superintendent of schools. Mother did her best to raise three children. Mother insists that she took me out of the crib and put me into a bed because I had developed the habit of climbing the sides of the crib and sleeping on the railing.
I dont remember crib climbing. The earliest climb I recall was my first ascent of the pedestal. There was a stone pedestal in the front hall of our Florida home. It was perhaps four feet high and had a platform at its top about fifteen inches square. When my brothers or I wandered into trouble, Mother punished us by making us sit on top of the pedestal. As soon as Mother walked away, the troublemaker was trapped. I hated being stuck in one place. The worst part of sitting on the pedestal was that sooner or later my father would walk through the front door. If he found me on the pedestal, it would announce that I was in trouble.
It became a mission in my two-year-old brain to learn how to climb down off this stone pinnacle. One day while my mother was busy with my brothers, I decided to explore the ominous pillar. The pedestal stood at one end of a long planter. Using a box as a step, I climbed into the planter. Then I teetered along the edge using Mothers plants as handholds. Soon the top of the pedestal came into view at eyeball height. Now it was merely a matter of wiggling up the same way I wriggled into my fathers lap when I wanted him to read to me. Before I knew it, Id inched my way to the top of the pedestal. Once on the summit, I learned a lesson known to cats and climbers: climbing up is easier than climbing down. I was trapped, just as I would have been had my mother put me there. Calling for help was out of the question. Id gotten myself onto the pedestal; I must get myself off. I sat in silence searching for a way down, but escape eluded me.
Time slowed to a crawl. I felt lonely, and the stone made my bottom cold, but I dared not cry out. Then my worst nightmare came to pass. Father came through the front door. Not having sufficient vocabulary to explain either my achievement or my predicament, I burst into tears. Father put down his briefcase, took me in his arms, and went to find my mother. Mother looked at the two of us as if wed lost our minds: "Shes not in trouble." But, Father told her, he found me on the pedestal. They summoned my older brother Duke, who was eight years old. Duke claimed that hed had nothing to do with my being on the pedestal.
My brother Lamar came in; he was six. He tried to tell my parents that Id climbed up on the pedestal all by myself. As usual, Lamar saw everything, but Lamar had a speech impediment. I could understand him, but for some reason no one else could. By this time, I was content to enjoy the confusion. I even added to it by babbling all the words I knew: "Daddy, peanut, swim, swim, swim, Daddy, peanut, swim, swim, swim." This was the way of the world. My parents thought they knew all, but they didnt. Lamar spoke the truth, but no one understood him. Duke was blamed for something he didnt do, and I learned that life on a pedestal is cold, hard, unforgiving, and best avoided.
Excerpted from A Pearl in the Storm by Tori Murden McClure. Copyright © 2009 by Tori Murden McClure. Excerpted by permission of Collins, a division of HarperCollins, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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