Hanging by a
Mary Palmer Nowland 2003
Mom finally came out to see what was going on. It
had been several hours since she had seen Tom, my
brother and me. She stuck her head out the backdoor
and looked around the rambling lawn. "Hmmm. Where
are those rascals?" she muttered.
With four young children to ride herd on, two of
whom weren't even in first grade yet, she had her
hands full and her apron too. Ann and Carol were
quickly inspected for any impending danger and she
told them she would be right back. Since our bikes
were sitting there on the patio she headed out
toward the barn.
Dad had built a large, white, two story brick barn.
Downstairs was comprised of several catch pins, a
milking stanchion, and a few bedding stalls big
enough for our 4-H steers. There was a side room
walled off to hold all the feed.
Upstairs was divided in half. One side was the top
of the feed bins downstairs. We would buy dozens of
gunny bags full of grains and feed and run them up a
conveyer belt elevator. This saved carrying the bags
up the stairs one by one. Once everything had been
stacked, we would open trap doors in the floor and
fill the feed bins down a chute.
The other half of upstairs was a loft for storing
chopped hay. Dad had a chopper that could blow hay
up to the top where we could later pitchfork it down
to the feed troughs whenever they needed filling.
The loft took up part of the area and then dropped
off completely. There were two giant glue-lam beams
that spanned the distance from the brink of the loft
to the outer brick wall. Fifteen long feet of dusty
air wafted between the beams and the chopped hay lie
a full twenty feet below. That cubical window of
opportunity is where Tom was swinging when Mom
"Heah, Mom. We're up here in the loft," I called
She sounded grumpy as she climbed the stairs,
"Haven't you heard me calling you? I came out here
to see...oh my word! When did Dad tie that rope up
By that time, Tom was pretty much done swinging and
so, without warning, he dropped. Mother practically
crumpled to her knees, fearing the worst, frozen
away from looking over the edge. I patted her on the
back as we peered down at Tom, safe and sound,
dusting himself off.
As he began to climb up the loft's support wall, I
said to Mom, "Dad said we could have this old rope
and so Tom and I tied it up there this morning. It's
a slip knot Mom. Never budge even with one of Dad's
bulls yanking on it.
"I don't like the sounds of it and I forbid you to
get on it until your father comes home." As she was
talking to Tom, I had shinnied out onto the beam,
several feet away from the edge.
"Watch this, Mom!" Quickly I jumped out into
oblivion and glommed onto the rope like a spider
monkey. I had already been practicing for a half
hour before she found us so I just went for it. Mom
screamed but nothing came out. Gotta have air for
that and she had been partially holding her breath
watching Tom's clamor up the wall.
This was all too much and she folded up like a card
table. Swinging back and forth in front of her, I
offered to go get her a drink of water. It was like
talking with someone who is watching a tennis match,
her head moving in unison with my aerial pendulum
antics. No, she didn't want any water and
furthermore I was to get down immediately.
Off I baled and Tom was left to fend for himself.
"Mom, simmer down. This is really fun, super safe,
and it's a soft landing. That hay is fluffier than a
bed piled with Grandma's quilts. Come on Mom, please
let us play. We are being good."
By then I was back up on deck, so to speak. "Mom,
this is like the trapeze act in Walt Disney's
movieToby Tyler, Circus Boy. Only he had the hard
old dirt to land on and we have the hay. See?" and I
jumped off the loft again.
"AAAAHHHH," she gasped. I was more fearless than was
appropriate for a young lady and after all, I was
only eight. Tom and I had carefully straddled every
rafter out to the center of the beams and back
without incident. Nothing to it.
"Thomas, you are the older one and you should know
better," she accused." "Now I want both of you to
march right into the house. Tom you get in the
shower and Mary, you take a bath in the other
bathroom. I want all this dust out of your hair.
I'll talk to Marion when he gets home and see what
he has to say about all of this. Now march."
As we trundled to the house, we realized that our
future with The Ringley Brothers Circus would hinge
on that knot. Not to mention our limb on the family
tree. Off we went, our hope hanging by a thread.