“Ready or not, here I come!”
|Larry and Mary around 1953-54,|
a few years before this story took place
The problem was, so did the other kids. Finding a new and clever place to hide was a real test of a kid’s ingenuity. Today we might think that some of these hiding places were extremely dangerous, and wonder at the parents who let their children play in such places, completely unsupervised. But this was a different time, a different way of life, and different people.
Danger was not an obstacle to these kids. They lived with that every time their dads went down the mines. Uncertainty and suspense were not new either. That was part of life, when mines closed, miners went out on strike, there was an accident in the mine, any of the other familiar calamities of a miner’s family life. Playing games like hide-and-seek in abandoned mines and old buildings was exciting and fun, and by the standards of those days, completely harmless.
But Larry was running out of new hiding places. And tonight he was tired. The company had replaced their old outhouse that day, and he and his brother and his father had dug the hole for the new building. It was hard work—the soil in that area was shallow and shaly, hard digging. But there was nothing for it, the old outhouse hole was almost full and the company men were coming with the new building. So they got to work.
The digging didn’t take too long, because his uncles stopped by to help. Getting a new outhouse was a community event—neighbors stopped by to check on progress, drink coffee and offer advice. The visiting slowed the progress but made the job more enjoyable, especially when Uncle Ot stopped by. Uncle Ot was always full of stories and jokes, and the occasion called forth some of his spicier material.
The hole was finally finished just before the company men arrived on the truck with the new outhouse. It wasn’t an entirely new building, actually—they carefully removed the outer walls of the outhouse and the roof, prying them loose from the venerable and well-used “box,” which was where the seat and the opening into the dirt hole was located. The walls and roof were attached to a new box, and the whole thing put in place over the newly dug hole with great seriousness and gravity. Uncle Ot christened the completed job with his beer bottle, and everyone went inside for supper, even the company men.
Not long after, Booge came looking for kids to play hide-and-seek. Larry and his twin sister Mary were always ready to play, as were the Clendenin kids next door. It didn’t take long for kids to gather from all around the neighborhood, and the game began. Larry took Mary’s hand and they set off to look for a good hiding place while Shirley counted to 100.
“Let’s hide in the washroom,” Mary whispered.
“In there?” Larry was scornful. “That’s a baby place to hide. They’ll look in there first thing. I got a better idea.”
“So what’s your big idea?” Mary asked. Larry always treated her ideas like she was dumb, and it made her mad.
“Shut up and come with me.” Larry moved quickly through the soft twilight air.
“Where are we going?” Mary didn’t like being told to shut up, and she was going to prove she didn’t have to listen to him. They were twins and she had just as much right to talk as he did.
“SHHHH!” Larry was making straight for the new outhouse, and it dawned on Mary that this might be his “better idea.”
“In there?” She almost said it out loud she was so surprised.
“SHHHH!” Larry warned again. “Listen, who will ever think of looking for us in here? We can get down under the box, on the edge of the hole.”
“Ewww!” Mary crinkled up her nose. “In the outhouse hole? I’m not going in there!”
“Aw, no one’s even used it yet. It’s clean as a whistle. And do you think Shirley will look there? Course she won’t, she’s a girl.”
Mary studied on this for a minute. It was a good idea, and Larry was right, although she wasn’t going to tell him so. Shirley would never look down there.
“Okay,” she agreed, still a little reluctant. “Help me get in there, Larry.”
Larry put one foot down inside the box and felt around with it for the edge of the hole. “Okay, I’m going in,” he said. He braced himself by placing one hand on each side of the “seat” hole and put his other foot down into the hole. Getting his foot on firm ground, he lowered himself carefully into the seat and got comfortable. Mary followed his example, and perched on the other side of the hole under the seat.
They waited. They heard Shirley counting “97-98-99-100! Here I come, ready or not.” They didn’t move a muscle, even though it was hard not to giggle when they heard Shirley passing right outside the door of the outhouse. They heard her finding other kids one after another. “One, two, three on you, I found you,” she’d sing out, and they heard the found kid groan and come out of hiding.
Shirley came back to the outhouse and stood outside it for a moment. Larry and Mary held their breath. Shirley opened the door, put one foot inside. Then they heard the door close and Shirley moved on to look elsewhere.
Things were going very well. Shirley found everyone except Larry and Mary, and now the other kids were helping her hunt. It was perfect.
They didn’t figure on Idy Mae. She’d come over to visit their mother, and stayed to drink coffee on the porch. One cup led to another and another, and soon Idy Mae said she thought she might go “inspect” the new outhouse. She lumbered off the porch toward the new building, oblivious of the massive manhunt being conducted by the children out in the yard.
Larry and Mary were still as mice when the cat is near in their perfect hiding place. They listened to the kids calling their names and grinned at each other. This was better than the best game of hiding seek they could remember, and they were without a doubt the winners in this game.
The door creaked open and heavy footsteps sounded over their heads. Had they been found? Had Shirley figured out where they were? How could she know where they were? The footsteps stopped and they heard heavy breathing and the sound of clothing rustling.
And that was when Mary realized what was happening just over their heads. The two kids looked up as Idy Mae was settling down. Larry saw more of Idy Mae than he had ever seen in his life, a full moon that was descending with remarkable speed.
“Idy Mae! Idy Mae! Don’t!” Mary screamed.
Idy Mae Estep moved faster than she had in the past 50 years. Her big face filled the opening in the box as the two children tried to scramble out from under.
“What in tarnation are you two young ‘uns doing down there?” she thundered.
It took a while to explain, and while they were trying Shirley appeared in the door.
“One, two, three on you, you’re it!” she cried.
Larry and Mary a couple years ago--I think she's trying to throttle him, and perhaps with good reason!