March 9, 2016: Picnic on the Roof

~by Louis Templeman


Not once did I ever ask my Dad if we could picnic on the roof. Back then we had neighbors who would have talked. He would say, No, to anything out of the ordinary. It was the safer and less embarrassing way, that’s for sure.

On a beautiful November morning I woke my 13-year old up at 3:30 a.m. to see the Leonid meteor showers. I put a sleeping bag on the east side of the roof and I watched shooting stars as my daughter slept curled next to me.

In the morning I had to pay the piper because Sarah got a great joy, not from sleeping through the light show, but from telling her 8 and 5 year old sisters of her rooftop action the night before. Half her sentences ended with “while we were on the roof . . .” Her sisters were convinced Sarah had done her algebra homework, had a midnight bar-be-que and done a song and dance for Domino’s drivers and other insomniacs while on the roof.

So it wasn’t long before I was coerced into doing something separate and cool with the 8 and 5 year old. Eventually, we were atop the roof having a picnic luncheon. I had my ladder resting near the back kitchen door where there was grassy lawn and a drop from eave to grass of about seven feet. Up we went. It had nice flat steps. I walked each up in turn. We laid a large towel down and placed the finger food on it. I began to notice that the typical car moving passed our home would slow down. If the driver had a passenger, I noticed facial movements and rubbernecking that indicated a change in conversation.

Savannah and Michal acted as if we were in Disney World or Six Flags over Georgia; such was the singular pleasure of eating gherkins and peanut butter on Ritz crackers with Dad. During lunch they began to make a list of people who should be enjoying the occasion. Michal decided that Stephanie, from two doors and a corner over, should be up here. “No! Not Stephanie.” Savannah declared, Stephanie is a big jerk.” This, of course, took Stephanie off the A-list. Later they could try to make the big jerk jealous.

The next order of conversation was to prove to Sarah once she came home how having lunch on the roof was just as cool as watching as meteor shower. And, just to make the argument sound and to punctuate their claim they began to gather the ripe purple berries off the overhanging camphor tree, knowing that a hail of vegetable pellets would make the point.

Michal decided the roof top was a perfect stage. She began to sing using exaggerated dramatic gestures. Savannah joined in by doing some comic screeching and they dissolved into laughter. Mr. Earl came by on the side walk below. He heard the noise, looked up and saw his neighbor on the ridge of his roof with a hand full of chips and a gherkin hanging from his lips, Bogart-style. I managed to avoid eye contact. He doesn’t have any kids. I don’t want to explain

I stopped the concert and called the girls to the crackers, peanut butter and pickles. I was enjoying the November sun. My cat stretched out, luxuriously napping on a neighbor’s roof. I was briefly in her world. Shed did not think I was weird. Perhaps, for once she thought I was acting normal.

Michal laughed. I pulled out of my reverie and heard her admonish her older sister. “Don’t toot, Savannah. Daddy’s here. You shouldn’t toot in front of Daddy. I was impressed. All courtesies and good manners my children may display radiate from their mother. I was impressed. I am certainly not as courteous. I come from a long line of Pull-My-Finger men. The mother has taught the girls that men are a lower breed and men should not be imitated. Hence, Michal’s rebuke. So Savannah ventured down the ridge line to finish her tune and was sorely disappointed to discover music was not sufficiently amplified for Michal and me to hear.

Then Howard came home. He lives across the street. Michal, with a true sense of the absurd yelled, “Hey Howard! Come on up. We’re having lunch on the roof.” Howard has two imaginative children. He’s seen his neckties hanging from trees and found his underwear on his dog. He waves and disappears. He is a hand’s on parent. He understands embarrassment.

They started feeling so confident they wanted to go up and down the ladder by themselves. I decided lunch was over. Besides my legs were going numb from sitting at a slant. Calling an end to the lunch was met with some opposition. They were upset because Sarah had not yet been pelted. As a concession I let them pelt the cat with purple berries. Then I stood on the ladder and escorted them down one at a time.

So, back on earth the girls bragged to Mom about having lunch over her head while she slept. Their mother’s father deserted his family when she was 8 years old. She’s happy her kids have a Dad. She usually cares what the neighbor think. Today, the kids had some healthy Dad time. Michal got to shout to a neighbor. Savannah got to toot on the roof. It’s all good. If the neighbors get nosey they can ask. Their mother will explain.

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Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.

CLICK HERE to visit Louis’ Catholic Journeyman Archive

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