You know how mothers always seem to know what’s right for their kids even though their kids would probably beg to differ?
That’s what I should have been thinking about when my mom forbid to sleep over Jim Hack’s house near the end of the summer of ’71, but I didn’t see it that way. I was 13 now, I was growing up and I didn’t want to be treated like a kid anymore. Whatever reason my mom had for not permitting my brother and I to sleep over must have been a good one, but I wasn’t about to go down without a fight.
“Come on, Mom,” I pleaded. “All my friends get to sleep over their friend’s houses. How come I can’t?”
“I said no, and I mean no,” my mom said. “What part of no don’t you understand?”
When it came to saying “no” and putting one’s foot down, my mom definitely ruled out any kind of wiggle room to finagle a deal. She was good; I mean darn good for standing her ground. And she had to, being a single parent, raising two boys and working in a factory five days a week.
She had a heart of gold but was tough as nails when she did put that foot down.
“It’s not fair,” I pleaded. “All the other kids get to sleep over.”
It’s not fair. Oh, that was brilliant to say. That would definitely make my mom change her mind. Way to go Jeffrey.
I know my mom probably had her reasons because truth be known she never did like me hanging out with Jim. It wasn’t his fault that he lived on the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks” or that some members of his family had some scrapes with the law; however, you just knew that Jim was going to have a rougher time getting through life than most kids. And I think my mom was afraid that I might get caught up in some trouble of one sort or another.
Nonetheless, my mom’s reasons for why I shouldn’t be sleeping over Jim’s house were all that stood between me and fulfilling this summer tradition of traditions.
Sleeping over. It was just as much a summer tradition as it was going to the carnival, swimming, riding our bikes to the A&W and playing whiffle ball. If you didn’t sleep over a friend’s house or camp out in the backyard at least once or twice during the summer you were a loser; you were nobody. And with just two weeks of summer vacation left time was running out. I didn’t want to be a loser. I wanted to be somebody.
“Please mom,” I pleaded again. “We’re just going to listen to music, drink some Cokes and eat some potato chips. That’s all.”
Of course, that is what I wanted my mom to believe and what she already knew was what we were not going to do. Although she hadn’t come out and said it, she was worried what we might end up doing—like roaming the streets after curfew, that sort of thing.
I wished my brother would come to my assistance and say something, but he was engrossed in an episode of The Three Stooges and didn’t want to come to my assistance. He was going to let me do all the talking and pleading.
“Please. Just this once Mom”
Whether it was the extra “please” at the end, my refusal to back down or the headache I had probably given my mom who had just come home from an eight-hour shift of bending metal tubes into kitchen table and chair legs—she finally gave in.
“Okay, fine. Sleep over your friend’s house, but if you get in trouble…”
She didn’t have to finish her sentence. We knew what she meant.
Although I might have won a small battle by being allowed to sleep over Jim’s house, I would end up losing in the war. And in the process I would learn an all-important life lesson: mothers always know what’s best.
The night started off rather innocuous. After we had stocked up on the necessary supplies to get through the night—Coca Cola, potato chips, cookies, Cherry Bombs, and Sparklers—we set up some lawn chairs that could be folded down later to sleep on in Jim’s garage. We had cleaned out the garage a few weeks before and were planning on using it to rehearse our band. Of course, when Jim and I only lasted one day corn detasseling that’s when we had to put our band idea on hold for the time being. In the meantime, I had bought a tambourine and any day expected to receive word about some song lyrics I had sent off.
We tuned in the transistor radio I had brought to WLS, and AM station out of Chicago and opened up some Cokes when Dale, Jim’s older brother showed up.
Dale had had a few scrapes with the law and had gotten out of juvie on more than one occasion. He was thin, with stringy blonde hair wearing faded Levis and a black t-shirt with a pack of Marlboros rolled up in one of sleeves. One look at him and you knew he was one misdemeanor shy of a felony.
He took out a cigarette and stuck it between yellowed teeth and lit it with a Zippo lighter. He flipped open and close the top of the lighter in a steady syncopated click, click, click.
“You guys gonna stay up all night?” he asked as he continued his Zippo flicking.
“Uh-huh,” Jim and I said.
“Maybe we set off those Cherry Bombs later? I’m gonna see what’s happening uptown.”
Not long after Dale had left Andy Smith showed up. Andy lived just down the street from Jim and had moved to Oglesby from downstate earlier in the year. Although he was the same age as us, he had been held back a year. He had already made quite the reputation for himself as being a rebel—getting into fights at school and having to stay after school for detention. He was the one who had given us all the Cherry Bombs.
Like Dale, Andy wanted to see what was going on uptown and said that he would also be back later.
The cast of characters for tonight’s drama was all in place now.
After awhile Jim, my brother, and I got bored just listening to the radio and reading comic books. It was too early to set off some of those Cherry Bombs so we decided to head up to Scheri’s, this small grocery store up the street to buy some ice cream. The night was still all so innocent.
When we got back Dale and some girls he knew from high school had stopped by. They were sitting on the ground outside the garage smoking some of Dale’s Marlboros. High school girls in bell-bottomed jeans and tight-fitting t-shirts. Oglesby Hippies.
“You want to try one kid,” Dale asked, offering me a cigarette.
One look at those girls and I knew what I had to do.
“I’m telling mom,” my brother said.
“No you won’t,” I said punching him in the arm.
Out came that Zippo lighter, the top flipped open and the yellowish-orange flame danced in the muggy air as it came close to that quivering cigarette precariously stuck between my parched lips.
My first cigarette, no big deal. And it probably would have been no big deal had it been the only thing I did wrong that night—to smoke a couple of cigarettes. But then Andy returned from his uptown reconnaissance.
“Hey, I know where some girls from our class are having a sleep over. Let’s go and check it out,” Andy said.
It was getting close to the 10:00 curfew, when kids under 16 had to be off the streets, but that wasn’t going to stop us. And for the next three hours, we roamed the streets, met up with other kids having a sleep over, ran down alleys when we saw Oglesby’s only police car cruising the streets, smoked more cigarettes.
And when we finally set off clusters of Cherry Bombs, it prompted some residents to notify the police and have that one patrol car sent round to investigate the disturbance. We hid out in the garage and laughed when we saw the police car slowly driving past.
All that excitement had tired us out and around two or three in the morning we fell asleep on those lawn chairs in Jim’s garage. Andy had decided to stick around. It had been a pretty neat sleep over and we hadn’t gotten into any trouble. At least, not yet. If only my brother and I had snuck back home (we only lived two blocks away) we would have been spared so much pain and embarrassment, not to mention my mother.
When we woke up a few hours later, around 5:00 we noticed Andy and another kid outside the garage looking at a brown station wagon.
“What are you guys talking about?” I asked rubbing my eyes and yawning as I walked out of the garage.
“See that car over there?” said Andy pointing to the brown station wagon.
“Yeah,” I said.
“We’re gonna pour some sand into the gas tank.”
“Why?” asked Jim.
“I dunno. Just don’t like the owner,” said Andy. “Hey, don’t you go saying nothing either.”
“Just forget it,” said Andy’s friend. “Let’s go home.”
“Yeah,” said Andy laughing. “We’ll see you later.”
We went back inside the garage and slept for two more hours. We thought nothing more about Andy and the brown station wagon. My brother and I gathered up our things and headed back home. Our mom had already gone to work by the time we got home, so after we had a bowl of cereal we slept some more.
Well, tried to sleep some more.
At 11:00 there was a police officer pounding on our door.