There are 3 things you can find on the roof of a Methodist parsonage; Shingles, birds, and preachers kids. The first two are there because they’re supposed to be there. The third are there because they’re not supposed to be there. They’re up to something.
When I was in grade school and junior high, we lived in the small town of Riley. The town sits on the north side of Fort Riley, home of the Big Red One, the First Infantry Division. Main Post, with all its facilities and housing was on the south side of the large military facility. The north side is the rural area where all the units went to do maneuvers “in the field”. This meant that the small town of Riley sounded and felt like it was in a war zone, quite often. The artillery was sometimes constant for hours and days. It would cause the houses to shake, the basements to crack, and pictures to fall. There were always helicopters flying around at low level and the sound of large calibre automatic rifles. Several of my friends were Army Kids whose families chose to live off-post.
The maneuvers would take place day and night regardless of the weather. At night they would fire large flares into the sky to light up huge swaths of countryside. Each of them was attached to a nylon parachute about 10 foot in diameter. This allowed them to hang in the sky for long periods of time till they burned out. Many nights we would watch as the flares were launched. Sometimes you’d end up with more than half a dozen or more in the sky at one time. They made for an impressive fireworks display above the tall grass prairie covering the Flint Hills of Kansas.
Of course one thing led to another and inevitably those used parachutes would get collected by various soldiers and end up traded or given away. They weren’t worth anything and were more of a novelty item…….Unless………
Unless you’d grown up watching John Wayne jump out of airplanes as part of the Army Airborne or Green Berets!
The acquisition of one of these parachutes was the answer to a prayer. Obviously not your normal run of the mill prayer for healing of disease, forgiveness of sin, or deliverance from fear. No, this was a fifth grader prayer which more likely touched on keeping mom from finding out who spilled chocolate syrup on the carpet, the unexplained fire damage on the back porch, or the Barbie Doll tied to a rock at the bottom of moms favorite fish aquarium. They were more along the lines of self preservation.
My nephew Michael and I had decided that we needed to make a parachute jump for a secret mission. We had no access to an airplane, so we went with the next best thing. We’d jump from the parsonage roof.
The missing piece was the actual parachute. We set out to build our own parachute. I snuck into the linen closet and borrowed a queen size sheet without mom catching me. We got moms scissors from the sewing machine and went to the garage. We spread out the sheet and cut a series of holes along the edge of the sheet. We then tied lengths of rope to each hole in the sheet. The other rope end was tied to the shoulder straps of our army surplus backpack. Half the ropes went to each of the two backpack straps.
Next we prepared the test landing area. We removed the toys from the sandpile and used shovels to heap the sand back up. This would help to cushion the landing. We decided early that we would use the term landing and not impact. The word impact evoked images of pain while landing sounded heroic. This was a secret mission, so heroic was our goal after having watched all those John Wayne movies.
We climbed the tree next to the garage and made our way onto the parsonage roof. I put on the backpack while Michael held the sheet with his arms outstretched. Hopefully, this would get air to catch the sheet and soften the impact, I mean facilitate my landing.
I slowly stepped to the edge of the roof, swallowed hard and looked down at the sandpile. It suddenly looked so far away. It felt like I was in the door of a plane looking at the ground below. It didn’t look nearly so high from the ground when looking up. Somehow it looked twice as high when looking down. It may not have helped that there were small toy trucks parked beside the sandpile which added to the illusion of appearing far away.
I asked Michael if he was ready and he yelled “Go for it!” The chute was open as widely as he could stretch it. I replied: Ready, Set, Go!…….and lept from the roof in the direction of the sandpile. I held my breath as I expected the jerk of the parachute catching the air and slowing my descent. The jerk never occurred and the fall went quicker than expected.
I hit that sand so quickly that I didn’t even have time to scream. I hit the sand and rolled off and onto the driveway beside it. The landing knocked the wind out of me and slightly twisted an ankle.
Michael came down off the roof to find me laying there catching my breath. He let me know that the sheet followed me down like the tail on a kite. The sheet immediately collapsed on itself and caught no air. I had done a complete freefall……..failure!… Obviously, we needed an actual parachute.
…..It was a couple months later and I had borrowed a genuine army flare parachute from a friend. It was now time to go for the big jump. I was sure that having a “real” parachute was all we needed.
We tied the parachute to the army surplus backpack. One wrinkle in our plan was that a car was parked in the driveway which was too close to use the sandpile for landing. In addition, I wanted to be out in the open more. I hoped the parachute would have a better chance of filling with air and slowing my descent.
In the middle of the afternoon the wind came up. We crept back up the tree, but crawled to the front of the house. I was much better prepared this time. I was wearing boots, cotton gloves (one brown and one white), with a football helmet just for good measure. I knew that this was the required gear from all the movies I had watched over the years.
We had to move very slowly and quietly because mom had a way of hearing us on the roof. If she came outside, the entire project would be scrapped. We waited and made sure no one was in the yard or at the church to see us. Michael then held the chute up and the wind filled it. That was a good sign that we finally had quality equipment. I then stepped to the edge of the roof once again and looked down at the very flat and hard looking church yard. It was now or never because the chute was catching the wind and billowing into shape.
It seemed logical that if the chute would hold a flare hundreds of feet in the air, it would hold me. I would just float on the wind and ever-so-gently glide to the ground. If I really caught the wind, maybe, I would glide clear across the yard to the church sidewalk……..It would be like flying. Since I had a genuine parachute, I wasn’t worried too much about the hardness of the ground. After-all, John Wayne usually landed standing up. This was going to be great!!
As the wind came up I gave the signal, Ready, Set, Go…………………….kerrrrrrrthump!!
Holy Cats!!…………that ground came up quicker than I anticipated……. I think I know how a grasshopper feels when it meets your windshield at 75 miles an hour. I’m pretty sure my ankles were in my armpits for a few minutes as I laid on the ground and waited for Michael.
After laying there a while I limped to the house, but couldn’t complain about any aches, lacerations, or other injuries. Our mission had been done in secret, so I couldn’t go complaining about any injuries. All I could do was to limp around in secret pain for the next week or so.
Oddly though, I might have gone to the doctor a month later. The nurse might have remarked that my records showed me as 2 inches taller than I was now. “Oh well” she may have said as she shrugged her shoulders, “We must’ve written it down wrong the last time you were here. After all, there’s no reason you could have gotten shorter.”………….