Mrs. McNally’s Tree
When I was growing up in Queens, NY, we had a next door neighbor named Mrs. McNally.
She was a former 20’s show girl and lived with her son and daughter-in-law. She was probably in her mid 70’s then and seemed very ancient to me. She also had no patience for children.
There was a crab apple tree that grew in a corner of her property behind her garage. It was accessible for me and my friends to climb up the tree and sit on the roof of the garage. It was kind of like having a tree house. From that vantage point, we could survey our surroundings and occasionally toss down a crab apple or two at passing cars. We tried to keep out of Mrs. McNally’s sight, but invariably she would spot us and complain to my mother.
My mother had a ready solution to the complaints, a smack and orders to stay out of the tree. Of course I ignored her.
In the winter we could launch snow balls from the roof and once connected with the windshield of a passing car. Unfortunately it was the car belonging to two of my friends and their father was not amused. They got beaten with a strap, I got slapped as usual by my mother and Mrs. McNally was momentarily satisfied.
When it snowed, I was under orders to shovel our walk and Mrs. McNally’s walk as well. Since she was on a corner, I had to shovel 2 sides instead of one. This was my mother’s way of making amends to Mrs. McNally.
Once, the mother of one of my friends had us gather up the crab apples and she made a jam out of it. Throwing the apples was more satisfying than eating them, even in jam form. We continued climbing and tossing until we were around 11, when the tree and apples lost their appeal.
I was not the only one who annoyed Mrs. McNally. My sister did her part as well.
Mrs. McNally’s side door opened on our driveway between the houses. Our side door opened on our other neighbor’s driveway. Why this was so, no-one knew, but all the houses were like that on the block. Either the architect was crazy or the builder flipped the plans by mistake and once started, couldn’t stop.
Regardless, our driveway ran past her side door. In the middle of the driveway was grass and mostly dirt. My sister and her friend would often make mud pies right in front of Mrs. McNally’s door. Even though I never saw Mrs. McNally ever use her side door, she took offense at the mud and complained to my mother.
My mother’s answer was to pull my sister’s hair to get her attention (that’s why she styled my sister’s hair in pigtails so she could get a grip), followed by orders not to make mud pies. My sister, like me, was incapable of following that order concerning Mrs. McNally. My sister claims the reason she has thin hair can be traced back to the complaints by Mrs. McNally and the hair pulling that followed.
The only time we got in trouble with Mrs. McNally that was completely innocent on our part concerned our swimming pool.
My parents had gotten a portable swimming pool. It stood about 2 feet high and about 8 feet across. We would set it up and fill it with water. We could let it stand for a few days before having to empty it, clean it and refill it.
On this occasion, we had set it up in front of the garage. We used it for a few days and now it was time to empty it.
My mother assigned the task to me and my sister. She told us to siphon off the water with a hose onto our backyard lawn. Since there was no chlorine, it would be fine. She left to go shopping.
I thought about how long that would take and came up with a better solution. By unhinging part of the inner lining from the support wall, I could let the water out in a rush. This would save time and my sister and I could clean it and refill it before my mother returned. A perfect plan.
We set the plan in motion. There were some unforeseen consequences.
The water gushed out of the pool and down the driveway in a wave of water. It left behind about an inch of water and of course mud.
My sister and I proceeded to clean the pool. While we were doing that we heard a door slam. We didn’t think anything of it at the time.
My mother returned and was stunned by what we had done. We thought she was amazed at our ingenuity. We soon found out differently.
The phone call came.
Mrs. McNally complained that she almost drowned when she tried to get out of her door and what was my mother going to do about it.
We tried to explain that it was impossible for Mrs. McNally to drown in the amount of water in the driveway. Our logic fell on deaf ears.
The usual punishment was doled out and we were forbidden to use our “improved” method for emptying the pool. We were also assigned to clean up the mud in the driveway.
What ever happened to the American Spirit of innovation? If Thomas Edison’s mother had treated her little innovator that way, we would never have gotten the electric light. My mother didn’t seem to care.