It was one of the first things we noticed about our new home in the heart of Albemarle County, Va.
My sister’s room on the second floor had a window that opened onto the roof of another section of the house. The window wasn't nailed shut, glued shut or locked from the outside like so many of the hotel windows I've tried to open in my life.
It probably should've been.
I was 8, my sister 12, and I don't think we’d unpacked a single box before we opened that window, popped out the screen and climbed onto the roof overlooking the deck on one side and the front yard on the other.
We spent many hours on that roof growing up. It was only 9 feet off the ground and had so little slope that it was easy to navigate and we never felt in danger.
Nevertheless, this is the paragraph where I’m obligated to tell you not to try this at home. Furthermore, the words and crazy antics of this columnist do not necessarily represent the opinions of this newspaper, its publishers, employees or immediate family members. Some restrictions apply. See store for details.
The roof became a place to have big ideas and even bigger dreams. It was like a Magic 8 Ball that only had one answer: Yes!
My sister read many novels on that roof. And I began to write them. She would spread her things out on an orange blanket and we would sit there on the days it was too cold to be outside and on the days it was so hot, we brought out glasses of orange Tang.
We listened to music up there and did our homework. I did more of the former, she did more — much more — of the latter.
Sometimes my sister invited a friend over and I was uninvited to the roof. I pretended to be bothered, but I didn’t really mind. I played the role of the adorable little brother by lobbing water balloons like grenades from a secret spot below.
I remember those as simple times.
I also remember the first time my infamous parachute idea took flight in my imagination. One afternoon I sat alone on the roof and wondered if I could build a parachute that would carry me safely from the roof to the ground.
Of course I could. I’d seen the Flying Elvis troupe on television and I played the parachute game at school where noisy kids stand in a circle pulling on a giant parachute that launches plastic red balls into the air.
I was pretty sure I had the physics nailed down.
A few days later I took two black trash bags, cut them at the seams, and using man's best friend — duct tape — I assembled the carefully flattened trash bags into the world's finest homemade trash bag parachute.
I considered making strings and a harness. But let’s be serious, I knew that wouldn't work.
I stood courageously near the edge of the roof, holding tightly to the corners of my new invention. I just knew it would work. I was skinnier than a pretzel rod, there was no wind, and I had made the parachute more than big enough to hold my weight and deliver me softly to the ground.
I inched a little closer and threw the parachute back behind me, positioning it perfectly to catch the wind. Then, with all the faith a boy can muster, I leapt from the roof and high into the air, waiting for the parachute to fill and carry me off on some wild adventure until I safely touched down.
I imagined myself making contact with the ground, just like I'd seen on television, bending my knees to absorb the impact and running a few steps with the parachute still unfurled behind me.
Oh, I made contact all right.
I landed with a thud, nearly blackening one of my eyes with my own knobby knee.
Three thoughts came to me as I stared up at the sky.
First, “Wow, well that didn’t work.”
Second, “That’s going to leave a mark.”
Third, “I’m so glad I scheduled my test jump during a time when no one was paying attention.”
I later told my father about my big idea and confessed that it hadn’t worked quite as well as I envisioned. He took the opportunity to tenderly teach me a little something about weight times mass plus gravity equals I don’t really remember.
The message was clear enough: “Jason, it was a big idea, but a trash bag isn’t going to support you jumping from the roof.”
It hurt, literally, and I never tried it again. Instead, my dad taught me to make a wide variety of amazing airplanes that when launched from the roof, never seemed to land.
Though my parachuting hobby was short-lived, my childhood days were filled with plenty of other adventures. And why not? They were the days when I had great faith that simple solutions could solve big problems.
I miss those days.
I'm much older now, though not much wiser, and I’m married with children of my own. I can't say I hope any of them are secretly building a parachute, but I do secretly hope they have the faith that they could.