The Ladder


Linda Hoagland

Copyright 2004 by Linda Hoagland 

Drawing of a pyramid with a treasure inside.

“It is a job that has to be done and I am the one who has to do it. There isn’t anyone else around that I can ask that would be able to do the dreaded job. I am going to have to suck it up and just do it, fear or no fear, get on with it and get it done,” I said in a pep talk to myself as I rounded up the tools that were necessary to complete the task at hand.

No amount of talking to myself was going to make it any easier for me except that it kept my mind busy along with my hands and feet that were going about their business of gathering paint brushes, rollers, paint, rags, and, of course, the ladder.

The ladder was an extension ladder that would stretch all the way to the top which was equivalent to a two story house. In order for me the do the job as it should be done, the ladder would have to be pulled out to the furthest it could be extended safely.

Why on earth did our mobile home have to be placed in a lot where the back end of the trailer extended out over a sloping hillside? Flat land would have been much nicer and a heck of a lot easier when it came to painting an aging structure.

The thought of climbing up that wobbly, flimsy, aluminum ladder petrified me to the point of tears.

I sat at the foot of the extended aluminum ladder and cried. Fear can do horrible things to a persons mind. It was having a field day with my mind, soul, and body.

I was pretty sure I could trace the beginning of my fear of heights. I was also pretty sure that that fear of heights was never, ever going to go away. All I wanted it to do was crawl into a hole in my mind long enough for me to get the peak of the mobile home painted.

“Ellen, let’s go to the store,” whispered my brother as he pulled me to my feet from the sofa I was sitting on as I played with my Tiny Tears doll.

“No, I don’t have any money,” I whined and pulled back so I could remain on the sofa.

“I do. I did some weed pulling for Mrs. Bainer. She gave me fifty cents. I’ll buy you a candy bar. One of those three cent chocolate ones you like,” he said as he continued to pull on my arm.

“Go by yourself and get me a candy bar anyway.”

“If you don’t go with me, you won’t get any candy,” he taunted.

I had to think about it for a few seconds. It was so hot outside that I really didn’t want to leave my position in front of the fan. A candy bar – I hadn’t had a candy bar since…I couldn’t remember when.

“Okay. Did mommy say we could?”

“Come with me and we’ll ask.”

“Why didn’t you ask already?”

“I wanted you to be with me. I wanted her to see that I was going to take my stupid little sister with me,” he said as he led the way from the living room to the kitchen.

“I’m not stupid and I’m not going.”

“No candy bar,” he said in a taunting whisper.

We stood before my mother staring up at her with pleading expressions on our faces.

“What do you two want?” she asked as she prepared the water to wash the dishes that were piled in the sink.

“Ellen and I want to walk to the store.”


“Mrs. Bainer paid me fifty cents for pulling weeds. I want to spend it.”

“Are you going to buy Ellen something?”

“Yeah, a candy bar. I already told her I would pay for a candy bar.”

“All right, but be careful. You know the kids around here speed up and down that road like crazy people. They’ll hit you in a minute and keep on driving. Watch your little sister real close. You hear me, Lee?”

“Yeah, mommy. I’ll watch her,” he said as he pulled an ugly face in my direction.

I hated to go anywhere with my brother because he was a bully, especially if mommy and daddy weren’t around to keep tight rein on him.

“Come on, Ellen, let’s go.”

All ready I regretted my decision.

“Why did you ask me come with you?”

“Because I knew mommy wouldn’t let me go to spend money if I didn’t spend some of it on you. It’s not fair, you know. I worked for that money. You didn’t.”

“I could.”

“You’re too little. No one would pay you anything because you can’t do anything.”

“Yes, I can.”

“No, you can’t. Now go on, start walking.”

I was near tears but I wasn’t going to let him see me cry, not when mommy and daddy weren’t around to do anything about it.

The store wasn’t very far from our house but it was far enough away so that we would disappear from sight and that was what frightened my mother. She wanted us within her line of vision at all times, except when we were in school.

Mommy and daddy were not social people. They had a nodding acquaintance with the neighbors, but they didn’t visit, so we weren’t allowed to visit. That also meant that others weren’t allowed to visit us either.

Mommy did some of the forbidden neighborly things when daddy wasn’t home, but she knew he would get mad if he found out about it.

The only playmates my brother and I had during most of our childhood were each other. I learned to play alone. That’s when I developed my love for reading. It wasn’t fun playing with a bully.

He was pushing me along the road, not really watching for cars or anything.

“Lee, stop a minute, I have a rock in my shoe.”

I sat down on the grass at the side of the road and pulled off my old tennis shoe so I could remove the rock.

“Lee, I haven’t seen the Springers for a long time. Where are they?”

“Old man Springer died and his wife is living with her daughter. No one’s living in the house anymore. I think they’re going to sell it.”

“To who?”

“I don’t know. Let’s go take a look around.”

“We better not.”

“Don’t be chicken, Ellen.”

“I’m not a chicken. Mommy will get mad.”

“I’m not going to tell her. Are you going to be a tattletale? Tattletale, tattletale Ellen is a tattletale.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Then, let’s look around.”

We started walking toward the house that really didn’t look empty. I mean there were still curtains over the windows and furniture in place. So I knew they didn’t want anybody prowling around in their belongings.

“I’ll stay out front here by the shade trees. You go look around.”

“You are such a scaredy cat, Ellen.”

“I don’t want to get into trouble.”

“You won’t, nobody will see us.”

I followed him as he walked around the Springer house looking for a way inside but he couldn’t find one without breaking something and I was dead set against that.

“Put that rock down, Lee. I’ll tell on you.”

“You’ll be telling on yourself because you’re with me.”

“I know but I won’t be the one breaking the window. You will, and I’ll tell mommy you did it. She’ll tell daddy and you’ll get a whipping.”

Lee lunged at me like he wanted to break all of my bones in my body but he did throw the rock into the wooded area behind the house.

When we walked back to the front of the house, he started climbing one of the two trees. Not to be out done by my stupid brother, I climbed the second tree. I never gave it any thought that once I climbed up the tree, I would have to climb back down.

We both sat in the separate trees watching the world go by for a few minutes, then it became time to get down.

Lee clambered down the tree in no time. Then it was my turn.

The limb I was perched on wasn’t very far from the ground but when I looked down from my position in the tree it looked a mile off of the green grass.

“Come on, Ellen, we’ve got to get to the store and then get home. Mommy will be looking for us.”

“Okay, just a minute,” I said in a weak voice.

I started to twist around so I could shimmy down the tree and I froze. Fear had overtaken every part of my body. No way could I will myself to move.

“Let’s go, Ellen. We’ve got to go now,” he yelled at me in angry tones.

“I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Afraid of falling. I’m afraid of falling,” I cried as I held my eyes closed as tight as I could.

“Get out of that tree now,” Lee growled.

“I can’t.”

“If you don’t get out now I’ll shove you out,” he hissed at me.

“No! Lee no!” I screamed as I held onto the tree with all of my strength.

I was almost laying down on the limb with my short arms wrapped around the tree as far as I could reach. It would have taken very little effort on Lee’s part to knock me to the ground if he could reach me.

He started jumping up and stretching as far as he could with his arms trying to knock me down to the ground below. It probably wouldn’t have hurt me if he had succeeded but I wasn’t willing to take the chance.

I continued to scream hoping the noise would scare him so that he would stop jumping and pushing at me and go get help.

“Hey, boy, what are you doing?” shouted a concerned Mr. Frazier.

“Trying to get my little sister out of this tree if it’s any of your business,” he answered as he continued to jump at me.

“Lee, please stop!” I cried.

“Stop it now, boy. I’ll get her down.”

Lee stopped jumping at me and stood aside as Mr. Frazier lifted me to the ground. He was so tall and strong that he didn’t have to stand on anything at all to help me from the tree.

“You’re old man Hudson’s boy, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, so what?”

“You shouldn’t be treating your little sister this way. You’ll be sorry you did someday. Mark my words, you’ll be sorry. Now you two, go on about your business. You hear?”

Lee took off running towards the store and I followed after him. I wanted my candy bar.

When I caught up with Lee, he punched me so hard he made me cry again so I stayed outside when he went in the store.

He came back out carrying a small sack filled with candy treats.

“Here, here’s your old candy bar.”

“I’m going tell mommy and daddy what you did to me,” I said as I ripped the paper from the candy bar.

“You’d better not or you’ll get some more,” he said as he brandished his fist at me.

I didn’t tell on him because I knew he would continue to beat on me. He did that a lot and I didn’t want to encourage his participation in his favorite hobby of punching on me, his little sister.

I never climbed another tree.

Like Mr. Frazier said, Lee would be sorry he treated me badly. I’ve told the world what my brother was really like. I hope he is sorry about the way he treated me, but somehow I doubt it.

Nearly getting shoved out of a tree when you’re a little girl plants a fear inside your head that continues to grow larger and larger as you grow up and older. I know that for a fact because it happened to me.

When I get near the edge of anything that is up high, even a staircase, it can give me the willies.

With that full blown enormous fear of heights planted firmly in my brain, how was I ever going to climb that ladder and paint the peak of our home?

Sitting at the foot of the ladder crying my eyes out wasn’t going to help a bit. No, that’s not quite true. It did help. It made me release a bunch of pent up tension and face facts. I was going to have to crawl up that ladder, hang on for dear life, and paint the damn thing. That’s all there was to it.

I picked myself up off of the warm, inviting green grass. My legs were wobbly and my brain was numb. My hands shook as I grabbed hold of the ladder with my right hand and held the paint bucket and brush in my left hand.

Lifting my foot up to the next rung for the first two or three times was easy. After I got to the point when jumping down wouldn’t be too comfortable, that’s when my feet wanted to linger on each lower rung. My brain didn’t want to make my feet climb any higher.

“God, help me!” I screamed as I lifted my foot to the next rung. Then I paused waiting for a bolt a lightning to come from the sky.

I took the next step a little better than the last until I realized I was passed the half way point. Only a couple more feet and I could reach it, I hoped. Even if I couldn’t reach it, I wasn’t going up any further. I couldn’t do it.

Up my shaky legs climbed and I stopped.

I didn’t want to look down but I couldn’t stop myself.

“Oh, God!” I cried as my knees started to buckle under me.

I grabbed onto the ladder and made myself straighten up.

I started painting. I wasn’t going to stop for any reason until I was completely finished with this God-awful job.

I couldn’t reach the peak, the part where the two sides of the roof came together to form a little ledge extending beyond the outside wall.

I had to climb one more step.

I screamed.

I screamed again.

One more time, I screamed.

That’s what I had to do to make myself climb up another step.

I screamed the fourth time and as I was concentrating so hard on the effort it took to create the scream I stepped up one more rung.

Tears were streaming down my face as I reached up to the rafters and splashed paint on the area that had not been covered.

Done, I needed to climb no more.

That was all I had to do.

It was complete.

I had finished painting the mobile home and I continued to mumble about the rolling hillsides and mountains in southwest Virginia and why the trailer park wasn’t flat.

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