THE LAUNDRY CHUTE ADVENTURE: PART II
“Oh come on, Gwenny! Please!” We chorused convincingly. “We promise we’ll be right behind you.”
“Cross your hearts and hope to die?” Gwenny glared at us fiercely, binding us to the deepest oath we knew.
We nodded and promised. After a few more moments of hesitation in order to make certain of our earnesty, Gwenny grinned and headed carefully down into the darkly yawning chasm. When she reached the bottom she whispered the news of her success back to us and we began our cautious descent. One by one we let ourselves down; the older cousins helping the younger cousins reach the floor without incident. Muffled giggles and suppressed laughter filled the little laundry room and woke up Annie and Dannie, the household Labradors. Eager to join in the fun they wriggled and writhed, wagging their tails and pressing their cold, wet noses into our faces.
After a few minutes of giggling and playing with the dogs, we turned back to the lower end of the laundry chute. What had been our escape route from the orphanage now became our secret tunnel out of the Nazi concentration camp (at least one of us had seen “The Great Escape” a few too many times). The laundry room with its concrete floor and the dog cages and the “instruments of torture” (the washing machine and dryer) was the perfect spot for our new scenario.
Going up was much harder than going down. It was like climbing up a tunnel slide that was far too steep, and the sides were perfectly flat and straight and offered no purchase to little fingers and toes. Once again the older ones helped the younger ones clamber up the chute by boosting us up into the opening, and then we younger ones reached down and helped pull the older ones up and out of the laundry chute and back into the closet.
At long last, only valiant Gwenny was left downstairs. Thinking only of her cousins, she had remained below at the very end to help everybody back up the chute. Now she began her own precarious climb. She got up on the washing machine and tried and tried without avail to pull herself up into the laundry chute. It was all but useless, however, with no one left to give her a boost she could not quite pull herself inside. One of the older cousins, Gayle or Wendy, lowered me down headfirst into the opening by my legs and told me to grab Gwenny’s hand. Terrified of heights as I was, I would have walked through fire and jumped from a plane to help save our courageous Gwenny. We could leave no one behind for the evil orphan keeper or the strict Nazis to find and flog! However, even with my five year old body stretched the length of the laundry chute, precariously being hung head-down by my feet and stretching my arms as far as I could, I still could not quite reach Gwenny’s hand. Our fingertips touched for an instant, but that was all. It was then we realized that it would never work.
Heads older and wiser than ours would have at that point lowered bed sheets down through the chute to pull our stranded friend up the laundry chute; however, we had watched “Annie” that night, not “Anne of Green Gables.” There was no other choice. In order to return to us, Gwenny would have to walk across the basement, climb the stairs, and run the gauntlet: walking directly through the living room where our parents were gathered. There was no other way around, no way to avoid it, and nothing left to do but accept our fate.
There were no tears. Gwenny lifted her chin and squared her shoulders bravely as she prepared to face this most terrifying fate. Whispering words of encouragement and support, we watched and waited until we heard Gwenny leave the laundry room. In fear and trepidation we listened and imagined we could hear her climbing the wooden steps on the other side of the basement. Then we heard a stir in the room next to us and the voices of our parents grew louder. We heard Gwenny attempting to explain and then we heard the awful footsteps in the hallway approaching the room where we were supposed to be sleeping. The door opened and our parents looked in on seven little girls lying in bed in a semblance of angelic and innocent slumber.
Afraid for our very lives, we were more than willing to abandon our valiant comrade to her sad demise. With a stern reprimand, Gwenny was told to get in bed and go to sleep, and then the door closed once more. With a quiet sigh, we cautiously cracked our eyes open and peeked at our beloved cousin. She was glaring at us fiercely.
“Well,” Kim said timidly, “at least it was an adventure!”
Gwenny and I often fought and sometimes held grudges, but no one could ever stay mad at Kim for long. Gwenny tried to hold a glower for a moment more, but then she began to shake with badly concealed laughter and broke into a wide grin and bounced onto the bed where we whispered and giggled excitedly until one-by-one we drifted off to sleep, exhausted by a full day of daring exploring and dangerous adventures.