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I watched our oldest granddaughter, Addison, as she chased Edgar, the cat, around the house. We tried explaining, “He is never going to come to you as long as you keep chasing him.” Being impatient, she didn’t want to wait and continued her quest. From the living room, through the dining room, into the kitchen, then back into the living room; around and around they went in circles, one lap after another, the sleek black cat was always in the lead.
Occasionally, Edgar would double back, running around the dining room table, reversing the direction of travel. Addison kept with him, staying in hot pursuit. She tried to outsmart Edgar by stopping in the opening between the living room and dining room. She waited for Edgar, thinking she would head him off and pounce on him. But Edgar never came. Reversing her direction again, Addison ran counter-clock-wise in an attempt to find the elusive feline. In vain, she pressed on but couldn’t find him. Edgar was hiding under the corner booth in the kitchen, watching as she sprinted by, looking for him.
As a spectator, I was amused by it all. A chase that was only possible because we live in a “circle house.” Circle houses provide a natural racetrack by having at least two doorways in different rooms, connecting them together and creating “the circle.” I suppose such houses were built for convenience, allowing people to move through the structure more efficiently; saving steps. But that wasn’t always the case.
Many parents were worn out after chasing a bare-bottomed, laughing child who fled from the bath, or, a kid wearing pajamas whose mission was to delay bedtime. I’ve seen all these things growing up. As a child I assumed all houses were built this way. Hands down, the coolest circle house I ever lived in was our old farmhouse on rural route #5 in Ottumwa, Iowa. It was actually a double circle house, as the solarium made its own smaller circle with doorways into the dining and living rooms.
Back then, my Dad was the general manager of KTVO-TV. The station aired a program called Candyland. Kids were invited to be on the show, where they sat in little bleachers to watch cartoons. The host would play games, tell stories and provide other entertainment. Each kid would get something small like a coloring book or a paper hat. If you were lucky, you might get a certificate for a free ice cream cone at Grahams Dairy, A&W, or Briggs Ice Cream. Usually, the prizes were kind of cheesy, but everyone was happy to get something.
One year around Christmas, my brother Gerard and I got to be on the show. We were five and six years old at the time. I don’t remember what cartoons we watched, but the gifts were awesome! I left with a big yellow Tonka dump truck. It was all metal, the tires were real rubber and the bed of the truck was hinged to actually dump whatever I loaded into the truck. It was big enough that I could sit in the box, hang my feet out the back and push myself along backwards until I stopped by running into something.
Gerard got a red cement truck with a white mixing drum on the back. It had an oval on the sides with red letters spelling Tonka, in the center. The drum really turned. We pretended to mix concrete by putting sand and small rocks into the opening, then turning the drum. We played for countless hours with those trucks. As two young brothers often do, we became somewhat competitive.
My dump truck was much larger than his cement truck. Sometimes, to boast the size and power of my truck, I would snatch his fully-loaded cement mixer and put it in the bed of my truck. With a hand on each side of the dump box, I would lean into it and take off running, pushing the truck as fast as I could go, stealing his truck. He would chase me, eventually catching me. A wrestling match always followed.
“My dump truck is a lot faster than your cement truck.” I told him. “No, it’s not.” He replied. “Yes, it is. It’s bigger and it’s a lot faster.” I justified. “My truck is faster,” he argued, “because it’s not fat like your truck.” “Oh yeah?” I said, “Yeah.” He replied. After an exchange bantering of “Oh yeah?” and “Yeah!” It was obvious a race would be needed to determine who had the faster truck
Inside the house, a course was plotted. The first one to cross the start/finish line, the second time, would be the winner, earning bragging rights for owning the faster truck. We lined our trucks up in the double doorway between the living room and the dining room. Because Gerard’s truck was smaller than mine, he couldn’t lean on his truck like I did. That gave me a clear advantage. “On your mark. Get set. GO!” I immediately pushed Gerard over, then took off.
He was quickly back on his truck and hot on my tail. We sped across the Living room. We made tire screeching noises as we rounded the corner, heading down the hallway. A hard-right turn at the end of the hallway would require slowing down for most drivers, but not me. I picked up the speed, losing control in the turn and rolled into the open bedroom door. Gerard passed me, laughing.
I put my truck back on its wheels and raced past the bathroom. Gerard had just passed the door that went upstairs. He stopped long enough to open the door, throwing an obstacle in my path. I didn’t even slow down, I just rammed the door, pushing it out of my way and slamming it shut, making one heck of a racket! Mom was in the kitchen, “What’s going on?” She wanted to know. “Did you boys break something?” Before we could answer, Gerard raced through the S-turn at the end of the hall and into the kitchen. He was headed for the butler’s pantry. “Hey! You didn’t do your lap around the kitchen table.” I called out to Gerard, as I was going around the table, speeding between Mom and the sink. I stopped for a moment in the pantry to make sure he went all the way around the table. Passing Mom, he ran into her foot. (Remember, these were metal toys.) “Ouch!” She yelled. Mom was mad, “Knock it off! Right now!”
It was a heated race. Tempers flared and we both became more determined to win. Bumping into each other several times, we sped through the dining room. Once past the glass French doors, we turned left through the living room, into the solarium, back to the dining room. Two laps were required around the little circle. Then we began the second and final lap on the big circle. In the kitchen, rounding the table, I wiped out on a slippery floor, knocking over a trash can. Gerard took over the lead, but not for long.
The swinging door between the pantry and the kitchen was closed, which was quite strange as that door is always propped open. Gerard pushed through the door and I followed, bouncing the heavy door off my shoulder. Uh, oh! Mom was in the dining room. Gerard couldn’t stop and crashed into the now closed French doors that led to the living room. Looking for an escape route, I headed for the solarium, but that glass door was also now closed. Mom was really mad.
She grabbed me by the wrist and picked me up. I tried to hold onto my truck, but it fell to the floor, landing on its side next to Gerard’s upset cement truck. She opened the door with her free hand, then grabbed my brother by the wrist. Mom’s lecture began: “If you two think you’re going to disobey me and keep running around the house after I told you to stop, you’ve both got another think coming!”
The two of us were being taken, actually dragged, to the back bedroom. Spankings were imminent. “It’s not fair!” I protested, while trying to dig my heels into the carpet. “I’m not the one who ran into you. It was him!” Protests never did work with Mom. When she felt you had it coming, you were going to get it!
As I recall, Gerard got three swats on the behind, where my tushy was graced with six or seven stinging whacks. The extra whacks were the result of my attempted protest. Mom put us in bed and went back to the kitchen, pulling the bedroom door closed behind her.
A debate ensued as to who won the race. Gerard insisted he won, since he reached the doors first. “You didn’t reach them, you crashed into them. That’s why we got sent to bed.” I told him. “Besides, since the doors were closed, neither one of us actually crossed the finish line.” I explained. “We’ll probably have to have a rematch.” Gerard said. I agreed, “Fine, but you’re just going to lose again because my dump truck is bigger and faster than your cement truck.”
Gerard snuck out the door and down the hallway. He came back and reported Mom was in the kitchen at the sink, doing something. Another advantage to a circle house. It offered us the opportunity to tiptoe, unnoticed, down the front hallway and out the front door. We were going to go out to the apple orchard, but Mom would see us through the kitchen window. Instead, we ran around the front of the house to the garage, to see if the mother cat and her kittens were still under the porch. They were, so we stayed to play with them.
Back in the present-day kitchen at our house, Addison walked towards me. Looking up, she asked, “Papa, do you know where Edgar is?” I smiled, “Sweetie, you need to leave Edgar alone for a little while. He’ll come to you, but you have to stop chasing him.” From under the bench, Edgar watched as she walked to the living room.
A few minutes later, Addison went running by with June’s stuffed moose in her hand. June trotted along behind, hoping she would throw the toy for her to catch. Addison wasn’t going to throw it. She just enjoyed being chased by the dog, as she ran laps through our circle house.