Predicament on a Roof

Jean Renoir, the great French film director, is credited with saying, “The only things that are important in life are the things you remember.”

I remember three boys sitting in a row on the roof of a garage, their knees pulled up under their chins, their arms wrapped around their legs. They aren’t supposed to be up there.

I am one of the boys. My best friend, Tom, is another. I’m not sure who the other is. I’m pretty sure it’s not my younger brother, Pete.

The garage is next to the house my parents built a few years earlier. We have ascended to the roof by putting a ladder against a tree next to the garage, climbing the ladder to a notch in the tree, scaling the tree up to a branch that hung out over the garage, then edging out on the branch to attain the roof. It was not as easy as we thought it would be.

We wanted to make a quick scramble to the roof and then jump off before anyone caught us.

But from up here the distance to the ground looks much farther than it did when we were down there. Besides, the landing area is not good. The ground slants downhill, from our right to left, and it is lined with flagstones that make steps down the hill. It is a hard, uneven place to complete a ten-foot leap. We had not properly anticipated that.

The reason I’m pretty sure the third boy was not my little brother is that I would have made him jump off to test the descent. If Pete were injured, the survivors could prudently climb back down. If he landed unhurt, we still had options.

Now, here’s the thing. This happened decades ago. I can’t remember what we did. A guy can’t remember everything, and the rules I set for myself in writing this book don’t allow me to make things up—certainly not events as major as jumping off a garage. So I can’t make up a story for you. We were up there, that’s all.

A characteristic of old memories is that they are episodic; brief flashes of light—clearly illuminated scenes and events—surrounded by darkness. Or a pencil sketch rather than a fully conceived painting. This then is a sketchbook dictated by strong memories and grouped by subject matter, roving backward and forward through a few glorious years in the life of a boy.

This is how we lived then, in a small Iowa town in the middle of the last century.

  • From the introduction to Mistaken for a King

5 thoughts on “Predicament on a Roof

  • Phyllis Barber

    Such strange things happen in our lives. I had just sent an article from the Cedar Rapids Gazette re: Dan Kellams to daughter Cheryl Barber Bogdanowitsch (artist) and she e-mailed the article re: “Mistaken for a King” to me – apparently crossing my snail mail and her e-mail! I had a hard time trying to place a “Dan Kellams” when a couple of years ago when she was contacted re: her painting, we had a Methodist Minester who lived across the street named Kellams and apparently no relation.
    Small world.

  • Diane Schuettpelz Conklin

    Having grown up living on 18th street and Washington Dr., Marion, near where your family lived at one time, and my husband , Terry Conklin, class of ’60 being involved with sports at MHS’ , we so enjoyed your recent book about Coach Hipple. We now look forward to reading your new book, “Mistaken for a King”. So, how do we find it?

    Thank you for reminding us how lucky we were to grow up in small town Marion, Iowa.
    Diane Schuettpelz Conklin, ’62 MHS

  • Jo wright

    Same thing happened with my two younger brothers, in Eastern Iowa, on a homestead with lovely barns and chicken coops to climb. They aspired to see vistas that cornfeilds& perfectly rolling Grant Wood type hills had hitherto then , denied them. Can remember being outside in the barnyard when i heard a loud noise…i turned just in time to see a ladder fall away from the side of the barn&2 small figures running across the roof. One disappeared thru the hay bale hole, while the other laid flat…every person at home that afternoon ran with terrir tiwards the 3 stiry structure. There in a heap on the floor lay a brother….

  • Dan Kellams

    Good to hear from you, Diane. Go to the top of the page, hold your cursor over Where to Buy and then choose Amazon or Barnes and Noble. When you click on your choice, you will go right to book. Dan

  • Connie Newli

    Having grown up in Marion at 963 11th St. and remembering your parents as they played bridge with my parents and two other couples, your two books bring back great memories of Marion. You lived next door to my great Uncle Fred and Aunt Rhea and I would see you and your brother and your friends always on the go. Thanks for the memories.
    Connie Newlin
    Class of 62 MHS

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