Go to Publications CollectionGo to Graphics CollectionsGo to Commentary Collectionsrelative Go to Concerning the PotterverseGo to The Potterverse UNhallowedhen

Escape Artist:

This is one of Ma’s tales, so I’ve no idea as to whether it actually happened. And I rather expect that even if it did, it certainly didn’t happen as I was told it. Still, I was too young at the time to be able to remember it now, so I’ve no way of editing it for accuracy.

I’ve been noticing a product showing up in “handy solutions” catalogues, for which there has been a crying need for decades. This is a removable “baby gate” designed to be installed at the top of stairs, etc. and is intended to keep toddlers and dogs in their assigned places. I just hope for everybody’s sake that the ones on the market have truly child-safe latches.

We didn’t have that sort of thing at all when I was a toddler. People had to build their own.

Ma discovered her need for one of these devices the day she returned to the kitchen after a bout of some piece of housekeeping or yard work to find that I had gotten into the cupboard under the sink and was diligently mixing salt, flour, sugar and soap flakes in a large pan, with the intention of making a “tchoclat take”.

Her solution for the need for a barrier was answered by taking apart my old playpen and wedging one side of it into the doorway between the kitchen and the den. In order to enable this contraption to be easily removed for the convenience of grown-ups, a large nail was driven through it into the door frame, removed, and replaced by a thinner nail which would hold it in place, but could be withdrawn when desired.

Well, one day when I was old enough to walk, but still young enough to make better speed on all fours, Ma was engaged (in something fairly commonplace, for convenience I’ll just say it was in doing the laundry) intermittently leaving me caged safely in the den while she went out to hang clean, wet clothes on the line.

And, then, when checking on me upon returning to the house after hanging up one load, she discovered that I was sucking on a piece of candy.

Only, there was no candy in the den. There was candy in the front room. But that was in a covered dish on the coffee table, on the other side of the house.

“Where did you get that?” she asked me.

Whereupon, I allegedly crawled over to the gate, pulled out the nail, pulled the gate open, crawled through the kitchen and dining room, into the living room, took hold of the coffee table, stood up, removed the cover from the dish, popped another piece of candy into my mouth, replaced the cover, crawled back to the den, shoved the gate into place and replaced the nail.

Evidently I was born with the soul of an engineer.

Given Ma’s side of the family, I suppose this would not be particularly surprising.

As I say, I don’t believe the story happened as it was told; but I suspect that I had definitely figured out how to escape the den by removing the nail, which leads me to suspect that even if we had had baby gates in my day I might have figured out how to work the latch.

In any case, the gate was nailed solidly shut after that, and the grown ups either had to climb over or go around the house and come into the den from the door on the other side. Or, so I was told. Like I say, I have absolutely no recollection of it.

On the other hand, I do recall, a few years later, accompanying Gran to her “Friendship Club” meetings. This was the old ladies’ social group at Aunt Pisces’s church. Gran and I commonly referred to the members as the “slightly elderly ladies” loudly and in public, and gigglingly as “the old bags” between ourselves — and being considered remarkable as the little girl who wouldn’t eat the cake unless it was chocolate.

Chocolate is still my favorite. But I’m much more polite about such things when offered something else these days. After all, that’s simply good manners...