When to Jump

Sherry Killam, teacher, writer, visual artist

    Sherry Killam


Horny toads and sand burrs out our back door.





We lived in oil company housing in West Texas when I was four.  Identical houses formed a square and faced away from the tennis courts and the sidewalks that connected all the back yards in our world.  If it wasn’t nap time, colorful trikes, bikes, scooters and skates filled the concrete paths with squeals and screeches.

Somebody’s house had a detached garage with honeysuckle vines covering one wall. I followed my big brother Jim and a couple of his buddies up an easy trellis to the top.  The climb was no problem, but getting down brought up some issues.

If I had wandered up there alone, I probably would have backed down as deftly as I crawled up, satisfied with being higher than I’d ever been in my life.  But I was not alone, and the six-year olds were up for jumping off the roof.

Each one stood at the edge, prepared himself mentally, and disappeared over the horizon.  I dallied over the decision, till the boys moved on without me.  I remember Jim throwing me a look before he led the others away.

The look probably meant either, “Go ahead and jump; you’ll be fine,” or, “If you’re scared, climb back down.  It’s no big deal.”

I stood there alone, getting acquainted with doubt.

When it finally happened, I leaped with assurance and, I believe, a degree of grace.

Afterwards, I lay spread eagle on my back in the grass, lost in the endless Texas sky.

During the sprint down the sidewalk to get home, I relived the amazing jump off the roof.  No Olympic diver ever felt more in the zone than I did.  My approach was impeccable.  Three deliberate steps.  Then not a muscle moved.  I stood frozen, thought-free, forever.  Finally, in a flash of inspiration, I sprang from that platform into a modified tuck position, which allowed me to land on my feet, then into a seamless somersault.

The velocity of the jump pulled my face out the ends of my ears.  Air rushed by.  Heart flipped into throat.  I don’t remember if I vocalized on the way down.  I don’t recall hearing a scream.  Probably not enough air for that.

It was a breathtaking jump.  Incredible how fast it was over, considering the time it took for the preparation.  I lay back in the warm morning sun.  What bliss.

When I talked to Jim about it fifty years later, he remembered us jumping off the roof, but recalled there had been a sand pile behind that garage.  We jumped from the roof to a load of soft sand.  Not grass.

Either way, it was a real confidence-booster.

There were no witnesses to my flight, but I told Jim and Mom what I had done that morning.

Mom’s reaction: “You WHAT?”

She could see that I was not only uninjured, but beaming.

Jim backed up the story with corroborating details and gave me a slight nod that probably meant, “You’re my sister.”

five foot long iguana

Iguana on the Rocks Photograph by Sherry Killam


19 thoughts on “When to Jump

  1. Carol Bell

    Wonderful memory ! Wonderful story! Wonderful talent as you write of this special , free time in your childhood and your wonderful big brother Jim. I didn’t have a brother. This well written story reminded me of yes! The forts over bicycles , playing in the hose, catching fireflies , playing Cowboys and Indians and Ponies and that I always wished I had a big brother. Sherry you had one of the best ! Love all the comments and love to our dear friends ! Carol Soule Bell

  2. Tom Dailey

    What a beautiful story, Sherry. You get all the details that bring it to life. I especially like the offhand way you dealt with the reality of sand vs grass, and how you formed that belief–capping all the romance and triumph of the jump–in the first place.

  3. Judy Gilliland Paynter Phillips

    You’ve done it again Sherry! I was with you all the way and it must be a right of passage type experience because I remember jumping off the roof down the street with the neighborhood gang as well at around eight, being teased by all the boys. Of course I was the last one and had the wind knocked out of me, I learned a good lesson and never a tear but a lot of deep breaths. I love that you remember the story and that it such a tribute to your big brother. They are our heroes and we look to them for acceptance and confidence. What a beautiful visual tale. I felt the heat of the summer and that extraordinary free feeling-with new found courage mixed in.

    1. Sherry Post author

      Thanks for this response, Judy. Now I can imagine a whole chapter, or book, or video of ‘jumping off the roof’ stories. I love how we don’t know from the title how serious this is, how high the roof is, what the motivation is.

  4. Elizabeth Stockton

    Four! You were quite a kid. Playing outside with other kids was so much fun. Where did that world go? Playing till bedtime on summer nights then having to bathe so the chiggers didn’t hurt so much. Was your childhood like that? Making Christmas tree forts, cowboys and Indians before Indians weren’t Indians anymore. Playing in the sprinkler on hot days. We had the world to ourselves. Our lives were not so planned, we ate cold cereal on hot mornings, slammed the screen door, “Bye, Mom.” … find treasure and Hoppalong Cassidy.

    1. Sherry Post author

      Elizabeth, YES! I have never forgotten or ‘gotten over’ my childhood. It was just as you say, unplanned, natural, creative, physical. All that good stuff. Thanks for the response….I stubbornly have a huge honeysuckle bush in my sandy desert ‘yard’ all because of walking to school when I was in first/second grade and stopping to smell and taste the honeysuckle on the way….in Tulsa, walking from 21st Street by Utica Square up to Barnard Elementary. Wow.

  5. Sandra Lytch

    I loved this brave story. Also love your writing as always. My writing tends to be ‘stream of consciousness.’ Ha!

  6. Barbara Roller Romick

    Wow! You’ve always been willing to step out into the unknown! Sounds like you could have lived down the street from me when I lived in Lubbock from the age of 5 to 7. I immediately identified with the sand burrs and horny toads……..never jumped off the roof, though.


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