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Our Roof Garden Among The Tenements
by [?]

A year has gone since we built a roof garden on top of the gymnasium that took away our children’s playground by filling up the yard. In many ways it has been the hardest of all the years we have lived through with our poor neighbors. Poverty, illness, misrepresentation, and the hottest and hardest of all summers for those who must live in the city’s crowds–they have all borne their share. But to the blackest cloud there is somewhere a silver lining if you look long enough and hard enough for it, and ours has been that roof garden. It is not a very great affair–some of you readers would smile at it, I suppose. There are no palm trees and no “pergola,” just a plain roof down in a kind of well with tall tenements all about. Two big barrels close to the wall tell their own story of how the world is growing up toward the light. For they once held whisky and trouble and deviltry; now they are filled with fresh, sweet earth, and beautiful Japanese ivy grows out of them and clings lovingly to the wall of our house, spreading its soft, green tendrils farther and farther each season, undismayed by the winter’s cold. And then boxes and boxes on a brick parapet, with hardy Golden Glow, scarlet geraniums, California privet, and even a venturesome Crimson Rambler.

When first we got window boxes and filled them with the ivy that looks so pretty and is seen so far, every child in the block accepted it as an invitation to help himself when and how he could. They never touch it nowadays. They like it too much. We didn’t have to tell them. They do it themselves. When this summer it became necessary on account of the crowd to eliminate the husky boys from the roof garden and we gave them the gym instead to romp in, they insisted on paying their way. Free on the roof was one thing; this was quite another. They taxed themselves two cents a week, one for the house, one for the club treasury, and they passed this resolution that “any boy wot shoots craps or swears, or makes a row in the house or is disrespectful to Mr. Smith or runs with any crooks, is put out of the club.” They were persuaded to fine the offender a cent instead of expelling him, and it worked all right except with Sammy, who arose to dispute the equity of it all and to demand the organization of a club “where they don’t put a feller out fer shootin’ craps–wot’s craps!”

But I was telling of the roof garden and what happened there. It was in the long vacation when it is open from early morning until all the little ones in the neighborhood are asleep and the house closes its doors. All through the day the children own the garden and carry on their play there. One evening each week our girls’ club have an “at home” on the roof, and on three nights the boys bring their friends and smoke and talk. Wednesday and Friday are mothers’ and children’s nights. That was when they began it. The little ones had been telling stories of Cinderella and Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and before they themselves realized that they were doing it, they were acting them. The dramatic instinct is strong in these children. The “princess” of the fairy tales appeals irresistibly, Cinderella even more. The triumph of good over evil is rapturously applauded; the villain has to look out for himself–and indeed, he had better! Don’t I know? Have I forgotten the time they put me out of the theater in Copenhagen for shrieking “Murder! Police!” when the rascal lover–nice lover, he!–was on the very point of plunging a gleaming knife into the heart of the beautiful maiden who slept in an armchair, unconscious of her peril. And I was sixteen; these are eight, or nine.