Somehow my mom could tell if something had been knocked over or spilled or in some way disturbed even if my brother and I painstakingly removed stains, straightened, or righted all our wrongs. My dad called her inspector 12. She actually inherited her ability to see irregularities from my grandmother, who carried out every task with perfection and an eagle eye.

Once, though, my mom and my grandma and the US Air Force housing inspectors all missed something. Jonathan and I had what I will call a sticky hand for lack of a better term. It was a stretchy toy made of sticky, gooey material with a long arm and a hand shaped end. The object of the toy was to throw out the hand while holding tightly to the arm. It would stick to whatever object it came in contact with; and if that object were small or light enough, the hand would snap back to the holder with the object attached.

I think I was 12 when Jonathan and I were playing excitedly with this toy. The house we lived in had a high sloped ceiling in the living room with a long white beam across the high side of the slope. I don’t remember who dared who and who threw the hand at the beam, but the hand stuck and the arm was accidentally released. So there, dangling from 15 feet above, hung our sticky hand. We were terrified of my mom’s reaction, so we ran to find the yard stick and a chair. We successfully removed the sticky hand, but it left a smudge on the beam.

We didn’t have a ladder and so the smudge stayed. Jonathan and I awaited our sure doom when my mom saw the smudge. We could imagine her saying loudly, “How am I supposed to clean that up!?!” and shuddered to think of the consequences she would dream up for us having been so irresponsible. The doom never came, though. To our amazement, she just never looked up. We thought for sure our grandma would see it on one of her visits, but she also never looked up! For three years, Jonathan and I smirked at each other in amazement over the sticky hand escapade.

Finally, when it was time for us to move, we were sure we would hear it! When a military family leaves a base house, it has to be cleaned to inspection standard. This is such an area of stress for most military families that cleaning people who know how to clean for a military inspection make a killing, and people gladly pay to have them take care of that part of the moving process. We never once heard anyone—cleaning people, housing inspectors, anyone—remark about the smudge! When we had passed inspection, we went into our house for one last goodbye, and there Jonathan and I looked up at the beam to see the smudge STILL THERE!

We laughed then and never said a word (good brothers and sisters stick together!), and today, between that and a certain rotten potato incident from my early twenties, I am convinced that people don’t look up unless they are trained to. So as we prepare our little first home for putting it on the market in the New Year, repainting the ceilings is last on my priority list!

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