When I woke up this morning I knew something was different. It FELT different. David was standing in his crib looking out the window across the room from my bed. The sunlight was coming in that window and shined on him. I couldn’t remember the last day when there was sunshine and not just clouds. I looked out the other window, by my bed that looked into the backyard, and the grass where the sun hit it looked extra green, like it was glowing. I heard birds chirping outside.
I got out of my bed and ran out of the room in my pajamas into the living room. The front door was open and just the screen door was still closed. All the windows in the living room were open and I felt a little cool breeze on my skin and the air smelled like flowers. Mom appeared at the doorway to the kitchen.
“It’s gorgeous out there”, she said, “Feels like spring… FINALLY!” She opened her eyes wide, and her mouth made a half smile.
I ran toward the screen door and pushed it open and ran out into the front yard. The grass felt slippery on my bare feet and the feeling in the air made those little bumps all over my arms. It was still kind of cold but it felt like the sun was making things warmer. The air smelled sweet like flowers, and made the inside of my body tingle with energy. The chirping birds were louder.
Since my bare feet felt cold, I ran back into the living room, the screen door banging closed behind me. Dad was coming out of the hallway into the living room with David in front of him holding his hand so he could try to walk. I could tell that David wanted to walk by himself like I could, but his legs didn’t move quite right yet, he lifted them up too far.
I heard mom’s voice from the kitchen. “So Eisenhower signed the bill making Hawaii the fiftieth state. Republicans got their new state to match the Democrat’s Alaska. How about that, two new states in one year.”
Dad blew air out his nose. “I read that the flag industry has already made 300,000 flags with 49 stars that are now no good. They’re saying it’s going to put them out of business.” He shook his head. ”It’s something to consider when you design a flag that has to be changed every time you add a state.”
“True”, said mom, then, “What’s your schedule today Eric?”
“Uh let’s see”, said dad, still walking David around the living room, which was still pretty empty except for that one brown chair with the wood poles and that “Herman Miller chest” with the shiny white top and yellow drawers.
“I’ve got midterms to grade for Wilson’s class, and now that my outline is approved I need to do some more research at the Grad library and I’d like to start in on the first draft of chapter one. I need to get to Fingerlee’s for bricks and boards for shelves for all Coop’s new toys and my books.”
“You’re going to finally get that last box of old books out of the attic?” mom asked.
“Yeah, some classics”, he said, “Plus all those armed services editions I got during the war.”
“Those ugly ducklings”, she said from the kitchen, “Why did they make them that way?”
“They made ‘em cheap Liz”, he said, still walking David around the mostly empty living room, “Cheap paper, and binding on the short side, plus two column for easy reading, and small so they could fit in your pocket.” Then a big smile on his face like he thought of something he really liked. “Hey. It’s not the presentation, it’s the prose that counts. You don’t know how many nights I was cooped up in a tent in southern Germany reading those things.”
“I can’t even imagine”, said mom.
Dad REALLY LIKED books, just like I really liked toys. He would read them, but also look at the outside part. He would even smell them sometimes. Whenever he got a new one he would tell mom and then figure out what shelf to put it on in his office part of the basement. I had shelves for my toys and he had shelves for his books.
I liked books too because they mostly had stories. I liked the stories about people having adventures, about kids having adventures. They gave me ideas for my own adventures that I would make with my toys. Mom would read me books that had big words and pictures on every page. I liked those because, if she sat next to me, I could see the words she was reading and try to figure those words out myself, and I knew a lot of them already. Those books were written for some people called “children” that grownups were always talking about, but I liked them too. Dad would read me regular books that had a lot more words on each page and only a few pictures, or maybe no pictures, just more words. I liked the pictures but I usually could imagine my own pictures too.
“Oh, and I need to put in some hours at the frat house”, dad said.
“Are you still giving that woman who runs it writing lessons?” Mom asked from the kitchen, “The one you bartered with for the TV?”
Still walking David around the living room, dad paused, looked up at the ceiling. “Well”, he said, “Every once in a while she’ll ask me to read something and critique it. She’s really a very talented writer, I enjoy doing it.”
“Well I gave you a hard time about it, I recall. Like it would interfere with other work you had to do. But I must say, I’m enjoying the TV when I’m doing chores down in the basement, and Cooly likes it too.”
I did like it. I liked Yogi Bear and Jinx the Cat. I liked Captain Kangaroo and really liked when he showed Tom Terrific. I liked when they showed the real rockets taking off, mom and I had watched one take off the other day. And I liked watching Sky King with Molly because she REALLY LIKED that show, and it was fun sitting next to her when she really liked something, because she would smile whenever she looked at me.
I also liked those times when they wanted you to get things, those “mercials”. Molly’s mom said they were the worst thing about TV, she called it the “boob tube”, but I was really interested in them. I figured those “mercials” were the stuff that grownups thought were really important to tell you, so they did things like yell at you and sing songs to make sure you were watching. I was always worried about what grownups were up to, so I figured I needed to know that they thought was important. They were always going and getting things, from the store, from the library, and other places, so the people on TV told grownups to do that stuff. They even had kids telling grownups to do stuff, which I thought was really interesting. That reminded me of how Ricky talked to grownups, like they didn’t know more than he did. I figured if I watched those “mercials” I would know everything the grownups were talking about. Though I figured I also had to learn to read so I could figure out the other stuff they knew that they weren’t talking about, but they put in books.
Then there was that “radio” thing, which I think grownups used to watch before they put that top part on that showed you the pictures and they called it “TV” instead. But now people didn’t watch the radio they only “listened” to it, which meant you didn’t have to look at it but you still could figure out what they were saying. Those voices on the radio always wanted to tell you about a baseball game or a football game. I guess that was kind of an adventure too, because in a game you never knew how it was going to turn out, which team was going to win. The people on the radio also told you what to get at the store sometimes like the people on TV, except you couldn’t watch them do it.
Then there was singing and music on the radio too, that usually happened at the same time, but sometimes there was just the music part and no singing. Music was done with “instruments” like that “piano” thing at grandma and grandpa’s house that grandma and Aunt Pat used. It was interesting that grownups “played” with their instruments like kids played with our toys. It was also interesting that on the radio when people did singing there was always music too. But dad and I did singing but there was no music.
Mom had brought the radio up from the basement and had it playing in the kitchen while she did stuff there. Both windows were open. There was somebody singing on the radio. Mom said it was “Frank Sinatra”, whoever that was, like I should know who that was.
Spring is here
Why doesn’t my heart go dancing?
Spring is here
Why isn’t the waltz entrancing?
No ambition leads me
Maybe it’s because nobody needs me
Mom liked that “Frank Sinatra” guy and “big bands” too. She said that was the music she “grew up with”, though I couldn’t believe she or dad was ever a kid like me. Mom even showed me pictures in a “photo album” of a kid and said that was her when she was “my age”, but I didn’t think it really could be. It was all gray without any other colors.
When she was listening to music she liked, she would start moving around like she was dancing, and when she saw me would say “I just can’t stop my feet” and then laugh. She liked listening to singing but she didn’t like to sing because she said she couldn’t “carry a tune”. Dad liked to sing a lot, but he didn’t listen to much singing on the radio, he listened to “sports”, like baseball and football. Both of them would listen to “news” or watch it on the TV. I remember mom and I watching the “news” when that big new rocket took off.
I ran through each room of the house and every window was open, all nine of them. Then I ran down the stairs into the basement. I had learned how to move my feet really fast down the stairs so that it was almost like falling instead of walking. When I did it, I would hold my hands out so my fingers brushed against the wall on either side. Somehow that made it easier for me to go really fast. Even the windows in the basement, those five little ones up by the ceiling, were open a little bit. I would run back up the stairs too, sometimes stepping up, not to the next step but the one above it.
When I got to the top of the stairs I looked out the side door which was open except for the screen door part. The little stones in the driveway were shining in the sun, which was right up there in the blue sky above the house next door. Even though I was looking outside I could tell my mom was looking at me.
“If you go get your shoes, I’ll help you put them on so you can go outside”, she said.
I didn’t like that I still couldn’t tie my shoes by myself, and I had to ask mom or dad to do it for me. If I could just figure out how to do that, then I could do just about everything by myself. I ran out of the kitchen and almost ran into dad still helping David walk around the living room, and had to run around them to get to my room. I could see David turning his head to watch me as I ran by. I could tell that he wanted to run like I did. I grabbed my shoes from the floor of my room without even stopping and ran back to the kitchen, David watching me run by again.
When mom saw me carrying my shoes she leaned over and patted the seat of one of the chairs in the kitchen. I knew that’s what you did when you wanted someone to sit there so you didn’t have to talk. So I sat there and gave her my shoes. I could feel myself breathing more than I usually did. She took another chair and moved it in front of me and sat and looked at my shoes and then at me.
“I know you need me to tie them, but can you put them on by yourself?” she asked. I looked at my shoes in her hand and nodded. She held one out and I took it, pulled up the part under the laces, stuck my toes in the open part and pushed my foot in while I pulled on the top of the sides until my foot slid in.
“I see you know how to put it on and which foot it goes on”, she said. I nodded again, still looking down and not at her, since I didn’t want her to see that I didn’t like that I couldn’t tie them myself. She held out the other shoe and I took it and did the same thing. She looked at the shoes now on my feet but not tied, shook her head, and waved her finger in the air.
“Somebody needs to figure out how to make shoes that have a strap with a snap instead of laces so a kid your age can do it himself”, she said, “They could make a mint.” I watched how her fingers moved one lace around the other, then pulled on each so they squeezed the top part of my foot, then making a loop with one lace and wrapping the other lace around it, finally pushing that lace through the bottom part to pull out the second loop. I had tried to do that myself and I could do the first part, moving one lace around the other, but making the one loop and pushing the other loop through just seemed too hard.
When she finished she said, “There ya go young man”, and I tumbled myself off the chair and out the side door into the backyard.
The air still felt cool on my skin but it didn’t feel too cold, and with shoes on my feet they were warm enough, and that was usually the part of me that got the coldest. But the sun was up there in the sky with no clouds in front of it so I could feel it making my body warm and feeling alive. Things tingled and tickled inside me, and I thought of those moving gears inside the clock that you usually didn’t see.
I decided to check out all the different parts of our backyard to get ready to do more playing outside since it wasn’t really cold anymore. Between the window into my room by my bed and the big maple tree was where the pile of dirt was where I would play the most with my soldiers and ships. The green grass was around it and went all the way back to mom’s garden at the end of the backyard, all now glowing in the sun. All that grass was usually the sea where the ships would go carrying the soldiers to or from the island or land part that was the dirt pile. Looking back towards mom’s garden, the left side of the yard had one of the two spruce trees, the one Molly and I were hiding in when mom got scared that we were gone and then had to go to the hospital to get David. The right side of the yard had the other spruce tree, which had more branches so it was harder to hide in. On the other side of each tree was where our neighbors would go in their backyards.
Those spruce trees were a lot taller than me but not as tall as the maple tree above me right now. They were green all year, so mom said that’s why they were called “evergreens”, which made sense. She said that they stayed green because they had “needles” instead of “leaves”, so even when it got cold they wouldn’t fall off like the leaves on the maple tree.
I looked up through the branches of the maple tree. They looked like long fingers of a giant hand of an arm coming out of the ground reaching up to the sky. Yesterday mom had pointed at the little bump parts on the small branches that she called “buds”, because she was always telling me about plants. I remembered when there were leaves on all those branches, and then when they turned colors and fell off. Mom said that was the “fall”, which also made sense. And I remembered mom saying they would come back in the “spring”. Today I could FEEL them getting ready to come back somehow!
I looked at where my dirt pile had been under the tree, the ground was all flat and hard, my little shovel could barely break through it. But dad said that as soon as it was spring we would go and get more dirt.
But I was drawn toward the spruce tree. It just seemed extra alive somehow. As I got closer to it I could smell something sweet which got stronger as I got closer to it. I got on my hands and knees and pushed through the branches into that space inside the tree where Molly and I had hid when my mom got so worried. But it wouldn’t be hiding, I thought, if you said where you were. And then mom had to go to the hospital because David had to be “born”, that was the word grownups used.
Inside the secret space the sweet smell was much stronger, but it also had a stingy feeling in my nose. I remembered that smell from the Christmas Tree at grandma and grandpa’s house, but this was much stronger. It was so strong now it was hard for me to think about anything else when I was smelling it.
I grabbed branches so I could stand up inside the tree, moving a bit to avoid branches above me. They felt rough and sticky on my hands as I grabbed them. I realized they were close enough together that I could climb up them like I was in some kind of secret tower. I climbed up, weaving my way between branches which brushed against my clothes, my bare arms, and my bare legs. I got up high enough that I could poke my head through the needles of the smaller branches and look out. From where I was I could look down on the backyard, mom’s garden at the very back, and my now flat dirt pile at the front just behind the maple tree. And if I looked through the maple tree and over the top part of our house I could see the windows of Molly’s bedroom in the top part of her house across the street. I couldn’t really see in her windows and I wondered if she was looking out at me right now, so I waved at her window, thinking maybe she was. I put my foot on the next branch up to go higher but it felt like it was bending so I didn’t keep trying to step on it.
I looked out at the maple tree which was much bigger than the spruce tree I was climbing in. If I could just figure out how to climb the maple tree I could get much higher, but it did not have any branches close to the ground that I could start climbing on. When I was under it, if I jumped up I could barely touch the lowest branch. I had to be bigger, “taller” as the grownups called it. Grownups were always looking at kids they hadn’t seen for a while and saying how “tall” and how “grownup” they were. I suddenly realized that that word “grownup” was really two words, “grow” which was the thing you were doing, and “up”, which was which way you were doing it. And then they said “grown” instead of “grow” because it had already happened.
I had to “grow up” before I could climb the maple tree, and I had to get older so I could tie my own shoes. Then I could do just about everything by myself. I could already put my own clothes on, except for my shoes, go to the bathroom by myself, and eat a bowl of cereal by myself. And I think I could even make a peanut butter sandwich by myself, though I hadn’t really tried yet.
“Hey Coob!” I heard Molly’s voice call out as her feet crunched on the little stones in our driveway and I watched her from above run into the backyard. She was looking up at me and smiling.
“I saw you waving at me from my room”, she said, “How the heck did you get up there?”
I hadn’t heard her say “the heck” before, but I had heard her dad and my dad say it sometimes. It did make her sound kind of like a grownup, like something Ricky might say. She was four now after all.
“I climbed up”, I said.
“I’m coming up too”, she said, running up to the tree but then stopping, looking like she couldn’t figure out how to climb up it.
“Did you climb up on the outside?” she asked.
I shook my head. “Inside.”
She nodded like that made sense.
“Go into the secret part”, I said, “Then climb up the branches.”
She let her body fall to the ground on her hands and knees. When grownups got down on their hands and knees, they would do it slowly, one part at a time. But Molly loved to just throw herself on the ground, or get knocked down when we were playing bodies, for real or for pretend. She would even crash into things sometimes on purpose. I liked all that stuff too, but she REALLY liked it.
She crawled between the branches into that secret part. Then I could see and feel the tree shaking and I could hear her grunting under me as she got closer to where I was and I could feel her energy. Her head emerged below me and to get as high as I was she had to duck under a branch which pushed her chest against mine, our faces just a few inches apart and I could feel her breathing on my face.
She managed to hold her body back just enough so we weren’t mashed together and then looked at me in a funny way like she’d never seen me before, or like I was not the same, or I looked different from this close. When we played or walked or watched TV together we usually sat or stood next to each other looking in the same direction seeing the same things, not facing each other like this, where I saw her but she couldn’t see what I saw, and she saw me but I couldn’t see me. When I could see what she was seeing it helped me know what she was thinking, and I could think the same thing if I wanted to. But this face to face was strange and kind of scary, but exciting too.
And other times when we were side by side, our shoulders or our legs might touch, but not the front parts of our body like just now, though it didn’t really bother me. I mean some grownups did that hugging and kissing stuff. I’d seen mom and dad do it, and Molly said her mom and dad did it too. I’d seen grownups do that holding hands stuff also, mostly on TV. Ricky said that some kids did that holding hands stuff too when they “got all kissy faced”.
But Molly and I never held hands, because we knew if we did then everything would be different. If the grownups saw us, or even other kids saw us, then everybody would always be watching and talking about us. And even if we did it when no one could see us, like in that secret place in this tree down below or up in her bedroom, it would still somehow make everything different.
Molly looked at me for a long time, up real close, before she said anything, like she had to figure me out in some new way. I didn’t really like people looking at me, because I wasn’t sure what they were thinking about me. But when she finally smiled and it looked like she was really happy and not worried about me, then I was happy too, and it was okay if she looked some more. And I looked at her too, because I guess that was what we were doing. I mean we always liked doing stuff together, and I guess we were doing this together, just not seeing the same thing when we looked.
Her eyes were blue and her hair came down to the bottom part of her head and was that color that grownups called “blonde”. I had heard grownup men at a party talking about someone who was a “blonde” like that was something special and different than a regular woman, and maybe funnier too. There were pink parts on the sides of Molly’s face that would even get more pink sometimes when she looked fierce. Her lips would push together a lot when she was thinking, or she would even stick the top part of her thumb between them when she was worried, though she didn’t do that much anymore. I wished she could see what I was seeing so we could maybe think the same thing about it, but how could she.
And she was looking at me, I guess, how I looked at myself in the mirror, with my darker eyes that mom said were “hazel”, whatever that was, and my darker hair that was really short like other boys and grownup men had, that mom said was a “princeton”, whatever THAT was. I decided I better smile so she would not get worried about what I was thinking when I was looking at her, since she couldn’t look at herself at the same time.
“Coob, I can’t wait until you have your birthday soon and you are four like I am”, she said, then getting fierce, “I don’t like that we’re not the same number!” It felt strange for her to be so close and look right at me, talking in that fierce way.
I nodded. Grownups were always talking about how old kids were, like that was most important somehow, and once you were “four” instead of “three” you would do different things. They REALLY talked about it a lot when they talked about kids in “school”, which I was finding out was not something just adults did, because Danny and Ricky said they went to school too.
“I don’t know that it really matters”, I said.
She pushed her lips together, thinking, then finally nodded, but still looking fierce. But instead of looking at me she looked down at the backyard. I looked too, so now we were looking at the same thing.
“And I don’t like what Ricky said at my party about those new bombs”, she said, “Dad said they’re good because no one will fight wars anymore. Mom got mad at him because she said he’s wrong.” She glared at me. “You wouldn’t fight wars with those new bombs!”
I shook my head. That seemed to make her less fierce.
“It’s stupid”, she said, starting to smile and shake her head and getting even less fierce like she was done thinking about it.
We both stood there for a long time without talking anymore, each on our branches in the tree but just inches from each other, feeling the energy of the day, feeling the energy of each other. It felt like all sorts of things were starting and might never stop. It was scary but also exciting.
This spruce tree was one of our secret places where we could go to be safe from the adults. That part down below where we could hide and no one could see us. And now there was this part up here where we could up high and look out on things. And we could see our other special place, Molly’s bedroom, not quite so secret, across the street. Where we could go and fight the battles against pirates and the other adult bad guys and not get blown up, unless we wanted to.