It was still dark but mom and dad said it was morning. I wondered if in this “Binghamton” place it was dark in the morning. Mom had David in her arms, and he looked around trying to figure out this new dark place too. Mom just kind of stared in one direction, blinking her eyes a lot, which weren’t open as much as they usually were. I heard a person calling out.
“Sis! Sis! We’re over here!”
I turned and saw the person who was yelling and waving her hand in the air. She looked familiar but it was a memory from a very long time ago. She had on a long blue coat and shiny black boots. Her hair was like mom’s but a little bit shorter. She looked kind of like an adult but her energy was more like a kid like me, which was what made me remember her. She also reminded me of Margie who would come and play with me and David when mom and dad went to parties.
“Oh Pat, there you are!” mom said with a sigh, “I don’t know which way is up at the moment. I barely got any sleep, and changing David’s diaper in the middle of the night was a nightmare!” Mom waved her hands around and made funny faces and put one of her hands on her forehead. Finally she did her best to make her mouth smile and said, “But we’re here.”
The person approached us and her eyes focused on me. Looking at my feet and then up to my head.
“Wow Cooper” she said smiling, using my nickname, “You’ve grown so much!”
I looked at her, remembering her, but not sure why.
“Do you remember me?” she said.
“I’m aunt Pat! Your mom’s sister. I’m so thrilled to see you again!”
Dad was finally getting off the train with the big suitcase.
“Hey Pat! You here with George?” he said.
“Well hello to you too Eric!” Pat said, like she was saying something funny. “Daddy’s parking the Buick”, Pat said, “Though I could have easily picked you up myself”. I still could not figure out why she was talking about “daddy” to dad.
Dad nodded, but you could tell he was thinking about something. “I’m going to wait for the checked baggage”, he said, “I’ll catch up with all of you in the terminal.”
Aunt Pat turned to mom and looked at David and gave him an even bigger smile. “Oh my god sis, so this is David!” She stuck out her finger and touched his hand. “Hello you!” David smiled back at her. He seemed to like her as much as I did.
A tall grown up with gray hair and a brown coat came up. I recognized him too from long ago. He put his gloved hands on Pat’s shoulders.
“There’s our Jane with her new edition”, he said smiling. “Your mother and I are so glad you could make the trip!”
“Oh dad”, mom said, “Thank you for paying for the train. Our old Chevy was not up to the task.” When she said the words she sounded more like a kid.
“It’s a Chevy, so I’m not surprised”, he said chuckling. Then his head turned and his eyes looked down at me.
“Jonathan, you look so grown up. You’re a big brother now!”
I nodded and smiled. I wasn’t sure about being called “grown up”, but I liked the “big brother” part, though I wasn’t sure he was just telling me that and didn’t really mean it. Grownups did things like that sometimes just to get you to do what they wanted. Even my mom and dad sometimes.
“Daddy”, Aunt Pat said, “He’s going by Cooper now!”
“Say hello to your grandpa, Cooper!” Mom’s voice felt a little bit like she was telling me what to do.
I wasn’t sure right away I wanted to do that, but everyone was now looking at me.
“Hello grandpa”, I finally said. Mom and grandpa made big smiles. Aunt Pat grinned like she knew what I was thinking.
“You’re calling him ‘Cooper’ now?” grandpa asked. “Not John or Johnny?”
“Yes dad”, mom had that same fierce sound in her voice like she was telling him, “John is my brother’s name. My son is Jonathan, and his nickname is Cooper. I’ll tell you ALL about it later.” She rubbed the top of my head with her hand.
“So dad”, she said, “Say hello to your new grandson David!”
“Yes, David”, grandpa said, winking at me and then turning his eyes to my “little brother” in my mom’s arms.
“Oh boy”, he said, “Look at this little fella!” Then looking up at mom, “He’s got your eyes, Jane!”
Dad finally came back. He was holding a suitcase in each hand and had boxes under each arm.
Mom looked at him and rolled her eyes. “Jesus Eric, you’re going to break your back!”
Dad looked like a kid for a moment when a grownup got mad at him. “I’m fine Liz”, he said, though he looked like he was working so much it was hard for him to get the words out.
He looked at grandpa. “Morning George. Been a while. Thanks for coming out before dawn to pick us up!” Dad put down the suitcases and the boxes, rubbed his hand on his pants and stuck it out, and grandpa stuck out his hand and shook it. That’s what grownup men did to each other when they met.
So we all followed grandpa through the station, he and Aunt Pat carrying the boxes that dad had, and dad now only carrying the big suitcases. I carried the traincase, though I had to use both hands and it still bumped into my legs. I was getting used to walking with it, and it wasn’t so hard because I did not have to go up or down.
When we drove in the car the sky started getting lighter. I could see the buildings and houses appearing out of the dark. I realized I had been in this place before but it was a very very long time ago.
We stopped in front of a house that looked more like Molly’s house than ours, because it had a top part above the bottom part with windows way up there sticking out of the main roof with their own little roofs above them, though it only had two of those and Molly’s house had three. Those top part windows were dark, but the bottom ones were all lit up. There was snow on the ground and on the roof. And the front part around the door and windows had different colored gray spots like a “castle” house I’d seen on the Captain Kangaroo TV show.
We all got out and dad opened that “trunk” part of grandpa’s car and took our suitcases and boxes out and put them on the ground. Grandpa picked up one of the suitcases.
“George”, dad said kind of fiercely, “I’ve got that!”
Grandpa made a weird grunting noise and said, “I’m not an old codger yet”, so dad let him pick up one of the suitcases. I wasn’t sure dad would let me carry the traincase but he did. Mom was holding David. Pat took the two boxes. Dad had the other two suitcases. Grandpa went first up the two steps to the front door and opened it with a key. One by one with what we were carrying we walked into the house.
I heard a voice from inside the house but I couldn’t see where.
“Oh here they all are! Was the train on time?”
“Nope”, said grandpa, “Poor excuse for a railroad!”
We all walked through the door into the house. Just like the outside was, the inside was kind of like Molly’s house. Across from the front door were stairs that went up, but these went straight up and didn’t turn in the middle. Something about stairs I always wanted to run up or down them, but I didn’t this time. To the right was one of those “living rooms” like in Molly’s house with those big puffy chairs and that long puffy couch thing. The floor had that soft “carpet” stuff like Molly’s living room.
Then my eyes were drawn to the Christmas tree in the corner of the room nearest to where I was looking in. It had all the shiny things hanging from the branches, and the little lights – blue, red, green, orange, purple, white and yellow – were all lit up. There were boxes with shiny patterns and bows under the tree. I remembered this Christmas tree thing from a long time ago at our house and how exciting it all was. I would get to open presents and some of them would be new toys. I was really excited.
But unlike Molly’s house, this one had another room to the left of the stairs with a big brown shiny table in the middle and brown shiny chairs around it. A tall person with gray hair like grandpa, only longer, came into that room from somewhere else wearing a white bathrobe.
“Well here they all are now, our midwestern branch and its new addition!” she said.
I figured she was talking about us, and I had heard that “midwestern” word before. It was some place close to where we lived. It wasn’t that “western” place where grownup men shot each other with guns on TV and Sky King flew his plane through the sky. But I had no idea what the “branch” and “addition” things she was talking about.
She had big eyes and a round face like mom, not a thin face like grandpa. She looked at me and smiled like mom did. I kind of remembered her too.
“There’s our Jonathan all grown up”, she said.
I wondered why grownups seemed to always do this. Tell us kids we were just like them when we weren’t. And they didn’t really mean it, it was just something they’d say to get you to do what they wanted.
“Mother”, aunt Pat said, “He goes by ‘Cooper’ now.”
The person in the bathrobe wrinkled her nose like she was thinking while she looked at me.
“Cooper, eh?” she nodded, “Like that sax player in Stan Kenton’s band who married that good looking young singer, what’s her name.”
“June Christy”, grandpa said.
“Mother”, mom’s voice was still sounding fierce, “I wrote you all about this in my letter!” She made a smile but she did not look happy. She turned and looked down at me, putting her hand on my shoulder.
“Cooper”, she said, “This is your grandmoth…”. She paused and then said, “This is your grandma”, then “You remember when you were here last year?”
I nodded. I didn’t want them to think I didn’t remember.
The person in the robe chuckled and said, “Call me what you like, just don’t call me late for dinner!”
“Good one Carrie!” It was my dad’s voice from somewhere behind me.
“Hi grandma”, I said, figuring I should say that.
“Back at you young man!” she said, making another smile at me before turning to look at mom.
“So Jane”, grandma said, “Introduce me to this little guy!”
Mom approached grandma and turned her body so grandma could see David’s face up close.
“Mother, this is David”, she said. I could see mom’s cheek get a little bit red.
Grandma put out her finger and touched David’s hand and it closed around her finger.
“Hello little man”, she said, “That’s quite a grip you got!”
Then grandma looked at mom. “He’s got your eyes Jane.” Then she looked at dad. “You’re in there too Eric.”
Grandma backed away and then clapped her hands together.
“Enough for introductions”, she said, “I bet you’re all starving. I’ve got a fresh loaf of pumpernickel and some jam, and I can be talked into whipping up some scrambled eggs. Maybe even some bacon if you ask nice!” She waved her hand. “Just leave your bags in the living room for now.”
“Bacon and eggs would hit the spot Carrie”, dad said.
“There you go”, grandma said, wagging a finger at dad.
So the rest of us sat on the chairs in the room with the big “dining room” table in the middle. Aunt Pat gave me a pillow to sit on so I would be up higher. She and grandma did things in the kitchen and I heard a sizzling sound and it smelled like cooking. Grandpa asked dad questions about the stuff he was doing. Dad told him about books and things he was “researching”, whatever that was. Aunt Pat brought plates with scrambled eggs and bacon on it for everyone. I was hungry and it tasted good.
After breakfast, grandma led us all upstairs to show us the rooms we would be sleeping in. I always liked stairways because they really changed where you were. Mom and dad had a big room kind of like Molly’s, where the top part wasn’t upside down flat but went up and the windows were down low and you could see down to the front yard. Next to the bed was a crib with the wood bars for David to sleep in so he couldn’t escape, that grandma said they borrowed from “Johnny” who they said was my “uncle”, whatever that was.
Grandma and grandpa’s bedroom was next to it but the windows looked down into the back yard rather than the front. After you went up the stairs you turned left to go to those rooms. If you turned right you went to Aunt Pat’s room. If you didn’t turn left OR right you went into the bathroom.
Aunt Pat’s room was really big because it had both a bedroom part and then also an office part with a desk and a typewriter thing like my dad had. I liked that it was different rooms in the same space, like our basement, which had my part, the TV part, the laundry part and dad’s office part. There weren’t real walls in between but you pretended there were.
The room where my bed was was very interesting. You had to go into Aunt Pat’s room first to get to the door to my room. I had never seen anything like that in a house before. Once you went through a door into a room, that was it, no more doors to other rooms except for closets, which were kind of rooms but without much space. My room was bigger than a closet but a lot smaller than all the other rooms I had been in. It had a bed kind of like my own bed back home and a tiny table next to it and a little dresser but no closet, and it was smaller than my room back home. It did have a small window right by the bed that you could look out even when you were lying in the bed which was different from the windows in my room back home. Looking out that window you could see the back yard covered with white snow and had trees with no leaves. I really liked that it was small but kind of in the middle of things, between the inside rest of the house and the outside part of the back yard. It was that word my mom had used about our room on the train, “cozy”.
Aunt Pat took me on what she called a “tour” of the rest of the house, which is where you follow someone who tells you about everything you are going to see. We went down the stairs back to the front door and I saw something I had not noticed before.
It was this tall shiny brown thing by the door that I hadn’t noticed before, that looked like a clock at the top but below that had this window part that you could look through to see these pine cone shaped things hanging from chains. Aunt Pat said it was a “grandfather clock”, so I figured it belonged to my grandpa who was also my “grandfather”. She said that to make the thing keep working and telling you the right time, once a day you would open the glass part in the front and pull on the chains so the pine cone things went back up to the top. Then because of what she said was “gravity”, whatever that was, they would fall down slowly to pull on the clock to make it work. It was pretty interesting, and she even let me pull one of the chains, which made a clicking sound as I pulled it down and made the pine cone thing, which she said was a “weight”, go back up.
So she continued the “tour” and we made a left turn at the clock into the “living room”. Our house had a living room too, but this one had chairs and tables and one of those couch things in it like Molly’s house. I mean a “bedroom” had beds in it and a “dining room” was a room with a table where you ate food which grownups sometimes called “dining”. I remembered on the train that the room with the tables where those people were eating was called the “dining car”, even though it was more like a room than a real car. But what kind of “living” you did in this sort of room, I wasn’t really sure. In our house it was David’s bedroom, and in Molly’s it was where grownups sat and talked to each other and maybe to kids too. Or where they stood around and talked at a party.
The first thing I had to look at was the Christmas Tree which was one of those spruce trees like the ones in our back yard except it was smaller and wasn’t coming out of the ground but came out of a metal bowl thing that I recalled you poured water in so it didn’t get “dried out”. It had all those small glowing colored lights on it that when I looked close were like regular lights only smaller and different colors instead of all white. The tree had other stuff hanging from it like I remembered, including those shiny round ball things, some looking like they had snow on them or frosting like a donut. And I looked up to the top of the tree, and just as I remembered, there was a star thing up there.
There were also these long shiny silver strands hanging from the branches of the tree. Aunt Pat called them “tinsel”.
“Your mom is very particular about hanging tinsel, one strand at a time”, she said. “Me I cheat a little”. She chuckled, and I could tell she liked that she cheated.
But as much as I had to look at the tree, I also had to look at the shiny colored boxes below it with bows and ribbons on them. I knew they were Christmas presents and I knew some of them were for me. Not sure how I knew that but I just knew. Aunt Pat saw me looking at them and figured out what I was thinking.
“Three days til we get to open our presents!” she said.
I figured she was really a kid like me only taller because she said “we” instead of “you”, which is what a grownup would say. I thought about the “three days” part. I had known for a while what “three” was and what “days” were, but now I could really imagine what “three days” were. Going to sleep, waking up, going to sleep again, waking up again, going to sleep one more time then waking up and that would be three days.
I really liked looking at the tree and the presents but I was ready to continue the “tour”. Just knowing they were there and that I could look at them more closely later, and open them soon was enough, and I could keep thinking about it while I did other stuff. Aunt Pat walked back toward the back part of the living room.
“So here’s the back door to the backyard and the stairway down to the basement, and it also goes through to the kitchen.”
That last thing was very interesting. You could get to the kitchen from two different directions. You could walk through the downstairs rooms in a circle and never stop. I had never seen a house like this before. Not even Molly’s house which had more rooms, stairways and doors than ours had this whole circle thing. I could hear grandma, grandpa and dad and mom still in the dining room talking.
“So shall we descend into the basement?” Aunt Pat said.
She headed down the stairs and I followed. I could see the basement had two parts, not four like our basement. But it also didn’t have the gray walls and floor like our basement and looked more like regular rooms like Molly’s basement. At the bottom of the stairs she went to the left.
“This is what mother… your grandmother calls the ‘rumpus room’. She likes to play the piano and sing.” I had no idea what “rumpus” was, but my dad sometimes called your rear end your “rump” so I wondered if that had something to do with it, but I wasn’t going to ask. Aunt Pat put her hand on the “piano” thing, it was brown and shiny and had that black and white front part that you made music on with your fingers and a thing you could sit on to use it.
She put her fingers on the black and white parts and pushed them down and music started coming out. I’d seen people sit at these piano things and make music on TV, but never right there in front of me. I looked at her like I was seeing something I didn’t expect.
She looked back at me with her eyes really big and just a little bit of a smile and said, “It can also play by itself and I’ll show you that later!”
“Now here’s another really neat part of the house”, she said, leading me into the other part of the basement on the other side of the stairs. I saw one of those big shiny white box things like we had for washing clothes, except there was a second big shiny white box next to it.
“This is the laundry room. Nothing special about it except for one thing”, she said, then she looked at me and opened her eyes really wide and said, “This secret door!”
There was a little stairway with just three steps that went up to that door in the wall behind the big white boxes. She climbed up the steps and turned something that made a click noise and then turned the knob and the door opened. I felt cold air come in. I looked up to the room on the other side and it was kind of dark but I could see the car we had driven home from the train station in. I couldn’t figure out how the car got inside the house. She reached through the door and around the corner and the room with the car was all lit up.
“This is the secret passage to the garage!”
I liked that. It was really interesting. Our basement didn’t have a “secret passage” like that to a “garage” place, whatever that was. I didn’t want to ask Aunt Pat what a “garage” was because I didn’t want her to think I didn’t know. I didn’t want her to say, “You don’t know what a GARAGE is?”
She looked at me with eyes like it was just our secret and said, “I think we should close it because it’s freezing out there!”
I nodded my head. Yes it was our secret and it did feel cold.
So we decided to go back upstairs to where the grownups were now gathered in the kitchen drinking that “coffee” stuff that only grownups were supposed to drink. Somehow it got them ready to do things that would be too hard if they didn’t drink it. It always smelled kind of good but I recall they said it didn’t taste like it smelled unless you put a lot of sugar and milk in it. Mom did that, but dad liked it “black”, which I guess meant just plain.
Grandma saw us coming up from the basement. “I made some cocoa too for our young man”, she said, “And Pat, what are you up for, cocoa or coffee?”
“When did you start drinking coffee?” mom asked, like she couldn’t believe it was true.
Aunt Pat made her body look more like a grownup and her voice sounded kind of fierce. “Sis, I’ve been drinking coffee for years. Helps you stay sharp when you’re working ninety hours a week. I’ve got a job at the Bulletin and everybody I work with drinks gallons of it.” She then looked at me and raised her eyebrows a little bit. “But I’ll have cocoa with Cooper.”
“Job at The Bulletin? Glad to hear it!” dad said, in between sipping his coffee. “Is Bill still doing sports?”
She nodded. “Bill’s RUNNING the Sports Desk now. Next time our paths cross I’ll tell him you say hello!”
Dad did that thing where he pushed his mouth up towards his nose when he wasn’t sure about something but then he finally spoke.
“Why don’t you and Coop drink your cocoa and then maybe take a walk with me over to Spaulding’s to get a dozen donuts! It’s still right around the corner, isn’t it?”
“Still there”, Grandpa said, “Been there forever. Best donuts in the whole damn city!”
Dad loved donuts as much as anything else. It always made him happy to go and get them, once he figured out where they were.
“George, you want to join us?” dad asked.
“I’d love to get some fresh air”, grandpa said. But then he looked at mom so I looked at her too. She puffed out her cheeks then blew air out of her mouth, a thing she did when she didn’t like something.
“Well”, grandpa said, “Do have a bit of a cold still, maybe I’ll take a rain check!”
“Suit yourself”, dad said. I wasn’t sure what that even meant. I had a bathing suit but I figured they weren’t talking about that.
So dad, Aunt Pat and I got ready to go. David was crying so mom took him upstairs saying she had to change his diaper. Dad helped me put on my jacket, but I realized after he started that I didn’t like that I didn’t do it by myself, because Aunt Pat was watching. I took my cap out of his hands and did my best to pull it over my own head. I struggled with my mittens to get them on, but finally did. But I couldn’t get my rubber boots on by myself and Aunt Pat had to help me. Grandpa walked with us to the front door and opened it. After the three of us walked out he waved and closed it.
The sky was gray and it wasn’t too cold except when the wind blew, which made my face and neck cold and even sting a little. Dad said we should probably walk in the street because the snow was “plowed” there, whatever that was. Maybe snow was “plowed” when it got gray and turned into “slush”. I liked the way the slush squeezed out under my boots. Aunt Pat walked on one side of me and dad on the other. Dad reached out to take my hand but I pulled it away. I slipped once and fell on my “rear end”, that’s what he called it, though I thought you should call it your “back middle”. Aunt Pat asked me if I was okay and I said I was. It did hurt some for a few minutes but I knew boys and grownup men weren’t supposed to say so unless it hurt a lot. After I fell dad wanted to take my hand again but I still didn’t want him to.
Dad seemed happy not to say anything and just listen to the snow making all its quiet gooshing and creaking noises as we walked through it, but Aunt Pat I could tell really wanted to talk.
“My sister didn’t want to be alone with mother”, she said. I wondered why, but I wasn’t going to ask, since she was sounding like a grownup again and figuring they would think I was too young to know.
“Huh”, dad said like he didn’t know that.
He pushed his lips together to think about that as he looked around. “Liz is just going to have to get over it!” he said, then he chuckled and kicked the slush with one of his boots. We continued to walk without talking anymore, and I wondered what mom had to “get over”, whatever that meant.
The donut store was like a house but it had a really big window in front that you could look into and see all the donuts inside. We had to walk up stairs to go in the front door. I always got excited walking up and down stairs, even if it was only a few. When we opened the door a bell rang and we walked in. Dad looked at all the orange boxes of donuts with the white stripes.
Looking at each box carefully he asked, “Your folks still like the powdered sugar ones?”
“I like em”, Aunt Pat said, “Let’s get some!”
“But do they like em too?”
“Daddy likes the plain ones”, she said.
“So do I”, said dad, and then pushed his lips together again. He turned to the man standing behind the shiny metal thing that stores kept money in. “Can we get a box with half powdered sugar and half plain?” he asked.
“Sorry”, the man said, shaking his head and making a sad face.
Dad nodded slowly with his lips still pushed together. But then I could tell he was thinking something new and he smiled just a little bit on one side of his mouth.
“We’ll just have to get two dozen”, he said, “Hey, it’s Christmas!”
Aunt Pat nodded. The man behind the metal thing nodded. I nodded. Dad sure liked donuts!
We went back outside and sat on the steps up to the store’s front door. Dad looked down at the stairs and then at the two of us.
“Shall we?” he asked, holding up the donut boxes. We both nodded.
Dad brushed off whatever snow was left on the steps so it was better for sitting. He sat on one side and she and I sat on the other with her on a lower step so there was space in the middle. He opened the orange and white striped box with the white donuts inside the clear part. He held the box out next to Aunt Pat who looked in and then wrinkled her nose.
“We’re going to need some napkins”, she said, “I’ll go get them!” And she kind of jumped up, more like a kid now, and went back in the store, the bell ringing again. She came back out, sat down again, and wanted to give one to dad but he shook his head. He held the open box in front of her again and she used the napkin to take one of the powered white ones out.
“Here Coop”, she said, using my shorter name that mom and dad used a lot, giving me the napkin with the donut in between. I figured out that I should put my fingers on the napkin part to take it from her. With another napkin she took a second one out of the box.
Dad closed that box and put it down and then opened the other box with the brown donuts inside. He took one out with his fingers. We all were holding our donuts looking at each other. Even dad seemed like a kid right then. Dad held up his donut a little higher and then looked at us and smiled.
“Cheers”, he said. Aunt Pat said the same thing. Somehow I figured out that I should say that too.
We all bit into our donuts. Powdered sugar got on my mouth around my lips and fell on my pants. Dad reached over and brushed it off my pants before I could do anything myself. Aunt Pat spread her knees apart so the powder on hers could fall onto the ground and she right away had her fingers covering and wiping her mouth as she chewed and kind of chuckled at the same time. Dad’s donut was easier to eat because nothing fell off of it. Maybe that’s why he liked that kind so much.
It felt so good to chew on each bite of my donut and feel the sting of the sweetness in my mouth. It was soft and sweet and made me feel happy, and I just wanted to take another bite even before I finished chewing the last one. When I had eaten all of mine, dad and Aunt Pat were still eating theirs more slowly. While I watched them eat the rest of theirs I really wanted another one, but decided I shouldn’t ask.
They finally finished and we walked back to the house. We all seemed to have extra energy, and Aunt Pat was telling dad about working for a “newspaper”, which I knew was one of those things with the big paper sheets with the words and pictures on it, like a book but much bigger and with no cover, all folded together that sometimes you got at the store and sometimes all extra folded and put by your front door by some older kid with a big bag of them. I was happy just to walk in the snow and feel how different it could feel when I stepped on different parts of it, some parts where it would mush down and kind of hold my foot in it and other parts where it was hard and even slippery, each different part making a different kind of noise under my boots.
When we got back mom and grandpa were still sitting at the dining room table and grandma was in the kitchen doing stuff that made clinking noises but still talking to mom and grandpa in the next room. I was used to always seeing David with her, but he wasn’t now, and she said he had “gone down for a nap upstairs”, which really didn’t make any sense. I knew that “a nap” was like sleeping when it wasn’t nighttime, but going “down upstairs” was the part that confused me. She looked sleepy but happy.
“Oh Eric” she said, rolling her big round eyes and smiling, “It’s so nice to have some peace and adult company!” She patted the top of grandpa’s hand, and it occurred to me that she called him “dad” and Aunt Pat called him “daddy” because he was THEIR dad, only from a long time ago, which was all strange to me, but I guess even grownups could have moms and dads too.
Dad took the two orange and white boxes of donuts from under his arm and put them on the table.
“Two dozen?” said mom, like she was sort of asking and sort of telling.
“Yeah Liz”, dad said, “They don’t sell mixed dozens and half of us like plain and half powdered, so I splurged.”
Mom chuckled in a relaxed kind of way and said, “What the hell, it’s Christmas!”
“Okay young man”, came grandma’s voice from the kitchen, “Wait a few years before you use the ‘H’ word!” She laughed.
Grandma came out of the kitchen holding a big shiny white thing with a handle. “Coffee’s up”, she said. “Gotta have coffee if you’re going to have donuts. And I also warmed up the cocoa for Cooper.”
So we ate and drank, and mom, grandpa, grandma and Aunt Pat were talking about everything, their voices getting louder and louder as they laughed and chuckled and even snorted. Every once in a while they would stop and look at me and one of them would ask me a question and they’d all get quiet and expect me to do lots of talking.
“So how did you like the train ride?” or “How do you like the name ‘Cooper’?”
It wasn’t that I was afraid to talk, but that I did not like it when grownups asked me questions. It made me get too worried. If Molly or another kid asked me a question that was okay and I’d tell them my answer, because that’s what you did and they would usually listen. But grownups would sometimes ask you questions even when they knew which answer they wanted you to say.
So when they asked about liking my ‘Cooper’ name or the train, I just nodded.
Grandpa asked, “How about that sleeping compartment on the train?” His eyes twinkled.
I nodded again, but then remembered that word my mom had said.
“It was cozy”, I said. They all laughed like I said something funny, except for Aunt Pat.
“I like the big clock”, I said, figuring then I could walk over to it and not be at the table anymore where they could ask me more questions. It worked. They went back to talking to each other. I looked way up at the round part of the clock that showed the time and remembered what my mom had taught me about figuring out the time, and how the “hands” moved but so slowly you couldn’t see it. But this clock didn’t have regular numbers like our clocks at home. This one just had lines and corners and crosses instead of numbers. But I counted and there were twelve of them, just like on our clocks, so maybe they were just in some other old way of writing, since grandpa and grandma were really old. And those pinecone “weight” things which Aunt Pat had me pull up to the top this morning were down a little bit lower now. Maybe they moved too, but so slow it didn’t look like they were moving.
While checking out the clock my eyes started looking at the Christmas tree across from me in the living room with all the boxes under it that I knew were “presents”, that word I loved, so I went over there to look at them more closely. None of the grownups could see me anymore and continued to talk and laugh with each other. I felt really excited because now I could look closely at all those presents to figure out which ones were for me and try to guess what they were.
I did look closely. I got down on my hands and knees and looked really close. I shivered with excitement and felt my heart pounding. I could tell a lot of words in writing including my ‘Cooper’ name. Many of the boxes had little green and red tags on them with a square part where you could write who it was ‘from’ and who it was ‘to’. I focused on the ‘to’ names and finally found ones with ‘Cooper’ next to the ‘to’ word. There were five of them, some from ‘Santa’ and some from ‘Mom and Dad’. The two from mom and dad were smaller but hard and heavy and did not make any noise when I picked it up and moved them around. One from Santa was long and had a circle on either end and made lots of clunking noises when I picked it up. I got doubly excited because I figured that was some kind of toy. The last two I figured were toys too because the boxes were bigger but not so heavy and they rattled just a little bit when I shook them a little bit.
I liked all presents, but REALLY liked presents that were toys. Toys gave me ideas to start pretending, to think up my own stories using them. I could put all my toys together to make even bigger stories. I could see myself ripping off the paper and finding out what they were.
I was so excited my body just had to do something. I stood up and ran up the stairs to the top part of the house. I was the only one up there so I could look everywhere. I counted five rooms.
That one small room had the bathtub, toilet and sink, which was of course the “bathroom”. You could call it the “sink room”, but there were other rooms in a house that had sinks. You could call it the “toilet room”, but people didn’t like to talk about toilets. Some bathrooms were really small and didn’t have bathtubs but they still called them “bathrooms”.
The other four rooms had beds, so you called them “bedrooms”, which made sense, unlike the “living room” which made no sense. Each one I walked into had a very different feeling in it. Grandpa and grandma’s was kind of scary, like everything in it had been there too long. The room my mom and dad were sleeping felt like someone was doing a lot of working in it, kind of like my dad’s ‘office’ in the basement. Aunt Pat’s bedroom seemed more fun. My little bedroom was again, the “cozy” room.
The windows in the upstairs bedrooms were like the ones in Molly’s bedroom, down low with a lower top part and looking down on the yard and street below. In fact, the whole house was more like Molly’s house than our house. Our house didn’t even have a top part, an “upstairs”, except the “attic”, but you really couldn’t go in there. When you were in the basement I guess you could call the part of the house above you the “upstairs” too. Though I liked the little room I was going to sleep in here, I still thought the basement of our house back home and Molly’s room were the best of all the rooms in all the houses I had been in. Our basement, because like someone said, it was “unfinished”, you could pretend it was many different things and it had different rooms but no walls between them. Molly’s bedroom, because of all the windows and how you felt you were up on top of everything, but in a cozy kind of way.
Molly and I pretended that her house was like a giant ship with all its stairways and railings and upstairs and downstairs parts. Sometimes we took turns being the captain, but usually we were both part of the crew. But this room I was sleeping in was like a captain’s room, at least as I imagined it would be in Treasure Island, up in the top back part of the ship away from everything else going on below, but with a window to look down at the ocean out there around the ship.
So I pretended I was the captain, in charge of everyone else, but alone in my own special room where I went to think by myself if everything was okay on the ship or if there was trouble coming, maybe pirates even. I looked at the clock on the table by my bed. Time to check on the rest of the ship to make sure nothing was wrong.
I walked out of my room and saw all the officers just sitting there looking at me in the officer’s room.
“You better check on the men below. There could be pirates coming. See anything ahead?” I asked.
“We don’t think so, but you better check!” they said.
I sat by the window in Aunt Pat’s room and looked out. Off in the distance I could see the big square building on the white hill.
“Looks like we’re getting close to the fort. Good!”
I sat for a long while, keeping watch. Then I saw a car driving by the big square building.
“Oh no, Pirates! They may have captured the fort!” I said, “Better sound the alarm!”
I heard the sound of a bell clanging, though not with my ears. I walked out into the hall and looked in the bathroom. I lifted the toilet lid and looked in.
“Water supply okay? Good!”
Then I continued down the hall and walked into the room my mom and dad were sleeping in. It had all the important people we were trying to get to the fort so they would be safe from the pirates.
“It’s okay all of you”, I said, “We’ll keep you safe as best we can!”
I sat and looked out that window up to the fort on the island hill. The car was gone.
“Don’t see any pirates but I know they’re out there!”
Then I looked at all the guests. “Just don’t do anything stupid!”
They all nodded and said thank you.
I went into grandma and grandpa’s bedroom. I saw shiny metal objects on a dresser.
“Treasure is safe”, I said, “At least for now!”
“Do we have enough supplies down below to fight them and shoot the cannons captain?” It sounded like it was Aunt Pat’s voice, coming from the stairway but I couldn’t see her. I heard quick footsteps going down, and by the time I got to the stairway myself she was gone.
What was she up to? I came quickly down the stairs and looked in the living room. Nothing, except of course the Christmas tree and all those presents under it. I walked by the big clock and peeked in the dining room. Nothing there. Grandma, grandpa, mom and dad were all in the kitchen but no one was talking. I peeked my head in the doorway to the and they all looked at me.
Grandpa shook his head. “We haven’t seen anything!” he said.
Something wasn’t right. Now I ran back in the living room. Where did Aunt Pat go? I figured she must be in the basement. I walked carefully down the steps but could not see her. There was no one in the half of the basement with the piano. It wasn’t so much pretending now but hide and seek. I carefully stepped into the laundry room, shivering again with excitement. I stopped and looked at the door to the garage. Did she go out that way?
Suddenly a figure rose from the other side of the washing machine. It startled me. It was Aunt Pat with a big pillow mushed down on top of her head so the three corners you could see stuck out like one of those Treasure Island captain’s hats.
“Argh”, she said, “Avast ye lubber! I am the inimitable Captain Pillow, pirate extraordinaire! I am sure you are aware of my exploits on the high seas!”
She pretended to pull a sword out of her belt and glared at me with a very fierce face. “Surrender your ship to me or I will make you walk the plank!”
Playing along I said, “Never!”, and ran up the stairs. She was definitely still a kid.
“You can’t escape my wrath that easily you scurvy dog, fleeing to try to save your skin. HA!” And she clomped up the stairs after me.
I ran into the living room and turned around. She appeared from the basement stairway.
“Draw your sword, Captain Coop. I have tracked you down cross the seven seas and I will have my revenge!”
“You’ll never get me, Captain Pillow!” I said, and ran into the dining room and scrambled under the big table behind the legs of the chairs.
I could only see the bottom half of her body, feet taking careful steps as she circled the table.
“Trying to HIDE from me I see. You are cunning but it will not help you one morsel. I have waited far too long and finally have you exactly where I want you. Prepare to meet your fate you yellow dog.”
Now over by the big clock she kneeled down and looked at me under the table, holding her pillow “hat” on her head so it wouldn’t fall off.
“What… have… we… here?” she said slowly.
On all fours I scrambled out from under the dining room table into the kitchen. Its four occupants looked down at me.
Mom said, “We’d like to help you but Captain Pillow would make US walk the plank!”
Aunt Pat continued to chase me around the house like that until she finally cornered me in my captain’s cabin upstairs. I closed the door behind me and sat against it, breathing hard to catch my breath.
I heard her voice on the other side. “I can wait. I have nothing but time. I have sailed the seven seas for a lifetime to track you down, so one or two more hours, one or two more days even means NOTHING to me. You can stay in there until you rot or you can come out and surrender to me! Argh!”
I waited for what seemed like a long time. Enjoying the excitement and energy I was feeling in my body. Finally I stood up and opened the door and walked out.
“I’m your prisoner. Don’t kill me!” I said.
“You deserve to die!” she said, “But instead of finding that damn plank, where did I put that thing, I will…” She dragged me down on the bed, her fingers digging into my sides. “… tickle you to death!”
I laughed and squirmed and loved this fitting end to our story.