Tag Archives: 1950s

Clubius Incarnate Part 38 – Ted Williams (June 1960)

I was excited. Dad and I were going to go to a Detroit Tigers baseball game with Molly and her dad. Dad said that mom and David should come too, but mom didn’t want to.

“I would love to see the game”, she said, “But there is no way I’m going to try to change a diaper at Briggs Stadium, and we don’t have the money to pay Margie to babysit.”

Since Molly’s dad’s car was one of those little “sports cars” that only two people could ride in, dad was going to drive us in our car.

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Clubius Incarnate Part 32 – Bicycle (March 1960)

I felt someone banging their hand on my shoulder and I heard someone saying “Coo”, over and over so I opened my eyes. I was in bed under the covers and David was looking at me and hitting me with his hand on my shoulder. I could tell he thought something was different. Something DID feel different.

David pointed at the window between our beds. It was happening outside, but we could feel it inside the house too. He said “open” over and over again. So I got out of bed and I opened the window. It felt kind of cold, but not as cold as it felt yesterday, and the air smelled different. It smelled like something was cooking outside that was kind of sweet, or that smell when you opened a box of candy.

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Clubius Incarnate Part 16 – Roomette (December 1958)

Pullman Roomette

I was so excited! Today we were going to take the train to go “back east”, wherever that was, to visit my “grandparents”. Mom said they were her mom and dad, but I hadn’t really thought about grownups having moms and dads too. It was hard for me to think they were ever kids like me, though they said they were. I did know what trains were, because I had seen them on TV, on cartoons and other shows. I had also seen them for real when we were in the car and we had to stop and wait for a train to go in front of us, but I had never gone on one myself.

I liked all the “packing” we had to do for the trip. We had to decide what to bring and what was “too much”. Mom and dad seemed to like it too, though they said it was a “challenge” because of all the extra stuff they had to bring for David, like “that damn diaper pail”. But I could tell they still really liked it by the way they were moving around full of energy. I liked seeing all the different “suitcases” in the living room full of stuff that we were taking with us. I wondered what was in each one. It was almost as fun as seeing all the wrapped Christmas presents under the tree.

It was almost Christmas but we didn’t have a Christmas tree like last year. That was because we were going to be spending Christmas at “your grandparents”, and they were going to have the tree and my presents would be there.

I knew it was winter and that winter was one of the four seasons, along with spring, summer and fall, which was also called “autumn”. Each season was a quarter of the year and had three months in it. The months in winter were December, January and February. March was the first month of spring, though mom said that was “wishful thinking”, because it was usually still really cold then. The entire year had twelve months and they were like the numbers on a clock. One was January. Two was February. And you kept counting to the last month, the twelve month, which was December. Mom had explained it all to me and even drew me pictures to help me figure it out.

Thinking about years, I had asked mom how old I was. She said I was “three and three quarters”. I liked that. I liked it so much that I stood in the living room with all the suitcases, grabbed my little finger with my thumb and held out the other three fingers on each hand and said, “I’m three and three quarters!”

“You are indeed, Coolie”, mom said with a happy voice from the kitchen.

David seemed happy too. He was crawling all over the living room floor looking at and touching the suitcases. Now that he was crawling and sitting up he couldn’t sleep in the white basket thing anymore and slept in a thing with bars on the side called a “crib”. It was in the living room, where the basket thing had been. Mom and dad said that they were “thinking about” moving his crib into my room, because our house only had two bedrooms, and their bedroom had too much furniture in it for the crib to fit. I wasn’t sure about having his crib in my room, because I was worried David might cry at night when mom and dad were asleep.

I was extra excited because the train didn’t leave until dinnertime so I had all day to think about everything. I got so excited, mom had dad take me over to the park. First we went to Molly’s house and she could come to the park too. The snow was falling which made it even more fun. Molly and I played on the monkey bars and the merry-go-round. We pretended that the monkey bars were Tom Swift’s flying laboratory. It had a downstairs part and an upstairs part. The part at the top in the middle was the “control room”. The part at the bottom was where you made inventions. I wanted the merry-go-round to be Tom’s Jetmarine, but Molly wanted it to be Sky King’s plane, because she always wanted to be Sky King. We decided that Sky King had a special plane that could also go underwater, just like Tom Swift’s Jetmarine.

Molly’s mom drove us to the train station in their station wagon because there was extra room to put all the suitcases and boxes. Molly came along too, but we had to sit in the regular back seat because they put the wayback seat down to fit all those suitcases and boxes. Molly’s mom drove, and dad sat with her in the other front part. Mom sat in the back with us with David on her lap. It was getting dark but it was still snowing. When we got to the station we had to carry everything to the flat part next to the track they called the “platform”. Molly and I got to carry mom’s “traincase”, which was just a little suitcase. We went inside the little house part of the station and sat on those long chairs called “benches”.

Molly’s mom wanted to go home right away, but Molly wanted to stay until the train came. I could tell Molly’s mom didn’t want to do that, but she finally said okay, it would be a “learning experience”, since Molly had never seen the train before up close. It seemed to take forever for the train to come. Molly and I kept looking out the window at the “tracks”, the long bars it went on, to see if it was coming. Finally this dark thing with a very bright light in front appeared and turned its light toward the station.

Molly yelled out, “It’s coming! It’s coming!”

Molly’s mom shook her head. “Molly Wheeler. We are all right here. You don’t need to yell!”

We went out on the platform and it was coming down the track to the station. The light in the front of it was so bright it made it hard to see the rest of it. That light and the engine behind it finally went by us, all loud grinding noise, steam and energy. I had never seen anything so big that could actually move. Behind the engine was a giant long thing with wheels and windows and doors, whooshing steam coming out from between the wheels on the bottom as the giant thing came to a stop. But it still seemed like it was breathing. Not turned off, but waiting, breathing.

Two doors opened up and grownups in blue uniforms stepped out of each. I wondered if they were soldiers, but they had blue caps instead of helmets. Dad gave them something he had been holding in his hand. The blue guy looked at it, then looked at me and mom with David in her arms and nodded. He helped dad take all our suitcases up through the door inside the train. Then dad came out again and said we should get on.

“Have a wonderful trip you guys. Over the meadows and through the woods!” Molly’s mom called out.

“Thanks Joan”, mom said, “Thanks for all your help with everything, you and Jack both! Love to Jack!”

“Thanks Joan”, dad said.

Molly was shivering next to me with excitement, her mom behind her holding on to her shoulders.

“Can I go on and see the inside?” she said.

The man in blue looked at Molly then up at her mom. “Sorry”, he said, “This is a very quick stop, otherwise it would be okay!”

Molly got a fierce look and jammed her thumb in her mouth and bit on the tip. I hadn’t seen her do that in a while. Her mom rubbed the top of her head.

Dad climbed down from the door and helped mom climb on with David in her arms. Then he reached out his arm for me.

“Say goodbye to Cooper and wish him a safe journey!” Molly’s mom said to Molly, tapping her shoulder.

Molly had a strange look I couldn’t figure out. She looked at me and took her thumb out from between her teeth. “Your lucky Coob. So lucky. I want to go too.”

I looked at her back and everything was just the two of us for a moment. I nodded that I knew that she did, but couldn’t think what words to say.

“C’mon Coop”, dad said, grabbing my hand. I let him pull me towards and then up the steps through the door as I kept my eyes on Molly as I went into the train.

The man in the blue uniform closed the door and turned the big handle thing so it made a clunk noise. The shiny floor underneath me wobbled and we all suddenly went backward. I almost fell down, but dad grabbed my arm to hold me up. I looked out the little window in the door and saw lights go by outside. We must be moving. All the grownups were standing close around me, so I could just see the middle parts of their bodies, mom and dad and the guy in blue, all seemed so much taller than I was. I wanted to be as tall as they were.

“Your roomette is upstairs and just down the hall”, said the guy in blue, “Follow me but watch your step!”

“Go on Coolie”, mom said, “You first!” David looked down at me from her arms. His eyes looked sleepy.

I grabbed the smallest suitcase, mom’s “traincase”, which Molly and I had carried from the car into the station, and started to walk.

“Let me take that for you, son.” The guy in blue reached down and grabbed the handle that I was already holding. I wanted to carry it. I wanted to be helping, part of the team with all the grownups.

“I’ve got it”, he said, like that was something I wanted to hear. He pulled it upwards away from me, so I finally let go. “Follow me, son.” I wasn’t happy but I followed him and looked at his shiny black shoes clanking on the small stairway steps.

“Your next Liz”, dad said from behind me, “I’ll sort out all the baggage with the conductor.”

We walked down a small hallway with doors on either side. The man in blue was standing by an open door and was pointing to it with his hand. I looked in. There were seats kind of like a car on either side of the tiny room, but pointing towards each other. Between them was a big window looking out at the snow falling and trees and far away buildings on a hill going by outside with a sky getting dark behind.

Mom with David in her arms was behind me now. “Go on in Coop”, she said.

I stepped in and went to the window. I sat on the seat by it and looked out. We were going on a bridge over a river and on the other side of it were giant buildings on a hill with all the windows lit up.

“So what ya think, Coolie?” Mom said, coming into the room behind me. “You like the big window and the view?”

I nodded, but kept looking out.

“I thought you would”, she said. “Pretty exciting. Quite the adventure.”

Now outside trees rushed by close to the window. Sometimes between them I could see a house farther off with its lighted up windows. I wondered who was inside the house and if they could see the train and me looking out at them.

Dad came in the room with one of the suitcases.

“Okay Liz”, he said, breathing out loud, “They’ll put the big suitcases and the box with the diaper pail plus the other box with the Christmas stuff in the luggage car. They said they’ll transfer them in Buffalo to our train to Binghamton.”

“Got it”, mom nodded her head. “So the things for overnight are in this suitcase. There’s got to be a place where we can put them so we can get them when the bed’s out?”

“The steward said there is a wardrobe in the wall”, dad said, “Right here!”

I turned to look. Dad opened a door in the wall and there was a space like a tiny closet. He put the suitcase on the seat next to me.

“Scooch over Liz”, he said, patting his hand on her leg. She moved over next to the window across from me. He sat next to her and opened the suitcase. I looked carefully at all the stuff that was in it. Pajamas, diapers, a white paper bag, and those clear glass bottles that David drank out of, each with some white powder in it. He took everything out and put it in the tiny closet. He said the white paper bag had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for “supper”, along with a few jars of food for David.

“We change trains in Buffalo in the middle of the night, and should be in Binghamton by early morning”, dad said.

“Dad said he would pick us up”, mom said.

I didn’t know what she was talking about, because dad was right here talking to her. Still, hearing this made me even more excited. We would also be on a different train too and it would take all night. This first train was pretty amazing. More like a long moving house than a giant car.

The guy in blue knocked on the door to our room even though it was already open. He wanted to know when we wanted the bed “made up”.

“Your call Liz”, dad said, looking at mom.

“We might as well do it now”, she said. “Eric, do you want to take Coop for an explore of the train?”

Dad nodded. I nodded too. I wanted to see how the bed got “made up” but I wanted to see the rest of the train even more!

Dad and I went out of the room and down the hallway. There were closed doors like ours on either side of us that looked like the door to our room. A few of the doors were open and I looked in and saw other rooms like ours or bigger rooms with beds on top of each other. It really was like a long moving house. Everything shook from side to side, but you kind of got used to it. It was fun to try to walk without having to touch the walls, and I found that if I rocked from side to side while I walked it was easier not to touch.

We got to the end of the hallway and there was a door in front of us with a window in it. Through the window you could see another door with a window that was moving all around. Dad pulled on the lever and the door slid open. Then the train noises were much louder.

“Coop. This is the door from one train car to the next one”, he said.

I looked down and there was a shiny silver floor with bumps on it. There was a thin open part across the floor and the rest of the floor on the other side was shaking. The walls on either side were also shaking and looked kind of wavy. Dad stepped over the open part of the floor so he was up against the other door. He turned to look back at me.

“C’mon… step over!” he said.

I didn’t. All the louder noise and rattling made me scared.

“It’s okay Coop… just step over!” He held out his hand.

I took it, but suddenly wondered if I was too small to do this and dad hadn’t figured that out.

He pulled on my hand and it made me take a step through the doorway onto the bumpy silver floor on my side of the open part where he was now standing. I heard the door slide closed behind me with a bang. I could see that the floor that he was standing on was shaking differently than the part I was on. I couldn’t think of anything except what was around me and the noise in my ears. It seemed a long time and then I started thinking again, and I thought of Tom Swift inside his spaceship.

Dad pulled the lever of the other door behind him and it slid open. He moved through the doorway and pulled me along with him. The door slid closed behind me and the loud noises were quieter. I felt like I was in a completely different place. There were people sitting at wooden tables and men in white shirts with black bows on their necks carrying plates of food. It looked and smelled like one of those places you went where you sat at a table and people brought you the food you wanted. But then I saw the windows looking out to buildings going by outside and it felt like the train again.

“This is the dining car”, dad said.

One of the men with the white shirts turned to us, looked at me then looked at dad. “Two for dinner or just passing through?” he asked.

“Just passing through”, dad said, putting his hand on my shoulders and pushing me ahead of him. The floor wobbled under us and I could still hear the train noises from down there. We walked by people sitting at the tables and eating. It was mostly grownups, but there were two kids sitting next to each other with a grownup on the other side of the table. It was a boy and a girl, who looked older than I was. I noticed their dark black hair and brown skin. Then the girl spoke words that I did not understand.

“Mama, hay otros niños en este tren!” She looked at me and smiled. The grownup woman sitting across from the girl turned her head and smiled at me too. Her hair was also black and her skin brown.

“Hello young man!” she said, “What is your name?”

I opened my mouth but didn’t say anything. The way she said “your” confused me, like somebody else already had said their name, along with the girl saying all those words that I didn’t understand.

Dad patted my shoulder. “Su nombre es Cooper!” he said. I looked up at him. He was also saying words I didn’t understand, except for maybe my name at the end. I couldn’t figure out what was going on.

“The girl is speaking Spanish”, dad said to me. Then to them, “Hola, mama… niño”.

She turned to the children across from her and said, “Preséntense a Cooper!”

“Soy Ricardo”, the boy said, glancing at me with fierce eyes and then looking away.

“Y mi nombre es Sofia”, said the girl after him, smiling.

“En inglés Sophia!” the mom said.

“Si”, said the girl to her mom, then looking at me, “My name is Sophia. Pleased to meet you Cooper!” Then she looked back at her mom.

“Muy buena Sophia!” she said, and then, “Very good!”

She turned to dad and held out her hand. “I’m Beatrice. Good to meet you! You speak Spanish?”

“Solo un poco”, dad said, taking her hand and just sort of holding it instead of shaking. “I’m Eric. Good to meet you as well. I’ll let you get back to your dinner. This is my son’s first trip on a train and I’m taking him for a ‘tour’ of all the cars.”

“OH”, she said, “Quite exciting. I will let you two continue your ‘tour’! It was a pleasure to meet you both!”

“Let’s see”, dad said thinking for a moment. “El placer es nuestro!” he said, dipping his head.

She did a big smile. Red lips and white teeth. “That’s sweet of you!” she said, patting his hand with hers. Then asking, “Are the two of you… alone on your journey?”

Dad laughed just a little bit, then said, “No… my wife and Coop’s little brother are back in our sleeping compartment.”

“Ah, I see”, she said, somehow like that was not what she had wanted to hear. “Enjoy!”

“You too”, dad said, patting me on the shoulder and gently pushing me forward.

We walked by the other people eating to the end of the room where there was another door like the one that had taken us into this place. Dad pulled the lever to slide it open. Again the noise and the silver floor with bumps and the space between. But this time I knew what to do and followed him in without him having to pull me. The door slid closed behind me and he slid the next one open. I wondered what would be next.

We stepped into another long room with a shiny brown table thing on one side that was long and curved around with a bunch of tall chairs on one side and a man with one of those same white shirts and black bow things behind the long table. There was a man sitting across from him in one of the tall chairs stirring water in a funny shaped glass that looked like a “Y”. It had two tiny green balls in the water.

“This is the bar car”, dad said, “On our way back we’ll get some drinks to go with our sandwiches.”

The other part of the room had small round tables with just one part in the middle to hold them up and funny round chairs around them that did not have a back part. There were big windows looking out into the snowy night. As we walked through I couldn’t stop looking out those windows. We were going by a giant building all lit up with tall tubes going up to the sky with white clouds coming out of them.

With each doorway to the next train car I felt like I was Tom Swift going from room to room in a spaceship. The rest of the cars we walked through had lots of seats full of people sitting but not in rooms like ours. We finally got to the end of the last car. There was a door at the very end like the other cars except dad didn’t try to open it. It had a window and we looked out at the dark tracks shooting out from underneath us and going back away from us until you couldn’t see them anymore. I could tell that dad liked looking out as much as I did.

After a while he said, “Well Coop, should we head back?”

I nodded quietly like I usually did, but then decided I wanted to talk too. “Yeah dad, let’s go back”, I said.

When we got back to the “bar” room dad got a cup of coffee for him, a Seven-Up for me, Ginger Ale for mom and a big cup of water for David. The man behind the wood thing put them all in a cardboard box so dad could carry them. But I had to open the doors between the cars now. At the first one I grabbed the lever thing. It was cold and shiny and smooth. I pulled the thing okay but couldn’t slide the door open until I figured out to stand by the side of the door and face the way I was pushing the lever.

“That’s it Coop, put all your weight behind it”, dad said.

Then I crossed over the open part where you could see the tracks below without dad holding on to me or even worrying about it and opened the other door that led back into the “dining car”. I saw the woman with the two kids that dad had talked to with those different words, that “Spanish”. I liked that she could see me opening the door to help dad. This time, I thought to myself, I’m going to say something to her and not get shy like last time.

As we came close to them she smiled at me again with her red lips and white teeth. But this time I said something I remembered from before.

“Hola!” I said to her.

She laughed and put her hands together. “Hola de nuevo, Cooper” she said, touching my shoulder with her fingers, the tips colored red, then looking up at dad, “Y tu papá!”

Dad stopped and smiled back at her. I could tell he liked talking to her and was thinking what to say.

“Espero que a ti y a los niños les guste tu viaje”, he finally said, in those different words.

“Oh… gracias señor, tú también”, she replied, and she took her fingers off me and touched his elbow, which he seemed to like a lot.

Dad let her touch his elbow and looked at her and smiled. It was a bigger smile than I had seen him do in a long time.

“I’d ask you two to join us”, she said, “But you probably should get back to your wife and baby.”

Dad nodded and stopped smiling and pushed his lips together. Finally he said, “Buenas noches señora”, looked down at me, and tilted his head to tell me it was time for us to walk back.

“Buenas noches señor”, she said as we started to walk.

I opened the last doors that took us back to the place where our room was. The whole little room was now just a bed. Mom was sitting on it with her legs folded and just her socks on her feet. David was sitting facing her, she was holding his hands. He saw me and dad and was smiling and making noises.

“Yes”, mom said to him, “Yes that’s your dad and your big brother Coop. They’re back from their explore.”

I was a “big brother”! The words sounded good.

Still holding David’s hands, mom looked at us and said, “Let’s eat, I’m starving!”

Dad handed her the box of drinks and she put it on a tiny table part by the window. Dad took the paper bag of sandwiches and took one out, all wrapped in silver foil.

“How are we going to do this?” he asked.

I was thinking that too. I had never eaten on a bed before.

“We’ll do it like a picnic”, mom said.

I decided I wanted to say something.

“Good idea”, I said. I had heard them say that to each other and to me many times. They both looked at me, then at each other, and laughed a little bit.

I climbed up on the bed and sat near the window. Dad took his shoes off and took mine off too. I looked outside into the night and could see we were up high looking down at houses with lights in the windows, streets with lights on poles, and cars driving with lights on the front. I could also see the reflection of mom pulling David onto her lap and dad sitting legs crossed on the bed across from her. In the reflection, sitting like that, they looked more like kids than grownups, floating like ghosts above the streets.

Dad gave mom and I sandwiches. David’s food was in little glass jars of brown and green, along with his bottle of white milk stuff. We ate and David drank his bottle sitting in mom’s lap, looking at dad but mostly at me. As I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I wondered what David would say when he finally could talk. I wondered if he would want to play with me or just with my toys.

“Isn’t this exciting?” mom said, taking a bite of her sandwich after finishing her words.

“It sure is Liz”, dad said, “It was nice of George and Carrie to pay for our train tickets.” He took a big bite of his sandwich.

Mom swallowed then said, “Dad said it was our Christmas gift”. I couldn’t figure out who this other “dad” was, since dad was right here on the bed with us, and mom never called HIM “dad”.

Still chewing dad said, “We haven’t been back to Binghamton since Coop was a baby”, his words sounding like he couldn’t say them very well.

“Eric”, mom said, “Don’t talk with food in your mouth!”

“Jeez Liz”, dad said, rolling his eyes and then looking at me like he was worried what I was thinking.

The train stopped at the big “Detroit” station where I could see and even hear out the window another train like ours with windows and people going in and out with their suitcases. I could hear even more other people out in the hallway part of our car talking and moving by the closed door to our room. I liked that we were in between them in our own special little place. Mom said it was “cozy”.

When the voices out in the hallway got quiet and the people outside the window with the suitcases were gone, the train jerked and started moving again. Mom said that pretty soon we would go through the “Windsor Tunnel to Canada”. She said it was kind of like a bridge, but instead of going over the river it went under it. I wondered if I would see the underwater part out the window with fish or even an octopus like in the Tom Swift story about his Jetmarine. But when we went into the tunnel, I pressed my face against the window but I couldn’t see anything, except for a light flashing by every once in a while. When we came out the other side of the tunnel there were buildings and houses and roads and cars again, like before.

“We’re in Canada, Coop!”, mom said, “Another country!” I wondered what the first country was.

When we finished our dinner mom took David out of our room to change his diaper in the bathroom down the hall. Mom and dad had to figure that out because they didn’t have the diaper pail. When she came back with David we all got under the covers of the bed. I got to be by the window. Dad was next to me in the middle and mom on the other side, with David between them. Mom and dad had books they were reading. I liked us all being in the bed together.

I snuggled under the covers with my face right next to the window so I could see out. I couldn’t see very much, except for a house or a car every once in a while, but it was still exciting. It was interesting that the things far away moved slowly, but the things close to the train zoomed by quickly. I pretended I was Tom Swift, inside some ship I had invented. Dad said we were “crossing Ontario” and that it would be “all farms until Buffalo”.

Suddenly I heard the clang of bells, flashing red lights, plus the lights of a car out the window shining on us and then dark again and just the sounds of the train below us. I sat up and looked at mom and dad, not sure what had happened. Dad said it was just a place where a road crossed the train tracks, and the bell let the cars know to stop and wait until the train went by. I remembered being in our car when we drove toward the railroad tracks and the bells went off, the lights flashed and that long stick thing came down to block us from going across until the whole train went by. I figured I was seeing the crossing in a different way, because I was looking out from the train instead of from the car watching the train go by. It was so different!

The shaking of the train, the same shake over and over again, felt good, and made me sleepy. But whenever I closed my eyes, my mind was filled with thinking. About Tom Swift, about wishing Molly was with me, about what presents I might get for Christmas, about that woman and those kids that spoke those strange words like “hola” that dad spoke too. Then I would open my eyes again and look for things out the window. It all seemed to go on forever, but it felt good. At the same time “cozy”, like mom had said, but exciting too. This was a good adventure, cozy AND exciting.

I could tell mom was sleeping because she would make sleeping noises that I had heard before from their bedroom down the hall from mine, but now they were much louder because she was in the same bed I was. Dad was still reading a book, which was what he did a lot. His body was warm next to mine, compared to the cold on my nose when it touched the window.

I imagined what it would be like to be here on the train in a bed all by myself, or maybe with Molly lying next to me. I wondered if I would feel happy. I wondered if I would feel even more happy than I was now.

I felt the train starting to jerk around some more. I could hear extra clanking noises underneath me as the train jerked from side to side. Then those clanking noises changed, like the difference between the way things sounded in a big room rather than a small one. I looked down out the window and I could see water way below the train with big white things floating in it that looked sort of like clouds.

Dad was still reading and he said quietly, “We’re on the Peace Bridge going over the Saint Lawrence river into Buffalo”.

“What are those white things?” I asked.

Dad leaned over me so his head was next to the window and looked down.

“Icebergs”, he said, “Big chunks of floating ice in the water, like little floating islands or giant ice cubes.”

It was scary AND exciting to have train tracks going over the water. It was scary to think about if the train fell off the tracks, but exciting to think about if it didn’t fall. But the bed and our little room was cozy, and it was strange that it could be kind of scary, exciting and cozy all at the same time.

Then there was no more water and just the regular ground again, but now everything was lit up and there were big square buildings with big windows that were made up of a bunch of tiny windows right next to each other. Now the train was jerking a different way to the side, and each time it did a new set of tracks came out from underneath.

Then there was a whooshing noise and big lit windows really close to us zoomed by, each flashing a picture of the inside of a place with seats and people, like a building or a house, but just for a second, so there was a new picture before you could barely see the last one. The whoosh and windows kept going and then they stopped.

I turned and looked at dad.

“That was another train going by”, he said. Mom was still making the sleeping noises.

Even though our room door was closed, I could hear someone walking down the train hallway making knocking noises and saying “Buffalo” over and over again. He knocked on our door but kept walking.

“Wake up Liz, we’re coming into Buffalo”, dad said.

Mom sat up in her part of the bed, her eyes not big and round yet.

“I’m going to take David down to the bathroom quickly and change his diaper before we deboard”, she said, rubbing her eyes, “Can you get out my coat, gloves and cap and get everything packed up and take care of Coop?”

“Sure, Liz”, Dad said. Mom stood up by the door and put a bag under her shoulder and then picked David up, him still in his pajamas that covered his whole body including his feet. Held in her arms, he looked around like he didn’t know what was going on, and started to cry. Mom kind of bounced him in her arms and talked to him quietly to get him to mostly stop. She opened the door and went with David out in the hallway.

I was a bit mad because I wanted to help and take care of things too and not just be taken care of, but I didn’t say anything because I was so excited that I was going to now get off a train for the very first time, and then see how different it was outside, this “Buffalo” place.

The train kept jerking to the side, and looking out the window, more tracks came out underneath, and I could feel it slowing down. Dad told me to get off the bed so he could “stow” it. He and I stood next to each other in the little area between the bed and the door to our little room. He put his knee on the bed so he could reach across and make the tiny table turn upward. Then he reached under the bed and pushed it upward and it curved up and against the wall, and underneath were the seats we had been sitting on when we first were in this room. He pulled the suitcases out of the little closet thing and set them on the seat across from him, opening both of them. One was mom’s traincase. He opened the other bigger one with clothes and other stuff in it. He pulled out my jacket and told me to put it on. He did the same with his jacket. We put on our shoes but dad had to help me tie mine. I didn’t like that he had to help me.

Outside the window there was another train ahead that wasn’t moving, just across from us and people were standing outside our train looking at us, including some with those blue uniforms. Dad quickly put any of our stuff that was in the room into the bigger suitcase, then pushed it closed and did the click thing. He and I sat on the other seat looking at the two suitcases across from us.

“You want to carry the traincase?” he asked.

I nodded. I liked being able to help and not just be taken care of. We sat there next to each other and waited for mom and David to come back. It felt strange for dad and I to be doing exactly the same thing.

Mom finally was outside the doorway with David in her arms.

“We’re back. Mission accomplished”, she said, her eyes now big and round and blue like they usually were. She gave David to dad and looked around and found her shoes and put them on. I noticed they didn’t have laces like mine did. Then she put on her coat, pulled her cap down over her ears, then put each hand inside a glove. She took David back and said, “Shall we?”

Dad grabbed the bigger suitcase on the seat across from us, and I did the same and grabbed the train case with both hands, holding it in front of me. With mom and David ahead of us, we went out of the little room and slowly stepped down the little staircase to the bottom part of the train. I did okay carrying the case on the flat part, but I had some trouble taking the first step down the stairs, with the traincase in front of me pressing against the upper part of my legs. Dad, already starting down the stairs, reached back with one hand under it and I felt it pull away from me, letting my legs move easier, and I took the first step down. Slowly he and I went down the stairway that way until we got to the bottom. The four of us waited while other people walked through the door and down off the train.

The man with the blue uniform waved to us to go next. Mom went first, David in her arms, with the man in the blue uniform grabbing her arm to help her step down.

“Watch your step, ma’am”, he said.

“You next, Coop”, dad said.

I didn’t want him to, but as I moved towards the door holding the traincase with both hands in front of me, the man with the blue uniform took it from me.

“Watch your step, son”, he said, and grabbed my hand and helped me down the steps to get off the train. The cold air made my eyes and the inside of my nose sting, then my ears too. Dad followed with the bigger suitcase held in front of him with one hand while the other grabbed the metal bar. The man in blue didn’t tell dad to watch his step. Once he was off the train, dad put it down, turned back, and the man in blue gave him the traincase. Dad then gave it back to me.

“Jesus, it’s freezing Eric!”, mom said, steam coming out of her mouth as she talked, “I know you’re a polar bear but”, and then looking at me, “Coop, are you warm enough in that jacket and without gloves and a hat?”

I felt really cold compared to the warm bed we’d all been just in, but I didn’t want them to do things for me so I nodded.

“Liz, why don’t you go ahead with David and get inside the station and see if you can confirm the train to Binghamton is leaving on time”, dad said, “And Coop and I will catch up with you.”

Mom nodded and turned and walked off with David on one shoulder and the bag hanging from the other. Dad and I started to follow her but more slowly. He was now holding the big suitcase in one hand so he could walk more easily. I started to walk and tried to do the same with the traincase but it was too heavy and made my hand hurt and made it hard for me to walk right.

Dad said, “Coop, do you want me to carry the traincase so we can walk faster?”

He reached for it with his empty hand. I shook my head and grabbed its handle again with both hands and held it in front of me and walked forward as best I could. My shoulders were hurting a little and all the top parts of my body stung from the cold, but I moved forward. Dad chuckled but he let me do it, and I knew he was walking extra slow so he didn’t leave me behind. Mom was way in front of us now and going up this walking part. It was weird. It went up but it didn’t have steps.

When dad and I got to it we started walking up too. It felt like I was going to fall over backwards so I had to lean forward a little as I walked. I felt dad’s hand just behind my shoulders. We seemed to walk up forever until we went into a building with no doors that was one long giant room with a top part way up high that looked like a roof but from the inside. Mom and David were way ahead of us now, and we followed them. My shoulders and hands were hurting even more, though my face was feeling warm now instead of cold. We went through another part with just a top part but no walls at all. I looked over the side and saw it was a bridge with train tracks going under it. Finally we went into an even bigger building that had a roof that was so far up it made me dizzy to even look up at it. Mom was sitting in a big brown seat thing, that looked like a bunch of square chairs all stuck together. David was on her lap, and she waved at us. I felt really tired and could barely carry the traincase to where mom sat.

“Oh my god sweety, you carried it all this way?” she said, with her big smile and round blue eyes, “Good for you!” She patted the seat thing next to her. “Sit young man, you must be exhausted.”

I had heard that “exhausted” word before and I figured it meant really tired, which I was. I put the case on the floor by her feet and sat in the seat and it was soft and made a squeaking noise. I looked all round the giant room. It was filled with other big brown chairs stuck together and there were grownups sitting in a bunch of them. I only saw one other kid like me, curled up in a chair with eyes closed. Around the sides of the room were places that looked like those places where you could get things to eat or books or those new paper things to read. The ones with grown ups standing next to them were all lit up, but the others, without grown ups, were not.

My eyes just seemed to decide to close. I heard mom’s voice talking quietly to dad about what was happening next. The words didn’t mean anything anymore. I was walking through a woods down a path following the person in front of me. He had an army gun hanging on his shoulder. I had one on my shoulder too. But we were just wearing regular clothes. As we walked, he turned to look back at me and said that I didn’t belong here, it wasn’t safe for me. I figured I was safe as long as we kept walking, and we did keep walking for a long time. Then there were shooting noises and we were running away from the path. I had to run faster. Someone grabbed me.

“Coop, Coop, you need to wake up sweetie.” It was mom’s voice. “We’re just getting into Binghamton.”

I was still in the soft seat, but it felt different. It had no side things to put your arms on. My head was resting on the top part of my mom’s leg which felt warm. I didn’t have an army gun anymore. I tried to open my eyes but they wanted to be closed.

“That’s it”, she said, “Try to sit up.”

With my eyes still closed mom’s hands helped me lift my head up. My seat was shaking from side to side and I could hear clanking noises below us with every shake.

“We’re finally here!” she said.

Clubius Incarnate Part 14 – Cider Mill (October 1958)

Molly was excited when she came over to get me. I was going with her and her mom and dad to the Dexter Cider Mill. It was a cold, cloudy, windy day, and I almost forgot to bring my jacket, but mom reminded me. Molly and I walked across the street together, looking both ways like our moms and dads had told us.

Molly’s mom and dad were coming out of their front door and Molly’s mom called out to her, “Molly, you and Coop can sit in the way back if you want!”

Their car was called a “station wagon”, because it had more seats than a regular car. A regular car had a front and a back seat. But a station wagon had another seat behind the back seat. Molly called it the “way back”, because her mom and dad had told her it was the seat “way in the back” of the car. Molly and I both liked the “way back” seat because it was far away from the grownups in the front seat. Also because it was different, when you sat in it you were looking out the back window of the car. You couldn’t see the grownups driving, so it was easier to pretend you were driving, even though the car was going behind you, not in front of you.

Molly ran toward her front door, leaving me standing by the car. “I got to get something”, she said, as she tried to slide between her mom and dad back into the house.

Her dad put a hand out and grabbed her waist, lifting her off the ground, her legs still moving, trying to run. “Where you going, young lady?” he asked.

“Just up to my room to get my steering wheel”, she said, a fierceness in her voice as she continued to move her body, though she didn’t look unhappy being captured by her dad.

“Okay”, he said, putting her down, “But hurry up!”

From near the car I could see Molly running up the stairs and disappearing out of sight around the corner.

Molly’s mom shook her head, saying, “You don’t need to encourage her Jack!”

Molly came running down the stairs and ran past the two of them, the steering wheel thing with the buttons and circles in her hand. This time her dad didn’t try to grab her. She ran out to where I was by the car.

“I got it!” she said, looking at me with fierce eyes. With her other hand she opened the back door of the car. She pulled open the back door and climbed onto the back seat, feet first, and then tumbled herself over the seat into the “way back”.

I thought about following her but instead stood just outside the open door and looked at her mom and dad as they came up to the car.

Her dad looked at me as he walked towards the back of the car, his hand reaching into his front pocket, making clinking noises. “Young man”, he said, “How about I let you in through the tailgate!”

He pulled a big ring of keys out of his pocket and with his fingers found one for the car, opening the back part so I could climb into the seat next to Molly.

“All aboard, Sky King!” he said to me laughing.

“Dad”, said Molly, sounding mad, “I’m Sky King!”

Her dad tilted his head down and looked at her over the top of his glasses. “Now you don’t expect Coop to be Penny, do you?”

“Jack!” Molly’s mom’s voice came from the front seat behind us, sounding like she was kind of mad, “Where are you going with this conversation?”

“Okay”, he said, laughing again, “You both can be Sky Kings!” He closed the back part in front of us. It felt like we were in some sort of airplane or a rocket ship, which made me think of Tom Swift.

I had told Molly about Tom Swift. We had opened that door on the dresser in my room and looked at all the pictures on the front parts and all through all six books. We had even played like her room was Tom’s flying laboratory and invented things.

Molly remembered. She looked at me in the seat just next to her. She put the tip of her thumb in her mouth and bit it with her teeth, then pulled it out to talk.

“I can be Sky King and you can be Tom Swift”, she said.

I nodded. That was okay with me, though I wish I had my space helmet.

But it was a lot of fun pretending even without the helmet. The leaves on some of the trees had turned brown or red or orange or yellow, and were even falling off the trees onto the ground. It made everything we drove by look different, like we were in some strange new place.

My mom knew a lot about plants. She said that every year in the “autumn”, the leaves fell off the trees, which was why they also called it the “fall”. The lilac bushes in the park looked strange because they had no leaves and you could see right through them. Other trees were still green because they were “evergreens”, like the two spruce trees in our backyard. Mom said the fall was also when the apples that had grown on the trees were ready to be picked and mushed up into cider. But the cherry tree in Kenny’s backyard was all done making cherries.

Molly and I were glad that it took a long time to go to the Cider Mill. She was flying the airplane through the leaves with her steering wheel and buttons while I was busy working on inventing a new button that would tell when bad guy airplanes were coming.

“Keep working on that new bad guy button”, Molly said, looking out the back window and turning the steering wheel when the car turned.

“Roger”, I said, “Almost done!”

“You inventing radar back there?” Molly’s dad asked from way behind us in the front part of the car.

We were surprised he was hearing our words and we both didn’t say anything.

Finally he said, “Well don’t let me stop you. Carry on!”

Molly whispered to me, “Keep working, Tom. The bad guys are coming and we need it!” She pushed the different buttons around her steering wheel and kept flying the plane.

I pretended I was done. “It’s ready Sky King”, I whispered back to Molly.

“Okay Tom, let’s turn it on!” She flipped the switch by her steering wheel and the red light started flashing. “Dammit Tom, there are bad guys all over the place”, she said quietly but fiercely.

“Molly”, her mom called out from the front seat, “Where did you learn to say that?”

“I don’t know”, said Molly, caught by surprise and being shy.

“Jack”, Molly’s mom said, “She must have heard you say that. You need to be more careful!

“Molly”, her dad said, “Girls don’t say things like that!”

“Or boys”, Molly’s mom added, “What’s good for the goose!”

I didn’t know what she was talking about.

“I’ve heard Eric say his share of the D word and the H word”, Molly’s dad said.

“Jack”, the word burst out of Molly’s mom’s mouth, then talking softly but with a fierce voice, “I’m not comfortable with this whole discussion, can we drop it please!”

“Molly”, her mom said, “You should say ‘darn it’ when you want to sound angry, and people won’t think you are being rude or using bad words.”

“Darn it”, Molly said out loud like she was mad, then looked at me. She had a kind of smile like she had a secret that was funny. I wondered if she said it instead of “dammit”, or because she was mad that she couldn’t say “dammit”. Looking at her twinkling eyes I figured that was her funny secret.

Molly’s mom started laughing.

“What’s so funny, lady?” her dad asked.

“It’s nothing”, her mom said, waving her hands in front of her face. “Molly dear. Sometimes I wonder if you are three or thirteen!” Then turning to look back at the two of us, “Just wait until you two grow up and become parents!”

Wait for what, I wondered. Again grownups said strange things sometimes.

Molly flew us across the bridge over the river and then we turned to fly next to the river. Finally we landed at the Cider Mill. Molly jumped up on the seat and let her body fall and tumble into the back seat. I tried to do the same thing but ended up falling on top of her. She pushed me off her body and laughed. We both liked it when our bodies touched.

“Molly Wheeler”, her mom said, “My god! Cooper’s parents are never going to let us take him ANYWHERE again if he ends up coming home swearing and throwing his body around like a maniac.” But she didn’t really sound angry.

“G word”, her dad said laughing.

Molly’s mom looked at him, then slapped him on the shoulder. “Mister Wheeler”, she said smiling, “You just mind your own… gol darn business!”

He made a face like he was pretending it hurt him. Then he pointed his finger at her and moved it up and down. “I’ll deal with YOU later Mrs. Wheeler!” Then turning to Molly and me he said, “Ready for some fresh made donuts and cider?”

Molly bounced up and down on her toes as she nodded. I nodded too, but didn’t do any bouncing.

Molly, her mom and I sat at one of a bunch of picnic tables while her dad went and stood in line. Above us, the trees were whooshing in the wind and leaves kept falling down on the ground around us or right on our table. There were other grownups with kids sitting at the other tables. I liked looking at the older kids, seeing what they were doing and how they talked. They didn’t make me worried like grownups did.

Finally Molly’s dad came back to the table with two boxes, one on top of the other, and set them down in the middle of the table. The top box had cups full of the clear brown liquid, and he gave one to each of us. Then he opened the bottom box and it was full of the darker brown donuts that smelled really good. I knew all about donuts because dad loved to talk about them, get them, and eat them.

Molly, her dad and I all ate two donuts. Molly’s mom only ate one, and ate it slowly, saying “umm” with every bite and chewing for a long time. She told Molly that she was eating too fast, that she should “enjoy every bite”. But Molly’s dad and I ate our donuts as fast as Molly did but Molly’s mom didn’t tell US that. I wondered if that was because her dad and I weren’t girls.

The “cider” was cool and sweet but also a little bit something else, which made it taste even better. Molly’s mom said it tasted “crisp”. The donuts didn’t taste as sweet as the cider, but felt warm and good in my mouth as I bit into and chewed them. I thought of dad while I ate them.

Molly’s mom looked at the two of us and said, “You two can play down by the stream. Just stay where we can see you and try not to get wet. Okay?”

Molly nodded and then I nodded too. Molly ran down to the side of the stream and after a second, I ran after her. As I did I could hear Molly’s mom say, “That Molly!” and then heard her dad laughing. Molly’s mom was always telling Molly to be more “polite”, whatever that was, but I think I liked it better when she wasn’t “polite”, and just did what she wanted and told you what she was thinking.

The water in the stream was moving but was not very deep because you could see the bottom ground part under it. The water moved over round rocks of different gray colors, some covered by the water and others sticking out. There was a little middle part that the water went around on either side and there were some big rocks sticking out of the water between the side of the stream where we were and that tiny “island” in the middle. Different colored leaves with pointy edges floated by on either side of that middle part like little boats. The trees above the river blocked out the sky and made that same whooshing noise when the wind blew and made more leaves fall. It was a very different outside place than my backyard, Molly’s backyard or even the park. The wind made the skin on my face and hands feel cold, but I liked it.

Molly and I both looked at that middle part and the stones sticking out of the water and had the same idea at the same time. If we walked on the stones we could get to the “island” without getting our feet wet. I took a step onto the first rock just before Molly thought to do the same thing.

She pulled back and said, “You go first!”

With Molly watching me, I carefully stepped on each rock over the moving water with the leaves like boats going under me. I held my hands out like mom showed me to keep from falling. I jumped from the last rock to the tiny “island” part. I looked at Molly and felt good that I could show her how well I could walk on the rocks and not fall down into the water.

She looked back at me with her hands on her sides. She did the same thing with her face that her dad did when he was thinking hard. “Why did you hold your hands out?” she asked.

“It helps you not fall off”, I said, not telling her that mom had shown me how to do that, so Molly would think I figured it out all by myself.

She put her thumb between her teeth and I could see her thinking that she didn’t need to do that. She started to step from rock to rock over the water with her hands at her side and not out. She almost got to the island but then she started to fall. One of her shoes splashed into the water up to above her sock. The other one got to the island. She pulled her other foot out of the water, but the shoe and sock were all wet.

“Dammit”, she said, then looked up at her parents still sitting at the picnic table, wondering if they would get mad at her. They were talking but we couldn’t hear what they were saying. Her mom looked our way but Molly was already standing on the island like her foot had not gotten wet. Her mom waved at us and her dad turned and looked. Molly waved back then stopped looking at them and looked at me.

“This is OUR island”, she said, and she let her bottom fall down onto the small dry round rocks we were standing on, making a crunch sound. I did the same thing in front of her. There was just enough dry part to sit on so the water didn’t touch us. We watched the leaves go by on either side and float along the water and then disappear under the bridge that we went over in the car to get here. We heard the trees whooshing above us.

“We’re in charge of the leaf boats”, I said. “The red ones need to go on this side of the island and the yellow ones need to go the other side.”

“What about the brown ones?” she asked.

I was thinking and said nothing.

“We keep the brown ones”, she said, “Because those ones are fish and we need to eat them so we don’t starve!”

Then she looked out at the leaves that were coming down the stream.

“Uh oh, yellow boat on the wrong side!” she called out with a voice like she was pretending to be a grownup in charge of the river.

I reached out and grabbed the leaf starting to go by to my left.

“Good work”, she said, still with that grownup voice, “Now give it to me.” She looked at it. “Looks okay to me. Off you go!” And she
put it back in the water on the right side.

“Oh… Brown one coming!” she called out, pointing.

“I see it!” I said.

The leaf floated towards us and I wasn’t sure which side of the island it was going to go by. I saw how the bigger round rocks that the water flowed over made the leaves go faster, but where the water was deeper, the leaves moved more slowly. Finally it was close enough to grab.

“Got it!” I said as I stretched out to grab the stem part sticking up.

“Good job!” she said. “Hand it over!”

I felt her hand on my shoulder. It felt good. I lifted the leaf and held it over that same shoulder. She took it.

“Mmm”, she said, “This one will be for dinner tonight!” She put it between her folded legs.

We continued to play boats and fish for a long time. Sometimes the leaf floating toward us was orange, between red and yellow, and we had to figure out what side it should go on. Then Molly’s dad was down by the side of the stream. “Time to go, you two islanders!” he said.

I stood up and started walking over the rocks with my arms out so I didn’t fall. Molly’s dad stretched out to grab my hand after I’d taken a couple steps. Then Molly got up with a handful of leaves.

“We got lots of dinner tonight” she said.

“What?” her dad asked, “You eating leaves for dinner?”

“Fish!” Molly said. “Five of them.”

“Fish… got it”, he said. She started to step on each rock, holding her arms out this time like I did, the leaf fish in one hand. Her dad grabbed her other hand and swung her off the rock to the side of the stream.

When we got back up to the picnic table where Molly’s mom was sitting, she saw that Molly’s shoe and sock were all wet.

“Molly Wheeler, your foot is soaking wet!” Her mom said it like Molly didn’t already know that, but she already did.

Molly nodded and said, “It’s okay.”

“It’s NOT okay”, her mom said, “It’s a chilly day and you could get a chill and catch a cold or worse!” Then after thinking some more, “When we get home you’re going to take a hot bath!”

Molly wrinkled her nose, pushed her lips together, and made a funny face. She looked at me and I knew she was thinking that that was stupid. But she didn’t say anything. My mom would tell me sometimes that I needed to take a hot bath too, like when I started sneezing or I got a stuffy nose.

“Jack”, Molly’s mom said, “Is there a towel in the car somewhere? We need to get Molly’s foot dried off!”

Molly’s dad did that same thinking look that Molly did, though he didn’t put his thumb in his mouth. Then he said, “I don’t think so. There’s just an old rag in the glove compartment I use for checking the radiator and the oil.”

“Oh my god, Jack”, her mom said, “Not that filthy thing!” She looked mad for a second but then she started to laugh, like she was laughing at what she just said.

I wondered if Molly’s dad would tell Molly’s mom that she shouldn’t say the “G word”, but he didn’t.

Molly’s mom continued, “Maybe you can tell the cider mill people what happened to Molly and ask if they have a towel we can borrow, and bring back the next time we’re here.”

As she spoke I could see Molly’s dad’s face look more and more like he didn’t want to do that. Finally he said, “This is right up my alley actually, an engineering problem”, he said. “Let’s put Molly in the front seat and then take that wet shoe and sock off. Then I’ll turn up the heater and direct it down at her feet.”

It sounded to me like something Tom Swift might have figured out to do.

“I’m going to take my shoe off”, Molly said. “It feels all squishy when I walk!”

Molly’s mom looked like she couldn’t figure out what to do. Finally she looked at Molly’s dad and said, “Honey, would you mind carrying Molly to the car?”

“Don’t mind at all”, he replied laughing a little bit, “That’s what dads are for!” He looked at me and winked, like I knew his secret. But I didn’t, because he was a grownup.

Molly stood on the sitting part of the picnic bench. Her dad bent down and reached around her and she put her hands around his neck as he picked her up like she was a little kid. She laughed and I could tell that she liked it.

“Honey”, he said to Molly’s mom, “Can you bring the box of doughnuts?”

She nodded and picked up the box with both her hands. Then she looked at Molly’s shoe on the sitting part of the picnic table and frowned.

“Cooper dear”, she said to me, “Can you bring Molly’s shoe?”

I nodded and picked it up. It was cold and soaked with water, but it still felt like Molly’s shoe.

We all walked back to the car. Still holding Molly in one arm, her dad opened the front car door with the other, and let Molly slide down into the front seat where Molly’s mom had sat before. Her dad then opened the back door.

Molly’s mom put her hand on the top part of my back. “Get in sweetie”, she said, “You can keep me company in the back seat rather than sitting by yourself way back there.”

“Coob can sit next to me in the front”, Molly called out. “His feet might be cold too.”

I looked at Molly’s mom.

“It’s up to you dear”, she said smiling.

“Sit next to me”, Molly said again, patting the sitting part next to her like grownups did sometimes when they wanted you to sit next to them.

“Well”, Molly’s mom said laughing a little, “I don’t know that I can make you a better offer than that! Guess I’m all by myself in the back.”

Molly moved over to the middle of the front seat and I got in next to her. Molly’s mom closed the door by me and got in the back. Her dad got in the front by the steering wheel, closed his door and started driving the car.

“You going to turn on the heat honey?” her mom asked from behind us.

“It won’t be warm yet”, her dad replied. Then he glanced at Molly and me and pointed at a circle thing behind the steering wheel. “That’s the temperature gauge. When that little red pointer gets to the middle that means the engine is warm, so turning on the heat and the fan will give us warm air.”

Molly looked at the circle and all the other buttons and knobs in front of her, then looked up at her dad. “Can I turn on the radio?” she asked.

“You remember how?” he asked back.

She nodded. She had to wiggle herself forward in the seat to reach the knob and turn it.

The music was really loud everywhere.

“Whoah”, said Molly’s dad, reaching out to turn the same knob, which now made the music softer. A woman’s voice sang slowly…

I stop to see a weepin’ willow
Cryin’ on his pillow
Maybe he’s cryin’ for me

Molly’s mom leaned over the top of the back seat behind Molly. “You can change the station if you like”, she said.

Molly’s dad laughed. “Your mom’s not much for country music. She thinks it’s just for hillbillies.” The woman’s voice kept singing…

I go out walkin’ after midnight
Out in the moonlight
Just hopin’ you may be somewhere a-walkin’
After midnight, searchin’ for me

“Jack, that’s not fair!” her mom said. “I acknowledge it’s a legitimate type of folk music. It’s just not my cup of tea.”

“Well boys and girls”, he said, glancing at Molly and me, “That’s no hillbilly singing. That’s the queen of the Grand Ole Opry, Patsy Cline.”

“Good to know Jack”, her mom said, though it didn’t sound like she felt it was good to know. “The kids can make their minds up for themselves.”

I remembered mom and dad talking about hillbillies too, and making fun of them, they pretended THEY were hillbillies, saying words in a funny way. But the song on the radio sounded like something dad would like to sing.

I go out walkin’ after midnight
Out in the moonlight
Just hopin’ you may be somewhere a-walkin’
After midnight, searchin’ for me

Click here to read the next chapter

Clubius Incarnate Part 13 – Tom Swift

Dad read books and sang songs to me when it was bedtime. He told me it was the favorite part of his day, to sit in the wood rocking chair across from my bed and together get “lost in a good story”, and then “raise our voices in song”.

We finally finished reading the Tom Sawyer book. I was sad when it was done, because I liked hearing about all the things that Tom did. I did my best to keep pretending I was Tom sometimes down in the basement or out in the backyard. I knew that Tom was special because his life was an adventure that was in a book.

“So Coop”, dad asked as he sat in the rocking chair, “What should we read next?”

So much thinking was going on inside my head that I was shy to try to say any of it in words. I wanted something that I couldn’t say the words for, so I said nothing and did not even shake my head for yes or no. Dad looked at me and nodded like he knew what I was thinking and then he got a big smile and his eyes got bigger.

“I almost forgot about the books you got for your birthday”, he said, like that was something really special.

I remembered the books. They had the interesting pictures with all the colors on the front part.

Dad reached over to the dresser next to the rocking chair and opened the door to the top part where there were a bunch of books next to each other the same way the books on his shelves were in his office in the basement. He pulled books out with one hand and put each on top of the other on his other hand. He brought them over to my bed and laid them out on my blanket. Then he picked up the rocking chair and put it next to my bed. He sat back down on it so we could both look at the books at the same time.

I looked at all the books with their words and pictures on the front and counted six of them. The words all started with the “Tom” word, which I knew from the Tom Sawyer book. When mom used to read to me she would point out each word when she said it, so I knew some of the other small words, like “and”, “his”, “in” and “on”.

“Let’s see what you have”, Dad said, pointing at each book as he read the name. “Tom Swift and his Jetmarine.”

Dad pushed his lips together because he was thinking as he looked hard at the picture. It looked like two people inside some sort of tube thing, one of them holding a wheel like you hold to drive a car. They were looking out a window at something with a head and big eyes and a bunch of tails but no body.

“Looks like two guys in some sort of submarine being attacked by a giant octopus”, he said. I had heard those words, “submarine” and “octopus”, before but didn’t really know what they were. I figured the tube thing with the window and the people inside must be the “submarine” and that weird thing with the eyes and all the tails was the “octopus”.

He touched the next book. “Tom Swift and his giant robot”, he said.

I figured right away that the thing in the picture that looked kind of like a person but was gray and shiny with a can shaped head and buttons on its stomach must be the “robot”. The one person next to the robot was scared, but the other one, maybe that was Tom, was not. I remembered seeing older boys talking about “robots” and pretending that they were robots by walking and talking in a strange way.

“Looks like Tom is controlling the robot”, dad said, and he seemed happy about that.

He touched the next book and said, “Tom Swift and his rocket ship.”

I really liked the picture of the long tube with wings and a window with Tom and someone else inside looking out as they went up in the air through the clouds. I had just seen a rocket shooting up in the sky on the television, so I knew that the fire coming out the bottom of the tube was making it go up.

“That’s quite an impressive rocket ship”, dad said, and when I looked at him he looked more like a kid than a grownup, and I could tell in his eyes that he was pretending things.

His finger touched the next book. “Tom Swift and his diving Seacopter”, he said.

It was another different sort of round thing with windows with Tom and someone else inside, one holding a wheel for driving and the other holding some sort of poles. Outside it looked like there were strange fish so I guessed they were going under water. I guessed that the bubbles coming out of the top were making it go down in the water, like the fire coming out of the bottom of the rocket ship made it go up.

“Wow a sea copter”, dad said. “I wonder if it can go up in the air like a helicopter as well as underwater like a submarine.” I looked at him when he said that, and though he seemed to like it, he looked more like a grownup than a kid.

“Tom Swift on the phantom satellite”, he said, touching the next book.

The picture looked like people in silver boots and gloves and bubbles on their heads were running on some strange dark place with a big circle thing above them with lots of holes in it. I had heard some grownups talking about a “satellite” that the Soviet Union, the new bad guys instead of the Germans, had put way up in the sky going around the “Earth”, whatever that was. I wondered if that big circle thing was that satellite and they were scared. Suddenly I felt kind of scared. Dad didn’t say any more about that one and his finger moved to the last book on my blanket.

“Tom Swift and His Outpost in Space”, he said.

There were a bunch of what looked like rocket ships around a small thing that looked like a ball with maybe windows. There were maybe robots with bubbles on top and heads like people inside the bubbles. Some were standing on a rocket ship and others were flying above it. There was a big orange and yellow ball like thing in the back that looked like it was maybe on fire. I stared at the picture trying to make sense of it. Dad saw that I couldn’t figure it out.

“Looks like people in space in spacesuits”, he said, “Outside their spaceships by some sort of space station, orbiting another planet, maybe Mars.”

There was that “space” word that I kept hearing but I couldn’t figure out what it meant. There was space in the closet or the refrigerator, but also way up in the sky above the clouds. And like ships sailing in the sea, spaceships would sail in space and people would wear space “suits” instead of regular clothes. And now people were wearing spacesuits and this space “station” thing.

I had gotten a “space helmet” for my birthday, which I put on my head sometimes when I was playing and wanted to pretend I was somebody special. Even older boys in the park talked about “space” and they were pretending to be a “spaceman”. I knew the word “helmet” because dad said that soldiers wore them in the war to keep their heads from getting hurt. He had shown me pictures from his big red war books of soldiers with those round things on their heads. But they did not have the part in front that you looked through like the space helmet.

“Which one should we read first?” dad asked.

All the pictures on the front of the books were making me think about so many different things, some of them scary, so I felt shy and didn’t know what to say, so I shook my head. I wondered if we would also have to run away from the Soviet Union satellite, but I didn’t say anything because I thought dad might not like it if I said I was scared. He might tell me I had to be brave because he had been brave in the war.

“Okay”, dad said, nodding his head, “What about the rocket ship one?”

I nodded, my head moving up and down really quickly. The picture on the front looked more fun than the “phantom satellite” one.

Dad carefully put the other five books back in my dresser. He was always careful when he did things with books. He moved the rocking chair back across from my bed and sat down on it. I was hoping I would see that look like he was a kid again, but I didn’t see it.

He held the book in one hand and put the fingers of his other hand on the front part and slowly moved them down, finally grabbing the bottom of the front part with his thumb and opening it up. I knew he was looking at the picture of Tom just inside the front part, because I had looked at it before. I saw his eyes move back and forth to look at every different thing in the picture. I remembered that Tom was in a strange looking room looking out the window. There was a toy rocket and a toy boat. There were other toys in the room or maybe they were tools. And on the walls were circle things that looked like the ones in the car around the steering wheel.

“This must be Tom’s laboratory”, dad said, turning the book to show me the picture, “Where he does experiments and builds things.” I had heard those words “laboratory” and “experiment” before because Molly’s dad said them, but I didn’t know that was a place, and a place where you built things.

Dad turned the book back toward him and turned pages. He found the next picture, and his eyes moved again looking at it. I remembered that one too, and I remembered that I could not figure it out. Tom was wearing strange clothes and had one of those bubble things over his head. Maybe the bubble thing was a space helmet but it was different than mine. And Maybe Tom was wearing a spacesuit. He was standing on a circle thing with lots of smaller circles in it, or maybe it was a window.

“Tom’s hanging on”, dad said, “So he doesn’t fall into space.”

So that circle thing might be an opening that Tom could fall through into space. But what were those round things in space? There were so many things that I didn’t know yet!

Dad turned more pages and then stopped and looked at me for a moment and said, “Chapter one. A vanished pilot.” Then he looked back at the book and started reading it…

“Somebody’s flying into our restricted area!” Tom Swift cried as an alarm bell broke the midnight stillness of his rocket laboratory on Fearing island. The blond, eighteen-year-old scientist, tall and rangy, laid two wrenches beside the freshly machined, titanium metal column, the heart of the rocket, on which he had been working.”

There were words that I didn’t know but I wanted to. But I did understand that Tom had a place, a laboratory, a rocket laboratory on an island. I knew about islands from Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island. They were places with the sea all around them or a river all around them. I had drawn islands with chalk on the basement floor or made one out of dirt in the backyard.

So Tom was building a rocket. He was a “scientist”, a word that I had heard before but didn’t know what it was. I knew I was three years old and he was a different years old, and seeing him in the pictures, that was a lot older than I was. That was why he was able to know so much. I knew what “tall” was, mom and dad were tall and I was shorter but would be tall too when I grew up. “Blond” was the color of some people’s hair, Molly’s hair, but not mom’s, dad’s, David’s or mine.

Dad kept reading and I hoped I knew enough to follow the story, and was excited thinking where it might take me. If some parts didn’t make sense I was okay with that as long as there was enough so I could play Tom Swift down in the basement or out in the backyard.

I knew about airplanes from watching and playing Sky King with Molly. So some sort of airplane that was not supposed to was coming to the island where Tom’s laboratory was. So Tom and his friend Ben used their laboratory machines to capture it. But when it landed there was no one flying it. The pilot flying the plane had “bailed out”, whatever that meant, and might get to the island in the water. So “speed boats” from the laboratory went out in the water and “copters” went up in the sky looking for the pilot. Tom and some of his other helpers looked on the beach.

Tom was building a rocket ship to use in a race. Those two words together made sense because a regular ship had people on it and went on the water. A “rocket ship” had people on it but went up in the sky or maybe space. Airplanes went up in the sky too, but they looked different. They had big wings and went sideways instead of up.

So Bud flying in the copter saw the pilot who had been in the plane. Tom swam in the water and got the pilot who was wounded and had to go to the doctor. Then Tom called his dad to tell him what happened. Tom thought it was a “sabotage attempt”. I had heard that “sabotage” word on Sky King but did not really know what it meant. When dad read the word he stopped and looked at me.

“You know what ‘sabotage’ is?” dad asked.

I shook my head.

“It’s when you secretly try to wreck something your enemies are building.”

I nodded.

“Coop”, he said “You can always ask me when you don’t know a word. I’m happy to tell you!”

I nodded again, faster this time.

So Tom had “enemies”. I knew what those were. Like pirates, or Germans, or Soviet Unions. Bud said that Tom was too important to be “bumped off”. Dad didn’t stop to tell me what that meant and I didn’t ask.

Tom and Bud were driving in their jeep and saw another man who had sneaked on the island.

“That’s the end of the chapter”, dad said, looking at me. “Shall we read some more?”

I nodded again, almost without even thinking first.

The story continued. Tom and Bud finally figured out that the man who flew the plane to their island was a bad guy, an enemy. He was trying to steal Tom’s “invention”.

“Do you know what an invention is?” Dad asked.

I shook my head.

“It’s when you figure out how to make something no one has ever figured out how to make before.”

I liked that. I wanted to make an invention. I would tell Molly about it and we would make inventions together. And dad read that Tom had a giant airplane that was a “flying laboratory” that helped him make inventions. I would tell Molly about that too. We could pretend that her bedroom was a giant flying laboratory for making inventions.

Mom was at the door, peeking into my bedroom. “David finally fell asleep”, she said, looking at dad, “I’m exhausted and going to bed.”

Then she turned and looked at me and had a big smile. “You like the new Tom Swift book?”

I nodded, and before even thinking said, “Tom makes inventions”.

“He does, does he?” she said, “I bet you’ll be making inventions too someday”.

I nodded and smiled too.

She looked at me but was not smiling anymore. “You know Coop, if you ever have an idea for an invention, you tell me or your dad and we’ll write it down for you so you won’t forget your idea later.”

Dad laughed just a little bit. Mom turned her head to look at him. “Eric, I’m convinced that bright young children are born with great ideas in their heads that get mostly lost because no one takes them seriously.”

“Got it Liz”, dad said, though he didn’t look like he wanted to get it, like he thought she wasn’t right.

Mom looked at him harder. She could always tell what dad was really thinking, even when it was different than what he said he was thinking.

“So Eric”, she asked, “How does Tom Swift compare with Tom Sawyer, from a literature point of view?”

“Well”, his face got friendly again. He looked at the cover of the Tom Swift book in his lap. “Victor Appleton the second is certainly no Mark Twain, but the story is engaging enough, for pulp fiction.” Then he looked up at her, “But my buddy Walter says the science is pretty good”.

“Hunh”, mom said nodding, her lips pushed together. “You read a lot tonight. Will you be coming to bed soon? I have something I want to talk to you about.”

“Sure Liz. Let Coop and I sing a song first.”

She nodded. Then she looked at me and made a pretend angry face. “It’s not fair. I wish I could carry a tune like your dad, but I always go off key.”

Her hand reached down and found my big toe under the covers and she wiggled it like dad did. “Good night sweetie. I love you!” She left the room and dad watched her. I could see he was doing lots of thinking.

Then dad put his hands on the back of his head and looked up. “I don’t really know any songs about rocket ships.” He continued to look up, thinking. I could see the way he opened his eyes a little bigger that meant that he finally thought of a song.

“How about this one?” He sang…

Off we go into the wild blue yonder
Climbing high into the sun
Here they come zooming to meet our thunder
At’em boys, giv’er the gun
Down we dive spouting our flames from under
Off with one hell-uv-a roar
We live in fame or go down in flame
Nothing’ll stop the Army Air Corps

It sounded like an army song from the war, but it was about flying airplanes. It was like ships shooting cannons at enemy ships only it was airplanes instead way up in the sky. It was what boys pretended to do so they could be brave when they were grown up men and fight the enemy. He continued to sing…

Minds of men fashioned a crate of thunder
Sent it high into the blue
Hands of men blasted the world asunder
How they live God only knew
Souls of men dreaming of skies to conquer
Gave us wings ever to soar
With scouts before and bombers galore
Nothing can stop the Army Air Corps

Brave soldiers never stopped, I figured, until they “conquered” or were killed or at least wounded, though I really didn’t know what “conquered” meant.

Off we go into the wild sky yonder
Keep the wings level and true
If you live to be a gray haired wonder
Keep your nose out of the blue
Flying men guarding our nation’s borders
We’ll be there followed by more
In echelon we carry on
Nothing’ll stop the Army Air Corps

And then he sang in a different voice like he was singing through his nose…

Except the ack-ack

He laughed, looked down like he was remembering something, and shook his head. He looked at me.

“Ack-acks are anti-aircraft guns. They were big guns they used during the war to shoot down airplanes.”

I remembered the pictures in the big red war books of airplanes in the sky dropping bombs. I remembered him telling me that story about what he did in the war. Looking for German “eighty-eights” so his mortars could blow them up. The Germans used eighty-eights to blow up American tanks, but also to shoot down American airplanes. I wondered if the Soviet Unions had eighty-eights too, but I didn’t ask him.

When he finished the song, he wiggled my toe too. He said goodnight but instead of smiling he looked like he was thinking hard.

Now alone in my room, in my bed under the covers, I closed my eyes but I was thinking hard too. About Tom Swift the scientist with his laboratory where he built inventions no one had ever built before. About pretending I was Tom Swift with my space helmet. What I would tell Molly about Tom, and where she and I could pretend we had our own laboratory.

Click here to read the next chapter

Clubius Incarnate Part 12 – Television

Mom had shown me that you could “divide” things into four “quarters” by drawing an “imaginary” line across the middle and another one up and down the middle. Where those two lines crossed was the “center”. She said it worked for things that were square or round. She liked doing things like that, thinking with lines and numbers, and writing them on a piece of paper.

So it worked for square things like the basement. When you walked down the stairs to the bottom and turned left, that was my quarter. It was perfect for me because I was left handed and liked to go that way anyway. It had my toys and the shelves mom and dad made out of bricks and boards to put the toys in when I wasn’t playing with them. They never did anything in that part of the basement. I could always play there whenever I wanted to. They called it “Cloob’s area”, though now they were calling it “Coop’s area” because of my new nickname.

At the bottom of the stairs, if you turned right and walked around the big “furnace” thing, that quarter was called the “laundry room”. It had a big white washing machine and big gray sinks, plus a “clothesline” for hanging wet clothes that came out of the washing machine. I liked playing in that quarter of the basement too, because it had all these big metal things with knobs and buttons, though I knew I wasn’t supposed to press them. And the big metal things also had little blue flames hiding inside if you looked really close, and they would make different noises when they started working.

The washing machine made a lot of different noises if you waited long enough. After mom or dad turned the “dial”, it would make a whooshing water noise. Then it would stop and be quiet for a minute before you heard a clunk and then a noise like a car made when it was moving plus a water sloshing noise. Then if you waited longer, the noise would stop again for a minute, followed by another clunk. Then came the best part. It would go crazy with a louder car noise and even shake back and forth like it was going to explode, but it didn’t.

Now instead of turning left or right at the bottom of the stairs, if you kept walking straight past the center of the basement and THEN turned right, that was dad’s quarter. It had a rug on the floor and his desk, special wood chair and shelves like in my quarter. Except his shelves had books instead of toys. He said his books were like my toys. They were what he played with and learned from. His quarter also had a small bed and a “bamboo screen” that hung from the ceiling by the side of the bed to make it darker if he wanted to sleep down there in the daytime. They called his quarter “the office”.

I played there too sometimes when dad wasn’t home. I sat in his chair and made it spin around by pushing my foot against the desk. I counted how many circles I could go before I stopped spinning. I could do three sometimes but never four. I also liked going in the place under his desk because it was like a tiny secret cave that I was small enough to fit into. And I liked the bamboo screen, because it made dad’s quarter seem separate from the rest of the basement, like the furnace made the laundry room separate.

What was left was the fourth quarter, which wasn’t really anything special. It didn’t have anything that gave it a name to talk about it like the other three. It just had a big white wood table with black metal legs, that mom and dad did “projects” on sometimes. Sometimes I would play there too, when I needed more space for what I was doing. Sometimes I put a blanket over the table and turned it into a house or a cave that I could hide and play in. One time dad even turned it over so I could sit on it upside down and play Tom Sawyer on a raft on the river.

But today that fourth quarter of the basement got something new to make it special!

Dad came home from working and said he had a surprise in the trunk of the car. Mom and I came outside with him to see. She was carrying David who didn’t walk or go anywhere by himself. The sky was gray and the air was cool and windy for the first time I could remember for a long time. But it felt tingly and good after all the warm air that wrapped around you and made your skin wet. Mom and I stood on either side of dad as he opened the trunk, David in her arms turning his head to look too.

It was a television. I gasped. I knew it was a television because Molly’s house had one and some other houses we went to had one too.

“Oh my god Eric”, mom said, sounding mad, “We can’t afford a television! What are you thinking? We can’t even pay all my hospital bills from the delivery!”

Dad was quiet and looked up at the sky but his face didn’t look happy. “Liz, I know that!” he said, “The gal that manages the frat house I do work for said they were replacing this with a bigger model and I worked out a trade with her. I’m going to give her writing lessons. She’s a pretty good writer already but she wants to get better!”

“Do you have time to do that, with work on your dissertation and all your odd jobs?” mom asked.

“Sure”, he said, the word just came out of his mouth right after she asked the question without him thinking too much about it first.

Mom looked like she was thinking of more things to say, but then she looked at me and her eyes opened wide as if they were saying that maybe it was okay after all. I nodded.

“Where should we put it?” she asked, not looking or sounding angry anymore.

“Well”, dad did that thing where he pushed his lips together when he was thinking hard. “Maybe in the living room, or in the basement.”

“Not the living room”, she said with a quick laugh and blowing air out of her nose, “There’s no furniture in there to put it on, and I’m not having brick and board shelves in our living room. If we can’t afford any proper furniture I’d rather it stay empty!”

“The TV in Molly’s house is in the basement”, I said, trying to help now that I was feeling a little less shy to talk to grownups.

Mom and dad looked at me and then dad looked at her.

“Then the basement it is”, he said, “We can put it on the white table for now.”

“Just for right now!”, mom said, “I need every bit of that table top sometimes for my various projects, especially folding clothes.”

“I know that Liz, I use it too!” he said, “I’ll get boards and bricks at Fingerlee’s and we’ll put it back beyond Coop’s area against the west wall. You can watch while you’re ironing or doing other chores in the basement.”

“That sounds good”, she said, “There is an outlet back there on that west wall. I don’t want a cord anywhere that Coop could trip on or David might try to touch or chew on.”

He nodded. “I’ll put the bricks for the shelves right in front of the outlet so it won’t be an attractive nuisance for the kids.”

The two of them really liked working together on stuff like this, their “projects”.

Dad lifted the TV out of the trunk, and I followed him, with mom holding David behind me. He carried it down into the basement and set it on the floor. Then he grabbed either side of the white table and moved it over to the wall.

Mom called out, “Eric, let me help you with that!”

“No I’ve got it Liz”, he said, grunting as he moved it against the wall. Then he put the TV on it and took the end of the cord with two shiny little metal things coming out of it and showed it to me.

“This uses electricity”, he said, “It’s very dangerous. Never touch this plug or the outlet I’m going to plug it into. Get your mom or me to help you. Okay?”

I felt a little scared so I didn’t say anything, but I nodded up and down really fast so they knew that I got it.

The thing looked very small sitting there on the big table, much smaller than the TV in Molly’s basement, which was in a wood box with legs. I watched that airplane story, “Sky King”, down in their basement, that Molly really liked and watched with her dad too. We would sit on the shiny black “sofa” that squeaked when you sat on it. Her dad would push the buttons to make the pictures and sounds. She and I had also watched funny talking animals but her dad didn’t watch those with us. Her mom didn’t like the TV and said that Molly shouldn’t watch it too much. I liked it and Molly did too. It seemed very different than everything else and very interesting. I was so excited there was one in our basement now too.

Dad leaned over in front of it to look close at the buttons on the front part.

“Liz. Coop,” dad said, “This works like the radio. You turn it on with this small knob and adjust the volume to make it louder or softer. Then you tune it to the station you want to watch with this bigger knob. You may have to move these antennas on top around until you get a better picture.” He pulled out two shiny silver sticks on the top of the TV. “At the frat house we got four channels… two, four, seven and nine.”

I heard the click as he turned the small knob, and the thing made a crackly noise and started to hum like the radio did. A voice from inside the thing was singing about getting your money back if you bought a car. Then there was a small square of light in the middle of the glass part in the front which got bigger to fill the whole glass part with a fuzzy picture with wiggly lines waving through it. It looked like small pictures of pretend cars moving toward the center. Voices sang…

Roy O’Brien’s got them buying and buying
They come from many miles away
You’ll save yourself a lot of dollars, dollars
By driving out his way today

Dad moved the long silver sticks from side to side until the picture got less fuzzy and the wavy lines went away.

Now on the glass part, dad called it the “screen”, a woman and man inside a house were talking to each other. They both were angry and talking about someone else that the man liked. I thought her name was Mary because they kept saying that.

“This is channel two”, dad said, “Some sort of a soap opera I think.”

He turned the big knob and it clicked twice. There was a shiny gray car with a white stripe on the side and four people sitting at a long table behind it. Other people sitting behind them were yelling and cheering. The four people were each being asked to call out a number. Then one of them screamed and jumped up and down with her hands in the air and a man in dress up clothes and a tie came over and talked to her and walked her over to the car as she continued to scream.

“Game show on channel four”, dad said. “Looks like the lady won a car.” He turned the big knob three more clicks.

Some man with a white cowboy hat was shooting a gun at another man with a black cowboy hat, who was shooting at him too. I could see that dad liked watching this one more. The two men were moving around and trying to hide but still shooting at each other. Finally the man in the black hat stood up and the man in the white hat shot him. The man in the black hat put his hand over his chest, groaned, and fell over. His foot jerked and he stopped moving. The man in the white hat walked up to him and music started playing.

“Western on channel seven”, dad said.

“Eric”, mom said, sounding fierce, “Is this appropriate for Cooper to be watching?”

“I’m just changing the channels Liz to make sure it works”, he said.

“Well I’m not comfortable with Cooper or any kid watching shows like this!” she said.

“Well”, dad pushed his lips together thinking, “It is our history Liz, cowboys and the Wild West. Good versus evil!”

“This is people shooting people, and I don’t think it is appropriate for children. It encourages them to play with guns and I don’t think they should”, she said, “not even toy guns”. Then puffing her cheeks and blowing out air, “You know how I feel about this Eric!”

Dad pushed his lips together again while he was thinking. “Coop’s plastic soldiers have guns”, he said.

“Yes you’re right, and I’ve thought about that too”, she said, now looking at me, I could see in her eyes that she was thinking hard, “But I know Coop loves his soldiers, and they help him use his imagination, so I guess I compromise there. I’m just very uncomfortable having guns in the house, real or toy, or even TV programs about people shooting each other with guns.”

Dad was quiet and looked like he was thinking and did not look happy. “What about when the kids make guns out of their Tinker Toys? Are you going to not let them play with Tinker Toys?”

Mom had a fierce look in her eyes but she smiled. “I see that as different. That is their choice. I don’t like it, but it’s their choice. But a real gun, or a toy version of a real gun, is where I draw the line!”

He said nothing and looked away from her and back at the TV, turning the knob two more clicks.

The picture was more fuzzy, but there were three women lying on the floor next to each other moving their legs up and down at the same time while the woman in the middle told them what to do.

“Some sort of women’s exercise show on channel nine. This is the Canadian station from Windsor, across the river from Detroit.”

Mom nodded. “I’ll pick up a TV Guide at the A&P tomorrow”, she said. She looked at dad and smiled a happier smile this time. “You’ll go over to Fingerlee’s and buy the shelf stuff?”

He nodded with a happy smile as well. They were working together.

She looked down and her face got kind of sad and then she turned her eyes up to look at him. “Sweetheart… I’m sorry I snapped at you earlier when I thought you had bought this. I make myself crazy sometimes worrying about money. You did good here. Now some of my household chores might not be so mind-numbingly boring!”

He nodded while she talked but didn’t say anything. David started moving and making loud noises. She held him up and wrinkled her nose. “This one needs a fresh diaper”, she said, “Excuse me gentlemen, keep up the good work!” and she headed up the stairs.

Dad watched her go up the stairs so I did too. When she was gone he turned to the TV and turned the big knob so it clicked twice. The man with the white cowboy hat was riding a horse in the sand towards a mountain. Then there was more music and there were white words on the glass that moved upwards.

Dad stared at the glass pictures thinking. “I’m looking forward to being able to watch the World Series games on this thing”, he said “I also like the Westerns, but your mom doesn’t care for them.”

He seemed more like a kid. Staring at a new toy and thinking what he could do with it.

“The World Series”, I said nodding, though I did not know what that was, but I had heard grownups and older kids talk about it.

Still looking at the thing he said, “It’ll be your mom’s Yankees against probably the Milwaukee Braves.”

I got it. It was a baseball game. Dad knew a lot about baseball.

And those words “west” and “western”. I was thinking I got that too. It was some special place far away that you went to through the sky where there was sand instead of grass and men rode horses and shot guns at each other and there weren’t any fences. But some women, like mom, didn’t like it. They liked the “east”. Grownups were strange, talking about these far away places that were not here. Molly liked the “west” and I guess I liked it too.

Dad walked back over to his office and sat in his chair. The TV was still making sounds and pictures. A talking tiger was telling a woman with an apron in a kitchen to buy cereal. Then two kids were running across a kitchen floor and there were brown spots from their shoes but a woman cleaned it up and was happy. Then there were lots of shiny cars all in rows and one man stood in the middle and was talking to the sky. It all seemed so different and far away from what was outside our house or anywhere I’d ever been.

“Coop”, dad said from his chair at his desk. “You okay if we turn the TV off for now? I’ve got some papers to grade and it’s distracting!”

I nodded.

“You want to try turning it off yourself?”

I nodded again.

I walked up to the thing sitting there on top of the white table. Behind the voices and other sounds coming out of it I could hear a low hum somewhere behind those other sounds. Since dad said it “used electricity” and that was something to be careful of, I wasn’t sure what my fingers would feel when I touched the knob. But he said I could turn it off so I figured it would be okay, but still.

I touched the small knob with one finger. It just felt like other plastic things I played with. Then I touched it with two fingers and turned the knob and the voices got really loud, and it surprised me.

Dad laughed, “Wrong way. Turn it the other way to turn it off!”

I used my two fingers again and turned it the other way. There was a click and the voices and noises stopped, and then the hum stopped. The glass part went back to a small white square that got smaller and smaller until I couldn’t see it any more.

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Clubius Incarnate Part 11 – Cooper

I heard the doorbell ring in the living room. Mom was in my bedroom with me helping me button up the special shirt she had bought for me for dressing up. She said it was a “Campbell tartan” because “Campbell” was my “middle name”.

“Jonathan Campbell Zale”, she said. “That’s a name you can run for President with some day!” Her eyes twinkled when she said it. We were dressing in special clothes to go to a party across the street at Molly’s house. Mom was wearing a bright white shirt under a blue “dress”. That was one of those things that only women wore that was open at the bottom, instead of pants or shorts, which was what she wore the rest of the time. She had on the black shoes, “heels” she called them, that made her really tall, but also walk kind of funny. Her lips were very red and shiny.

“Margie’s here!” dad called from the living room.

“Great”, mom called back to him as she buttoned the sleeves of my shirt. It felt uncomfortable to have that tight feeling of shirt sleeves around my wrists. “Show her where we keep David’s bottles in the refrigerator and where his diapers are in the linen closet and how to work that damn diaper pail!” mom said.

“Liz, I got it!”, his voice sounded just a little bit angry, like she didn’t need to tell him that because he already knew.

Mom finished all my buttons and adjusted my “collar”. “You look very handsome”, she said.

She waved me to walk out of my room and walked behind me patting me on the shoulder, which I did not like. When I came into the living room Margie was at the door from the kitchen. She was not a grownup like mom and dad but also not a kid like me. She was wearing a dark blue sweatshirt with yellow letters that I knew said “Michigan” because I had one like it too.

“Hi Jonathan”, she said, “You’re all dressed up. You look very nice in that shirt!” She was about the only person who called me that name, because mom told her to and paid her money.

Mom patted me on the shoulder again. “Tell Margie what’s special about your shirt.”

I really didn’t like it when mom told me what to say.

“So what is the deal with your shirt little man?” Margie said, getting down on one knee in front of me.

“It’s a tartan”, I mumbled. I didn’t want to say it the way mom wanted me to say it.

“A what?”, Margie asked.

I heard mom blow out air and finally say, “It’s a CAMPBELL tartan, Jonathan’s middle name!”

“Okay”, said Margie, still on one knee, smiling and looking at me. “It’s your family colors!”

I felt embarrassed and mad that mom was talking for me.

Margie gave just the littlest nod like she knew how I was feeling. Then she said, “So tonight you’re all grown up going to the party with the folks while I babysit your baby brother!”

I nodded, not saying anything because I was still mad at mom.

Mom said to Margie, “Let me show you where the diapers are and how to work the pail.”

“Liz, I said I can do it”. I could hear the anger in dad’s voice. “You head over to the party with Cloob… Jonathan!”

“Eric”, mom replied, “I just want to show her the trick with the pail.”

“Liz”, he said, “I know the trick with the pail.”

Mom rolled her eyes. “Okay then.” She looked at me, “Jonathan, you can escort your mom to the party.”

I didn’t want her to take my hand, so I walked to the front door and opened it for her to walk out like I’d seen dad do.

“Such a gentleman”, Margie said as she followed dad into the hallway to find out about the diapers and the “damn” diaper pail.

“Thank you young man”, mom said to me, her bright red lips smiling and her eyes twinkling as she walked out the open door. I pulled it closed so it made a clicking noise.

Molly’s house was all lit up and you could hear voices inside talking and laughing. I looked up in the sky and the moon was a big round circle just over the tops of the trees. The street was full of cars all dark and still, and no people in them. But their outsides sparkled in the moon’s light. Though it was dark, the air was still warm and kind of wrapped around me like I was under a blanket. The door to Molly’s house was already open and a man standing by the screen door opened it for us to come inside.

“Jane Zale”, he said, his eyes moving from her face to look down her entire body to her feet, “You’re looking pretty damn good for a lady who’s just had a baby.” His words were coming out in a strange way like they were slowing down.

“Thanks Mort”, she said, putting her hand on my shoulder like she was protecting me, “How many drinks have you had?”

“A few”, he said, “Watch out for the punch, it’s wicked!”

Mom pressed her lips together and made them smile. “Thanks for the tip!”

“Who’s your date?” he said, looking serious and silly at the same time.

Mom breathed in and out. “Morton, meet my son Jonathan.”

He leaned over to look at me more closely and stuck out his right hand. I did not know what to do. He reached farther and grabbed my right hand and shook it.

His eyes were kind of wobbly as he looked at me and smiled. “Your dad says you’re quite the little ballplayer, a lefty like Johnny Podres. Johnny Zale… It has a nice ring to it. Like Tony Zale.” He looked up at mom.

She wasn’t smiling anymore. “His name is Jonathan, Mort. Not Johnny!” she said.

“C’mon Jane, a boy needs a nickname!” he said.

“That may be true Morton”, mom put her hand on his shoulder and looked at him, “But his is not Johnny.”

“Okay Jane”, he said chuckling, “I never pick a fight with a good looking woman!”

“Good thing for you in my case”, mom said, a big grin now on her face, her hand still on his shoulder and leaning towards him, “Because you’d lose that fight!”

He looked up at the ceiling and laughed. Mom gave him a final pat on the shoulder and then patted me on my shoulder with her other hand and we continued to walk into the house. It was full of grownups, men and women, most of them holding and drinking from funny looking glasses filled with what looked like water but was red.

Molly’s mom saw us and came over.

“Welcome you two”, she said, “Look at Cloob… er Jonathan all dressed up! But where’s your other guy?” She was saying her words kind of funny too. Maybe that was what grownups did at parties.

“He’ll be along in a minute”, mom said, “How’s it going?”

“It’s going gangbusters Jane”, she said, “We’ve raised nearly four hundred bucks for Phil’s campaign already!”

“Good for you Joan”, mom said, “I wrote you a check for twenty. Maybe that will put you over the four hundred mark!”

“Jane, you don’t have to do that”, Molly’s mom said, “I know how tight the budget is right now.”

“No Joan”, mom said, “This is probably the most important twenty bucks I’ll spend all year, to help put a man of Phil’s character in the U.S. Senate!” She pulled a piece of paper out of her purse and put it in a big pot on the table in the middle of the room with red, white and blue streamers all around it. Molly’s mom thanked her and gave her a little kiss on the cheek.

Mom reacted to the kiss by opening her eyes wide, saying, “And how many drinks have you had, young lady?”

Molly’s mom laughed, “Who’s counting! The more everyone drinks the bigger the numbers on the checks. And you know I can hold my liquor with the best of the boys!”

“I sure do”, mom said, and she looked at me and opened her eyes wide.

“Anyway”, Molly’s mom said to mom, “I’m dying to introduce you to Dick Sampson. He and I were grad students together in poly sci. He says he knows Eric and wanted to finally meet you. HE ended up getting his PhD and is now teaching.” She nodded slowly as she said it and looked up at the ceiling. “I ended up getting married and then Molly came along.”

She led mom and me over to two men talking very loud to each other in the corner of the living room.

One said to the other, “Look Dick, Kierkegaard said ‘existence precedes essence’, and Sartre and de Beauvoir are just starting with that axiom and taking it steps further.”

“I’m not buying it”, said the other, who winked at Molly’s mom as we approached them, “It’s not an axiom in my book, just an unproven theory! I’m not much for existentialism, I’m a Hegel dialectic man.”

“I don’t want to stop your tete a tete here”, Molly’s mom said, “But Dick, I wanted to introduce you to Eric’s wife, Jane Zale.”

He looked at Molly’s mom and then at mom and his eyes lit up.

“Jane Zale”, he said, “So you’re the girl that finally corralled Eric’s heart. We finally meet!”

Molly’s mom tapped mom on the shoulder and said she would go find Molly, and she headed toward the stairs up to Molly’s bedroom.

“We finally meet, Dick”, mom said, “So tell me how you know Eric.”

“I know him from Michigamua”, he said

“Michigamua?” mom asked.

“Yes. Well. It’s sort of a semi-secret university men’s club. A bunch of guys being guys”, he said. “Half naked. War paint. That sort of thing. The less said the better. Not really for mixed company.”

“Okay”, mom said nodding, “I get it.”

“So Jane” he said pointing at her, “Maybe you can help Lynn and I settle this argument once and for all. Have you read de Beauvoir?”

“I read The Second Sex for a soc class”, mom replied.

“Okay, perfect. I’ve been dying to pose this question to the female of the species”, he said, turning to look at mom, his eyes briefly glancing down from her face to her chest, “Don’t you agree with me that it’s nuts what de Beauvoir said, that ‘one is not born but becomes a woman’?”

Mom didn’t say anything for a minute thinking. Finally she said something.

“I think she’s being provocative Dick. Of course women are born female and men male. But honestly, I don’t think it’s any more natural for me to do dishes and change diapers than it would be for a man like you!”

He laughed. “You wouldn’t want me trying to change diapers Jane, I’d make a mess of it!”

Mom chuckled. “You underestimate yourself Dick. I could teach you in ten minutes. With a little practice you’d be as good as any woman!”

He made a funny snort like an animal. “I’ll pass!”

“Well there you go”, she said with a big smile on her face and some fierceness in her eyes, then touching the side of his shoulder with her hand, “It’s really a choice on your part. Yet it’s supposed to be natural for women like me, though it’s really not. I think that’s what de Beauvoir is getting at.”

He frowned, but also liked mom touching his shoulder, so he smiled again and started nodding. “Okay. I’ll have to think about that one. If I hadn’t had so much punch I might have a good comeback.” Mom laughed.

He looked down at me and said, “This your little Johnny?”

Mom pushed her lips together and her head moved a little from side to side. “His name is Jonathan. My brother is named John. My son is Jonathan.”

I felt embarrassed, like there was something wrong with me that my mom had to try to fix with her words. I never liked it when grownups talked to each other about me when I was there with them.

“Okay Jonathan it is”, he said, looking at me again. But I could tell in his eyes he didn’t think so.

I felt uncomfortable, and when I felt that way I usually stopped talking. But I also didn’t like mom talking for me. So I told him.

“They call me Cloob”, I said.

“What?” He looked at me with wobbly eyes and a funny look on his face. Then he looked up at my mom with that same look.

“Well”, mom said, pushing her red lips together again, “That’s a nickname his dad made up, ‘Clubius’.”

“Clubius… Sounds kind of Roman”, he said, looking up at the ceiling and thinking, “Senator Maximus Clubius addresses the Forum.”

Mom nodded but didn’t say anything. I could see in her eyes she was doing a lot of thinking instead of talking.

Most of what they were talking about I couldn’t figure out. But that was what grownups did. I looked around the room for Molly. I saw Molly’s mom over by the front door talking to dad and pointing towards mom and me. She then went upstairs and dad came over to where we were.

“Eric”, Dick said, “I’ve known you for what, four years, and only tonight I finally meet your better half. She’s already wounded me in a philosophical argument.”

Dad tried to smile, nodded and chuckled. Finally he said, “Good to see you again, Dick. Congratulations on your doctorate!”

“Thanks Eric”, he said, “You started on that dissertation yet? Cardinal Newman?”

Dad shook his head, losing his smile, blowing air out between his lips. Mom shook her head too. There was that “dissertation” word again that they were always talking about.

Molly appeared from behind dad. She was wearing one of those dress things on the bottom part of her body but no socks or shoes.

“Coob”, she said, “Want to play in my room?”

“Now there’s the best offer I’ve heard all night!”, Dick said and laughed. Then looking at me, “You better say yes my man or I might instead!”

Molly’s mom appeared behind Molly and put her hands on Molly’s shoulders. “Dick you’re too much. I ought to cut you off from the punch.”

“Oh god Joan, anything but that!” Then looking around. “Where’s your hubby?”

“He’s around somewhere”, Molly’s mom said, “Maybe down in the basement showing some of his work buddies our new television.”

“Oh my”, he said, “So you’ve succumbed to the boob tube! You of all people Joan! It’s like a virus spreading! Commie plot to rot our brains!”

Molly looked at me and rolled her eyes. I knew she wanted me to go upstairs with her. I nodded and she ran towards the stairs and I followed.

“Like a moth to the flame”, I heard him say as I followed Molly up the stairs to her bedroom. Even from her room we could hear the talking and laughing below.

Molly said she wanted to play “Sky King”. I helped her move the two big puffy chairs so they were right next to each other, both facing one of the windows looking out across the street. She had a plastic toy thing with buttons on it and a steering wheel to fly the plane. She also had a black plastic box, with a button and a red light on top. Then she went over to the wall and turned off the lights. She sat in the one chair, the steering wheel thing in her lap. I sat next to her in the other chair, the black plastic box with the red light between us.

When the lights were on in the room it was hard to see out the window because you saw the inside of the room too, like a mirror. But when the room got dark that all changed. Our eyes were able to see what was outside the window. The shapes of houses, and cars in the street shining from the moon. Light from inside those houses coming out the windows, including our house across the street where David and Margie were.

“Okay. Ready to take off?” she asked.

“Okay”, I said. I would go anywhere with Molly and I knew she would go anywhere with me.

“Roger”, she said, and she pushed the button on the black box and the red light started to flash. She grabbed the steering wheel and pushed other buttons. “Taking off!” We saw the houses and the cars below us as we flew over them. We could still hear the voices and laughing of the grownups at the party below us, but now it seemed farther away. I turned my head to look at her and every time the red light flashed, it made her face look strange and scary. Like the light was showing the inside of her rather than the outside. Seeing her in a way that wasn’t the regular way. We were both quiet and continued to fly over everything together.

Far away I heard the door to Molly’s room open. I heard the voice of Molly’s mom saying, “What is going on in here?” I returned to the room and opened my eyes and saw three faces in the flashing red light, looking down at Molly and me. They were all smiling and their eyes happy, though their faces looked strange like Molly’s had.

“These two”, Molly’s mom said. She was talking slow and funny like the other people had down at the party. “Our little adventurers”, said dad. “So dear”, said mom. Mom and dad were talking that funny way too. Molly’s mom pushed the button to turn off the flashing light. Molly was still asleep.

“Joan, thanks again for hosting a great party”, mom said, “It’s been forever since Eric and I have been out together with adults.”

“It certainly has”, dad said. Then all three of them started to laugh.

“I may be jealous of Dick getting his PhD”, Molly’s mom said, “But I wouldn’t trade anything for getting to be Molly’s mom!” She stroked Molly’s hair and Molly opened her eyes, rubbed them, and stretched her arms.

“The feeling is mutual”, mom said.

Dad looked at me and his eyes were wobbly and he spoke very softly. “You want a ride home on my back, Cloob?”

“Eric dear”, mom said, “You’ve had a lot to drink, you better not.”

Somehow I knew to shake my head no.

“Okay. Okay. Okay”, dad said, nodding. He ran his hand through his hair and took a deep breath and blew it out.

“You two okay?” Molly’s mom asked them, “I think I’m going to tell Jack to put less vodka in the punch next time.”

“I think we’re okay Joan”, mom said, “We just need to get home and let the babysitter go and put this guy to bed. It’s pretty late. It was a wonderful party! Thank you so much for hosting it!”

As mom, dad and I walked out of her room Molly said, “Good night Coob.” I looked at her one last time and nodded. I didn’t want to say good night to her with all the adults watching and thinking that was so nice.

When we got out of Molly’s front door, mom put her arm around dad’s waist and pressed her body against him. “Mmm… you feel good”, she said in a slow calm happy voice.

Dad put his arm across her back and said, “You too Liz, it’s been a while!”

“It has”, mom said, “Hopefully David’s asleep and will stay so for at least a few hours.”

Their words and feelings seemed strange to me. They were not the way they usually talked to each other. Other grownups at the party had been talking that strange way. More like kids than grownups.

Mom looked up at the dark sky. “You know”, she said, now looking down at me with her big friendly eyes, her other arm grabbing my shoulder and pulling me against her. “You need a proper nickname until you’re old enough for people to call you Jonathan. “Clubius” is cute and we all love it, but it’s more of a baby name, and I think the kids in the neighborhood are going to tease you if you don’t have a more normal nickname.”

Her big blue eyes reflected the light from the moon. She looked both happy and sad at the same time. She didn’t seem so much like a grownup, which made me want to say something.

“I like the ‘Coob’ name that Molly says”, I said.

“Hmmm”, mom said, sounding more like a grownup now.

“Liz”, dad said, “There’s that sax player from Stan Kenton’s band, Bob Cooper, that they call ‘Coop’!”

“Coop! Cooper!” mom said, “What do you think, young man?” She squeezed my shoulder.

I still liked Molly’s name for me, but I nodded.

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Clubius Incarnate Part 10 – Brother

This morning dad told me that mom was finally coming home from the hospital with my brother that had been inside her. He took me over to Molly’s and then he drove off in the car. I still did not know what was really going on, so it worried me. I had seen a baby before but it just cried a lot. Why did we need to have one of those at our house?

Molly and I had been playing up in her attic bedroom when dad and Molly’s mom came to tell Molly and me that the baby inside mom had come out and was now my brother. Dad had asked me if I wanted to go and see my new brother at the hospital, but I didn’t say yes or anything else, so I stayed at Molly’s house.

Earlier that day, Molly and I had hidden in the spruce tree and didn’t tell mom where we were. Mom got mad and said angry words to me. Then her body started hurting because the baby inside her was ready to come out, and dad took her to the hospital, and I went over to Molly’s.

Mom had told me a lot of times about having a baby inside her that would become “part of our family”. It might be a boy like me or a girl like Molly, but mom didn’t know which one until it came out. Where it would come out of her I did not even dare to ask. What she did know is that she would have to go to the hospital when it was ready to come out. The whole thing made no sense to me or to Molly. I already had Molly so why did we need anyone else.

After it got dark dad finally had come back to Molly’s house and taken me home, but mom wasn’t there. He said she had to stay at the hospital until she and my brother were ready to come home.

This morning he asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital with him. I still wasn’t sure what this all meant and how it might affect me, and I did not say anything. So he took me over to Molly’s again.

I was still thinking about all those things that had happened, when Molly saw from the window that our car pulled into the driveway of our house across the street. She and I looked out and watched as dad got out of the car and walked around to the other side to open the door for mom. She got out carrying something all wrapped up in a white bundle. I could tell that that thing was what this was all about.

Molly said, “Let’s go see it!”

I looked at her unsure and worried.

She looked at me and figured out what I was thinking. “You can stay here if you want”, she said, “But I’m going to go see it!”

I said okay, but I didn’t want her to go. But when she headed out of the room I decided to follow her. I was having trouble thinking of anything except that I felt strange.

When we got down the stairs to the front door, Molly called out to her mom, “Coob’s mom is home and we want to go see it!”

“Oh my god”, Molly’s mom appeared from the kitchen, climbing up the stairs into the living room, “This is so exciting! Yes, let’s go see Cloob’s little brother!”

She opened the front door. Molly ran out down toward the street.

“Whoa there Molly Wheeler”, her mom yelled out, “Watch for cars before you cross the street!” I could see Molly jerk her body to a stop on the edge of our street, swing her head to either side, and then run across. Molly’s mom puffed her cheeks and pushed air out of her mouth and shook her head.

“C’mon Cloob”, she said, taking my hand, “Let’s see your brother!”

She and I walked across the street. Molly had already disappeared inside the front door of our house.

When Molly’s mom and I walked in the front door, mom and dad and Molly were standing around this basket thing with legs that had appeared a few days ago in the living room. All three of them looked at me and smiled, but I was worried.

Mom patted dad and Molly on their shoulders and came over to me and took my hand, looking down at me.

“Cloob”, she said, making her biggest smile but her eyes looked sad. “I really want to say I’m sorry for yelling at you yesterday. I just was so scared that something had happened to you and Molly when you didn’t say anything and you were right there hiding in the spruce tree. I need you to tell me you’re okay when I ask you!”

I nodded my head. The things she said always made sense like that. Her face got less worried.

“But now I want you to meet your brother David”, she said.

She took me over to the basket thing and there was a wrinkled little face with big blue eyes looking up at me. He was unwrapped from his little white blanket and was wearing tiny blue pajamas. His little pink fingers grasped at the air and his legs kicked. His eyes moved around like he was trying to see things and they finally saw me. He smiled at me and seemed happy to see me. I could tell in his eyes that he wanted me to like him, so I felt better. The grownups all seemed happy, and Molly too, so that made me feel better too. I wasn’t sure yet it would be okay, but it was okay so far.

Looking at me and then at Molly’s mom, dad said, “The doctor said it was an easy delivery, and Liz did well.”

“Jane’s a trooper”, Molly’s mom said. Then she looked down at the baby and she made a funny expression with her mouth. “He’s a beautiful boy!” Dad nodded. Molly looked at me like she didn’t know what they were talking about. I didn’t either.

Mom nodded too, “He is Joan. It still seems like such a miracle. Just like when Cloob was born. It changes your perspective on things.” She let go of my hand and rubbed my shoulder and neck.

“So Cloob sweetie, what do you think?” mom asked.

Since I started talking she liked to ask me what I was thinking. And if I said something, she liked hearing it. But I didn’t want to tell her I felt worried, but I felt I should say something because everyone else had said something, even Molly.

“He looked at me!” I said. That seemed okay to say.

“He did sweetie, he’s looking at all of us, trying to connect with us”, mom said looking down at him and touching his face.

David looked at me again and smiled. I smiled back.

“Can he talk?” I asked.

Mom laughed. “No not yet sweetie. Not for a while. He’ll cry and make other noises too. But he’ll be doing a lot of listening and watching, like right now.”

“He’s so precious!”, Molly’s mom said. Molly pushed her lips together and made a face.

We all continued to look at him and touch him and say things about him for a while and then mom said she had to feed him. It still all felt strange to me. The kid Kenny across the street, who lived in the house next to Molly’s, had a “little brother”, that Kenny didn’t talk about much, but when he did, seemed not to like. xxx

“Let me fix up his formula!” It was the first thing dad had said and he seemed glad to say it and do something other than look at the baby. He went into the kitchen.

Molly’s mom said she needed to go home to do things. She put her hand on mom’s shoulder and said, “He’s beautiful Jane. You have a beautiful family. Please let me know anything I can do to help. Any time. Anything you need, just call me, I’m right across the street.”

I thought it was funny that she said that last thing because we all already knew that they lived across the street. It was one of those things grownups did, say things you already knew. Anyway she said that Molly could stay and play with me and that made me happy. Molly’s mom said goodbye to dad and “congratulations on your growing family”, and told him too she would “Help out any way I can, if you or Jane need me”. Then she asked him if he would make sure Molly looked both ways before crossing the street to come home and then left.

Molly wanted to see how my mom fed the baby, so we went into the kitchen to watch dad make the “formula”. Dad figured out that was why we were there looking at him and started to tell us what he was doing. He was using a “measuring spoon” to take the “powdered formula” out of a box with letters and a picture of a baby on it. He mixed it with the big wooden spoon in a pot with water heated up on the stove, hot enough to “dissolve” the powder, but not too hot or it would burn the baby’s mouth. Molly and I peeked in the pot as he stirred it, and watched the powder disappear and make the water white and look like milk. He carefully dipped his little finger in the pot to “test” if it was hot enough, but not too hot. As soon as his fingertip dipped in the milky liquid we both looked at him.

“Litle bit more”, he said, continuing to stir the pot. “It’s like making cocoa, except the water turns white instead of brown.”

Grownups were good at using words to explain things, if they wanted to.

Finally the formula was warm enough and dad poured it from the pot into a clear glass “baby bottle”. I liked those baby bottles because they were thick clear glass with sides and edges. When you held one it was heavy and you could feel those sides and edges. If you looked through it, what you saw on the other side was kind of broken up by the edges. Then as you looked through and turned the bottle, different parts of what you saw shifted and were broken up.

Dad then put a “rubber nipple” on top of the bottle. He gave the bottle to Molly and asked her if she wanted to bring it to mom. Molly nodded, and when she took the bottle she slowly and carefully walked back into the living room, holding it in front of her with both hands. I thought it was funny because she usually ran everywhere. I followed her into the living room.

Mom was sitting in the rocking chair next to the basket thing with the baby in her arms. She took the bottle from Molly and said thank you. She showed us how she dripped some on her arm to test if it was the right “temperature”. Then she put the nipple part between the baby’s lips, and his lips closed on it and the baby started drinking. Mom looked at him while he drank, I could tell her mind was doing lots of thinking.

“So Eric”, she called out to my dad in the kitchen, “Did you talk to the Hutchinson’s about their crib?”

Dad appeared at the kitchen door. “Yes. They said we could have it. It looks like it is in okay shape, may need a little work. Could use a coat of paint too.”

Still feeding the baby she said, “Well we still have half a quart of that oil-based white that we used on this bassinet.”

Dad nodded and smiled. His eyes sparkled. He and mom liked working together on things like that.

Then he frowned, “It doesn’t have a pad or a mattress though.”

Mom frowned too. “Could you get a piece of foam, cut it to size, and cover it somehow?”

“Schlenkers has foam and will cut it to size”, he said, “Then we could cover it with one of the flat sheets. I think we have an extra one.”

The baby coughed. Mom pulled the bottle out of his mouth and a bunch of white stuff squirted out and down his cheek. Mom took the cloth from her shoulder and cleaned up his face. She lifted him and held him against her chest with his head over her shoulder and gently patted his back. She smiled at Molly and me.

“David needs to burp I think”, she said, “It’s been three years since you were born Cloob, and I’m still trying to remember all the tricks of the trade!”

I couldn’t remember ever being a baby like David and not being able to do much of anything except look at things and suck on a bottle. David made a noise. Guess that was a burp.

Mom looked away from us at dad. “We’re lucky David is a boy because we have that box of Cloob’s old baby clothes somewhere right?”

Dad frowned and looked up at the ceiling. “I think we gave those to the Drakes for Henry.” Then back at mom. “He’s over a year now, he may be done with them!”

“Yeah but…”, mom shook her head, “You can’t slap a coat of fresh paint on ratty old clothes. We’re not going to dress him in rags.”

Dad puffed out his cheeks and blew air out. “Well, I could do a couple evenings at the fraternity. Those frat boys’ rooms and laundry are not going to clean themselves! Otherwise I’m going to have to rob a bank Liz!”

She looked back at him very seriously. “Eric, how many different jobs do you have?”

He looked up at the ceiling again thinking. “Five… six actually if you count the proofreading.”

“You get paid for it right?” she asked, “That counts!”

“Well”, he scratched his chin, “They give me free books.”

“That counts!” She said, taking the baby off of her chest and back down in her lap. “But at some point it becomes penny wise and pound foolish. If it slows down you getting your dissertation done, it delays you finding a real job that pays and has benefits even.”

“Well”, he said nodding his head, “I told you I’m close to starting on my dissertation!”

They were always talking about his “dissertation”. He had tried to explain it to me that it was something he had to write to get his “PHD” thing so he could work as a “professor”, but it didn’t make much sense.

“Eric”, her voice was a little bit angry, “You didn’t tell me that! That’s a big milestone isn’t it? You need to talk to me about these things. It helps…”, she rolled her hand around in a circle in front of her, “Keep me going.”

“You’re right Liz… sorry!” he said.

Molly finally looked at me and I knew she wanted to do something different.

“Let’s play in the backyard”, I said.

“Let’s play Sky King”, she said.

“Let’s play pirates and Sky King”, I said.

“Okay”, she said, and she ran into the kitchen and out the side door. I got up and followed her. I could hear mom and dad and Molly’s mom chuckling at us as I left the room following Molly.

Clubius Incarnate Part 9 – Hidden

I liked to hide. I liked to be in a place where no one could see me or find me until I wanted them to. A place where no one could tell me what to do, or even say that they liked or didn’t like what I was doing, like grownups did. I liked it the most when, from where I was hiding, I could see and hear other people but they couldn’t see me. Then I could watch them without worrying about them watching me back. If another kid was hiding with me, that was okay, because they didn’t count. Especially Molly. I never wanted to hide from her.

Molly’s mom brought Molly over to play with me. Molly’s mom always wanted to talk about the baby in mom’s stomach.

“Jane”, she said, “You look like you’re ready to pop any day now!”

Mom nodded, rolled her eyes and said, “Joan, I’m a week from my due date. I’ve had some contractions, but my doctor says they’re not real labor yet.”

“They say the second one generally comes quicker than the first!” Molly’s mom said. She was always trying to tell mom things like that.

“I’ve heard that too”, mom said, “I’d be happy if it was quicker this time. Cloob…”, she paused and made a funny face like she wasn’t sure what to say next, “I was in labor with Jonathan for twelve hours! I’m counting on this one being a lot quicker.”

I had no idea what she was talking about. She had used that word “labor” before but I was afraid to ask her what it meant. It seemed like something that women talked about with each other but not with men because men would think it was yucky. If I asked, I was afraid that she would think I was being bad, or that word I’d heard, “naughty”.

“So know that Jack and I are always ready to take you to the hospital if Eric can’t do it for some reason”, Molly’s mom said, “You have all our phone numbers, right?”

Mom pointed down at her foot. “I do. You and Jack are sweethearts! I keep the list in my sock all the time, since these damn pants don’t have any pockets! I’d show you but I’d have to bend over.”

Both of them laughed. I started to laugh too but I didn’t know what we were laughing about. Molly didn’t laugh, and she looked at me and made a funny face.

Molly’s mom took mom’s hand and looked at her very seriously. “Jane, I appreciate you watching Molly while I do the shopping. It won’t be more than an hour. I’ll be at the A&P if you need to call and get them to find me there. You know I’ll watch Cloo…” she paused then said, “Jonathan anytime you need me to. And when your time comes, call me or call Jack and we’ll drop whatever we’re doing and take you to the hospital if you need that, or watch this guy”, she said pointing at me.

Again I didn’t like it because they were talking about serious things and I felt I couldn’t do anything. I wanted mom to get that baby out of her really soon so things would be regular again.

Mom got that look where her big blue eyes got kind of watery and she made a sort of pretend sad face. “Joan, that means so much to me! And make sure to tell your Jack that he’s a sweetie!” They squeezed each other’s hands one last time and Molly’s mom went out the front door and walked across the street, got in her car and drove off.

Mom looked at the two of us and smiled. Then she looked at Molly like she was thinking what to say to her.

She said, “I’ve been telling Jonathan that I’m going to have a baby any day now and he’s going to have a younger brother or sister. Your mom said she talked to you about it?”

Molly nodded and said, “Yes Misses Zale”, like she was using words someone else told her to say but not her own.

Mom made her biggest smile and said, “If I can call you Molly, you can call me Jane. Okay?”

Molly’s shoulders relaxed and she nodded, and I could tell that she was happy mom said that.

Still looking at Molly, mom said, “We won’t know whether it’s a boy or a girl until he or she is born, but I feel like it’s going to be another boy. We’ll see if I’m right again this time. Not that I wouldn’t be thrilled if it was a girl like you.”

Molly kind of squeezed her face thinking, and finally nodded.

“Well, okay”, mom said, clapping her hands together. “I’m going to sit in the backyard and try to get a little sun. You two are welcome to play in the basement or in the backyard.”

Molly’s eyes found mine. “Show me the island”, she said. I had told her the day before about what I had made with all the dirt.

“Okay”, I said and I started to run around the side of the house and Molly ran after me.

I stopped by the big tree and looked at the fort I had built under it. I had used pretty much all the dirt dad and I got. The green good guy soldiers were along the walls and in the towers of most of the fort, but the gray pirates had captured part of the fort and were in that part.

Molly came up next to me and looked at everything, thinking. She got down on her hands and knees and slowly crawled around looking at everything even closer. She pointed at the green soldier that had one hand pointing and the other holding a pistol.

“Is that the goodguy captain?” she asked.

“Yep”, I said.

She crawled over to the part of the fort where the gray soldiers were.

“These are the pirates?” she asked.

“Yep”, I said. I was happy she was getting it and that she was taking so much time to look at every part.

She pointed at the gray figure with his hands on either side of his waist and his elbows sticking out.

“Is that the pirate captain?”

I nodded.

“What about these guys?” She pointed at three green soldiers lying on their side in the dirt in the part of the fort where the gray soldiers were.

“They’re dead”, I said, as seriously as I could.

“And these guys?” She pointed at two more green soldiers surrounded by gray soldiers.

“Captured”, I said.

Mom walked by carrying a clear plastic bottle. She was wearing white shorts and a white shirt that covered her big stomach.

“Not to interrupt you”, she said, “But I was wondering if Molly wanted to see how the tomatoes and cucumbers are growing.”

Molly bounced up on her feet all excited, nodded, and ran across the grass towards the back of the yard. She let her body fall to her hands and knees in the grass right in front of the garden. I was mad that she seemed to want to see the plants rather than the dirt island, but I ran after her. Mom more slowly followed us.

So when mom got to the garden she got down on her knees and showed Molly the tomato and cucumber plants like she had shown me before. I got down on my hands and knees next to Molly, not so much because I wanted to look at those plants again, but because I didn’t want to be left out.

But Molly was done looking pretty quick at the green tomatoes turning red and the tiny hotdog shaped cucumbers with their little pointy things, which she ran her fingers over. She stood up again, her knees and elbows green from the grass. She looked up at the sky and made a funny face with her mouth.

Mom saw that and said, “Well okay, I just thought you’d like to see how they’re growing. Again, you two are welcome to play here out back or in the basement.”

Mom stood up groaning and slowly walked over to that “lawn” chair and carefully sat down on it, doing more groaning as she did. The sun was shining on her body, and she put a pair of glasses on that were dark in front of her eyes. She squeezed some clear liquid into her hand from the clear plastic bottle she was carrying and rubbed it up and down her other arm. It made her skin look all wet and shiny. She did the same thing in the other hand on the other arm. And then on each leg from inside her shorts down to and over her feet. Next was her ears and neck and down under the top part of her shirt. Finally she put some of the liquid stuff on parts of her face, sticking her lips out in a silly way as she did. When she was all done, her body was all wet looking and even more shiny in the sun. She put her head back and just sat there quietly. It all seemed like a strange thing to do. Just one of those strange things grownups did. When I looked at Molly, I could tell she was thinking that too.

Molly looked back at me. I could see the little blue circles in her eyes in the sun. She put her thumb in her mouth and bit on it. I could tell she was thinking things, lots of things, but I couldn’t tell what. When she was thinking just one thing, I could usually tell what it was. I always liked it when I was with her. I liked watching her think, and waiting for her thinking to turn into talking.

“Let’s hide!” she finally said.

Her idea surprised me. “Where?” I asked.

She looked at me and tilted her head. “I don’t know.” I could tell she thought I should know where because it was my backyard.

I tried hard to think of a place but couldn’t right away. She gave me a fierce look like she was waiting for me to come up with a good idea. I finally thought about that “spruce” tree.

I walked over to it and she followed me. I moved a big low branch with lots of needles, and then a second one, to where an open space was on the ground by the trunk between those two and other low branches. It was dark in there and the ground was covered with needles that had fallen off the tree and turned brown.

Molly nodded, like I was showing her a good hiding place. I held back the branches as she crawled in, the needles crunching softly under her knees and hands.

“Now close the branches and see if you can see me”, she said from inside.

I did, and walked away from the tree and turned to look at it.
“I can’t see you”, I said.

“I can see you”, I heard her voice from inside the tree. “Now you try it!” She crawled out, pushing her way between the branches. She held back the branches like I had and I crawled in. The needles pricked at my knees and hands and the smell went up in my nose and tickled inside it.

She was right. From inside the tree I could see her but she said she couldn’t see me. It was strange how that worked, but it was a perfect hiding place.

She was able to move the branches apart herself and crawl back in. The hiding place was small, and for the two of us to sit in it together we both had to squeeze right next to each other with our knees together and pulled up almost against the top part of our bodies. I felt her arm and leg press against mine. She felt warm. The smell of her body mixed with the smell of the tree. I was happy and not worrying at all. I could tell she was happy and not worrying either. Pressed against each other I felt we were two parts of the same thing.

“Coob”, she whispered my name but she didn’t need to, since it was only the two of us. I liked the easy way she said it. It would just pop out of her mouth, rather than the “Cloob” that mom and dad were calling me now, that was harder for your mouth to say. I knew my name was supposed to be Jonathan, but mom and dad only called me that when they were talking to other grownups. And I knew that it was not supposed to be “John” or “Johnny”, which was what other grownups tried to call me and made mom tell them not to.

“Mom told me a baby is going to come out of your mom’s stomach between her legs”, she said.

“Mom told me too”, I said, wanting Molly to know that I knew as much about it as she did. Though mom had not told me the between her legs part. How could that happen anyway?

“It could be a girl like me or a boy like you”, she said.

I heard her say that and I remembered that Molly was supposed to be different than I was, but I couldn’t figure out that she really was. The only thing was that her hair WAS longer than mine and I wondered why that made us different.

I tried to think really hard to figure it all out, but I couldn’t. I could tell she was figuring out what I was thinking about how boys and girls might be different.

“It doesn’t make any sense!” I said.

“I know”, she said, “Mom said that it will when we get older”.

She paused, thinking, then asked, “You think you and I will ever be a mom and dad and have a baby?”

I couldn’t imagine I would ever be like MY mom and dad or the other grownups. It made sense to me that I would get older and get taller, but they were completely different than us.

“I don’t think so!” I said, but now I wasn’t sure and it made me worry.

She patted my hand with hers. “Don’t worry about it Coob!”

We sat there quietly for a while. I figured she must be thinking a bunch of different things because I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. My mind was doing all kinds of thinking that I might be different than Molly, and that Molly and I might be grownups someday like mom and dad. It was a strange world outside of our hiding place.

“Cloob! Molly!” It was mom’s voice calling out, making my mind stop going places. She worked hard to get out of the chair and stand on her feet. We could see her looking around but we knew she couldn’t see us.

We looked at each other but didn’t say or do anything. We just watched. She called our names a couple more times then picked up the clear bottle of the stuff she had rubbed on her body. Then she slowly walked by us and into the side door of our house. I could hear her calling our names inside. Finally she came out the side door again looking worried and walked to the front yard and called out our names with her loudest voice. Then she came back into the backyard not far from the spruce where we were hidden and called our names once again.

“Oh dammit”, I could hear her voice almost crying. Molly and I still did nothing and said nothing. Mom went back out into the front yard.

“This is the best hiding place”, Molly whispered in my ear, “We can stay here forever if we want to”.

“Yeah”, I whispered back. All sorts of strange thoughts went around in my head. Things were changing too much out there. Something was going to come out of mom between her legs and change everything. Molly would get a big stomach too and she and I wouldn’t be the same anymore. The grownups were in charge of everything. It wasn’t fair.

A car drove up across the street and stopped. It was Molly’s mom. She got out of the car and ran across the street towards mom who was sobbing.

“Oh my god Joan, I can’t find them!” Mom’s voice sounded very scared. “They were in the backyard with me and I think I dozed off and now they’re gone!”

Molly’s mom said, “Take a deep breath Jane, they’ve got to be around somewhere! You stay here and I’ll go over and look in our house and backyard, and then look in the park and walk around the block!”

“Okay”, mom said, taking quick deep breaths now. She put her hand out against the side of the house and cried. Still next to Molly, hidden in the spruce, but less than ten feet from mom, part of me wanted to come out and tell her that we were here and everything was okay. But now I felt afraid that she would be mad at me for not doing anything when she had called for us. Molly was quiet next to me but I could feel her worried too.

Molly’s mom looked very serious. “I’ll be back in five minutes, ten tops! We’ll find them!” She ran across the street towards their house.

“Jonathan! Molly!” Mom yelled the words in her loudest voice. “Where the hell are you two? Oh my god… please no!” She was breathing fast, her eyes were red and wet, and her face was afraid.

Still Molly and I were quiet and did not move. It was like we weren’t really there anymore, even though we were.

After a while, our car pulled into the driveway. Dad got out and went over to mom.

“Eric dammit. I can’t find them! Where the hell did they go?” She sobbed some more and dad looked like he was thinking very hard.

Dad’s voice was quiet but like he was trying to be in charge, “Liz, don’t worry. We’ll find them”, like she was making it a big problem but it really wasn’t. “They can’t have gotten far! Did you look everywhere in the house?”

Mom made a very angry look at my dad. “What do you think I am Eric, an idiot? Of course I looked everywhere in the house, ten times!” She put her hand to her forehead and leaned against the house, still sobbing.

Dad looked hurt by her words. His mouth closed and his face got very stiff.

At that moment, Molly sneezed. Then she giggled. Both mom and dad turned their heads toward the spruce. Dad quickly came over to the tree and moved the branches enough to see us.

“Here they are Liz. They’ve been right here all the time!” His face relaxed to a smile.

Mom came over and looked in the space now between the branches to see the two of us. She looked fierce at me and said, “What the hell do you think you were doing? Why didn’t you say something when I was calling you? I thought something awful had happened to you two!” She put her hand on her forehead and closed her eyes. “Oh my god!”

I felt hurt and mad that mom had said those angry words to me, and my mind was blank, like I couldn’t think, or feel anything else. Everything was suddenly moving slowly and I felt very, very calm.

“Get out you two”, dad said like he was in charge and mad. Molly and I crawled out, crunching over the pine needles.

Mom’s eyes were still closed and her hand still on her forehead, now leaning against the side of the house. “I don’t feel well”, she said.

“Liz”, dad responded, “Are you going into labor?”

“Let me sit down for a minute and get my bearings”, she said.

Mom started to walk to the side door, but Molly’s mom appeared, running up the sidewalk towards our driveway where we were all now standing. “Oh thank god, you found them!”

Dad explained to her that the two of us had been hiding in the spruce the whole time.

As she listened to what he said, Molly’s mom rolled her eyes, shook her head, and let out a big breath. She kneeled down in front of Molly.

“Molly Wheeler”, her voice was quiet, not loud and angry like mom’s, “When Cloob’s… Jonathan’s mom called you two, you didn’t say anything?”

Molly’s eyes narrowed and she squeezed her lips together and shook her head.

“Did you know she was scared that something might have happened to the two of you?” her mom asked.

Lips still squeezed together, Molly said nothing. She looked at me and I could see in her eyes that she was trying to help me.

Molly’s mom stood up and looked at mom. “I am so sorry Jane!” then seeing how mom looked, “Jane? Are you all right? Are you having a contraction?”

Mom breathed hard and nodded. Finally she said, “I believe I’m having one right now!” She looked down at her wrist. “It’s two-fifteen”.

“Have you been having them today?” Molly’s mom sounded concerned, “You didn’t say anything when I left Molly here and went to the store!”

“I’ve been having them off and on but nothing strong or regular”, mom said, puffing air out of her mouth, “But this one feels much stronger”. More puffs. “When it finishes, let me lie down and pull myself together and see how long til the next one comes.”

Molly and I stood there not saying anything. The three grownups were talking about things that we couldn’t figure out, almost like they still couldn’t see us. I thought about Molly having to grow a baby in her stomach some day. I thought about mom’s angry words to me a moment ago and I still felt mad. Now there was silence all round as mom continued to puff out air.

Finally mom put her hand on Molly’s mom’s shoulder and took one long deep breath. “Okay, it’s done!”

Molly’s mom put her hand on mom’s, and patted it three times, “Okay… Jane… Eric… how can I help?”

Dad said, “Liz, should I take you to the hospital?”

Mom stretched her eyes open big after having them closed while she was puffing air. Her eyes quickly looked at dad, then at Molly’s mom, then Molly, and finally looked at me. I felt her looking deep into me. Her eyes weren’t angry anymore, but I felt like they were saying, “Well… here we go”, and for just a quick moment she didn’t seem like a grownup, but seemed more like a kid like me and Molly.

“I’m going to lie down”, she said. And then she was like the good guy captain telling his soldiers what to do. “Eric… can you fix me some tomato juice on the rocks and then sit with me until the next contraction comes. Joan… can you take these two characters over to your place for now? I’ll have Eric call you when we decide what’s what.”

“Okay dear”, Molly’s mom said, “Call me as soon as you know!” Then looking at Molly and me, “Okay you two, move out!”

We followed her across the street to Molly’s house. I could feel things were going to change. At least Molly and I were okay, for now.

Clubius Incarnate Part 8 – Dirt

Killins Gravel Company

I woke up. Dad was wiggling my toe under the blanket on my bed.

“I’m going to drive the car to get fresh dirt for the backyard. You want to come along?”

I nodded. I was excited. This was what he called “an adventure”.

Mom was still sleeping. It was early morning. The light coming in through the windows in my room was different when it was early. It was fresher and softer. I took off my pajamas and put on my clothes. Dad made me a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast. We quickly ate and drank orange juice sitting at the kitchen table.

Outside the air was cool and quiet. The sun was a big orange ball just hanging there over the trees in the park. It was just hanging there over the trees and it was hard not to look at. Dad said not to look too long or it would hurt your eyes. That made the sun seem kind of scary. He put two empty trash cans in the trunk of our car but the top wouldn’t close so he tied it with a rope. He put the grownup shovel on the back seat. It looked kind of like my shovel but much bigger. I got to sit on the other part of the front seat of the car.

We drove down our street away from the park to the big street that dad called “Stadium”. Across the street was a giant “yard” with a really long building on the other side. He called it the “high school”, and he had taken Molly and me on our tricycles to explore it a couple times. After he looked both ways and no cars were coming, something he had taught me to do when I crossed a street, we turned right. I knew it was right because that way was the hand I didn’t throw a ball with. It was a wide street that had a curved part.

Dad stopped the car when we came up to one of those big metal poles with the hanging lights way above us, because the red light was turned on instead of the green one. He saw me looking up at it so he told me how it worked.

“So when you come up to the light in your car, you have to stop if the red light is on, but you can keep going if the green light is on.” So we had to wait, but not very long.

While we waited I was thinking so much about the lights and what you had to do that I asked a question. Dad was good at figuring out what I was thinking and answering my questions without me having to ask. But this time he didn’t, so asking was the only way he would tell me more that I really wanted to know.

“Why do we have to stop?” I asked.

He nodded. “Good question!”

I was glad it was a good question, though sometimes when grownups said that they did not have a good answer.

“It’s a rule we all agree to follow so our cars don’t crash into each other where big streets cross each other. Does that make sense.”

That sort of made sense. I had heard about those “rule” things before. And once we had gone by two cars that had crashed together and it had looked really bad. So I nodded.

When the red light turned off and the green light turned on, dad turned the car onto a different street he said was “Liberty”. This time we turned toward the hand I threw a ball with, so left. We drove under another road that was way up high with a bridge so we could get under it. Now there weren’t any houses, stores and sidewalks, but just trees, bushes and fields. It seemed very different. Dad said we were now “outside of town”. We turned left on another street and then left again onto a bumpy road that made a crunching noise and made dusty clouds around the car. There was a tall building ahead with no windows with a giant slide thing coming down from it.

It was so big and strange looking that I said, “What’s that?”, before even thinking about whether I was going to say that or not.

“That’s the elevator they use to take dirt or gravel way up there so they can dump it into dump trucks down there”, he said pointing at the different parts of the slide and the building. Then the next question was in my mind but he answered it without me asking. “The dump trucks take it to the people who need dirt or gravel for building or landscaping.” It all filled my mind up so much just looking at it that I stopped asking questions and just looked.

There was a man there in a blue shirt and blue pants that were the exact same color and a shiny yellow cap like he was playing baseball. Dad told him we just wanted a couple trash cans full of dirt. I kept staring at the giant building and the slide.

The man nodded and said, “Help yourself”, and pointed at a giant brown pile next to a giant gray pile of tiny rocks.

We got back to our car and dad drove it over to the edge of the giant brown pile. He untied the rope holding the top of the trunk and stood the two trash cans up in the bottom of the trunk so the open parts were on top. They had been shiny silver when we got them but now they were less shiny. Dad got the shovel out of the back seat. He stuck the shovel in the edge of the dirt pile so some dirt stayed on it so he could carry it over, lift it up, and dump it in the top of one of the trash cans. He did that a long time before both trash cans were full of dirt. By the time he was done there were drops of water all over his face, his white t-shirt had wet spots and his cheeks were a little pink. He wiped his face and head off with a white cloth from his pocket and grinned at me.

“Now we have to get it home”, he said, like that would be hard to do.

The top of the trunk could only close a little bit on top of the cans of dirt standing up in the trunk. But the rope was long enough to tie the top to the bottom part. He took a red cloth out of the trunk and tied it to the top part of the rope.

“That should be okay”, he said, ”The cans are so heavy with the dirt that it would take a really big bump to tip one over.” Then he looked at me and his eyes got fierce. “Here we go!”

He put the shovel in the back seat and we both got in the front. He drove the car very slowly by the dirt and stone piles and the crazy building with the slide, all the time there was the crunching noise under the car and dust everywhere. Back out at the regular road we didn’t go the way we came.

“In case you’re wondering Cloob”, he said, “We are going to take the long way home because there are less cars and we have to drive slowly to make sure the trash cans don’t tip over.”

I nodded, feeling worried. I didn’t like it when grownups were around and there was something that they were worried about but I felt there was nothing I could do to help.

We drove slowly down the road. We drove by lots of fields with bushes or trees by the road. It took a really long time, but there was only one other car that drove by. I sat on my knees on the seat so I could look at the trunk in the back part of the car and stuck my head out the window to see the edge of one of the trash cans in the trunk. I could feel the wind on the back of my head. It felt nice and the air smelled good.

When we did hit a bump the whole car bounced up and down.

“Cans still there?” he asked.

I could only see the edge of one, but I figured that if the other had fallen out I would see it behind us in the road. So I pulled my head in the window and nodded, then stuck it out again. I liked being the lookout.

“So we’re on Wagner Road headed south”, he said. “We are looking for Scio Church Road, where we’ll turn left back to Seventh.”

Pulling my head in the window I nodded and then stuck it out again to keep looking at the can.

Finally the car stopped. I turned my head and looked forward. There was another road crossing the one we were on. We turned left and moved slowly forward.

I knew what the dirt was for. Dad had gotten some before but I didn’t come with him. He would put it in a pile just behind the house under the big tree and right by the window that I could see into my room. Then I could play with it and make things like hills, roads and forts, whatever I wanted, and then set up my soldiers there.

I could tell dad was happy. And when he was happy and mom wasn’t around he liked to start singing, which he did now as he drove the car slowly down the road. It was a song he had sung many times, and when he sang it was fun for me to sing with him…

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don’t fence me in

By this time I had joined in though my head was sticking out of the car window looking back at the trash can…

Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in

It was funny that we drove by a fence while we were singing about fences. It was silver and looked like the fence around the football stadium where dad would take Molly and me on our tricycles, only not as tall. I remember him saying that when you saw a fence you had to figure out whether it was for keeping you in or keeping you out.

Finally the car stopped again. Then we turned left again and soon came to a stop by a tall pole with lights hanging from it, the red one lit up.

“Almost home”, he said, stopping his singing.

I pulled my head in from the window and said, “Still there.”

“All right!” he said.

The green light came on above us and he crossed the big street. I remembered it was the one we had gone on earlier. Stadium. As I looked down the street we were crossing I could even see the stadium in the distance. A few right turns and we came up to our front yard. He drove the car slowly by our house then stopped. Then he made the car go backward and turn into our driveway all the way back to the corner of the house where my room was. The back of the car was right by where the dirt pile would go.

“Made it”, he said, turning the car off. “Thanks for coming along Cloob, it was quite the adventure!”

I said, “Yep!”, and nodded.

He untied the rope and pushed up the top part of the trunk. He used the shovel to dig some of the dirt out of the top of one of the cans. Then he just pulled on the can until it tipped over and the dirt spilled out. It was interesting how it dumped out like water but not the same, it didn’t go as far. But it did go mostly in the right place. He did the same thing with the other can, then used the shovel to put the dirt now on the ground in just the right places in the area with no grass under the tree.

Mom came out of the side door of the house while dad was shoveling. She still had her big stomach that she said had my brother or sister in it, but that made no sense to me. She walked different now like it was harder. She looked carefully at all the things dad was doing and the places he was putting the dirt.

“Fresh dirt”, she said, “Good work guys!”

I looked at the dirt carefully too, and saw hills with forts on them, guarded by soldiers but about to be attacked by pirates. All the area with bare ground where the dirt was could be an island. All the area around it with grass would be the sea where the pirates would come from. My mind was getting excited thinking up all the stories there could be.

“Well Cloob”, mom said, “It’s all yours! I’ve got to do the wash.”

Dad pushed his lips together and nodded. “And I’ve got to work on my thesis”, he said.

Mom and dad went inside the house and left me outside with the dirt. I wondered if the sun was still orange, and I walked around the house to where I had seen it before hanging above the trees over in the park. It was still there, but higher above the trees, and now more white than orange. When I stood where I could see it, my body felt warm. When I moved back to where I could not see it I did not feel the warmth anymore. This morning it had looked like a ball just hanging in the sky. Now it seemed like just a flat circle and so bright it made my eyes hurt. I remembered that dad had told me not to look at it too much. But how could you not look at it when it was the only thing in the sky. I could lie on my back and look at clouds in the sky for a long time. But today the only thing to look at in the sky was the sun, but you weren’t supposed to, so I went back to the backyard.

I liked our backyard. It had different parts that were interesting and fun in different ways. It started with a very big tree just behind the window to my bedroom that mom called a “maple”. She liked to tell me the names of all the plants and what they did that was different in the summer than the winter. It went up higher than the roof of our house and the dirt was piled underneath it just outside the window to my room. It had shiny green leaves now because it was summer. They had come out tiny before in the spring, but were much bigger now. She said they would turn orange, yellow and brown and fall off before the winter came. I couldn’t imagine that happening, but I did remember winter with the snow on the ground and this tree with no leaves and just dark branches reaching up towards the sky.

On the other side of the maple tree was grass going back to the back of the backyard. It was fun to run on and when you fell down on it it was soft and did not scrape your hands, elbows or knees much, just made them green. It smelled good too, especially when dad cut it with the mower. On either side of that grass there were two trees that looked very different than the big tree that mom called “spruces”. She said they had dark green “needles” instead of bright green leaves and were “evergreens”, because those needles did not all fall off in the winter. Though their middle part went straight up like the maple, they had a lot more branches, branches really close to the ground so I could hide inside all those branches like in the lilac bushes across the street in the park. All the branches of the maple tree were way up above my head, and when you looked up you could see parts of the sky between the leaves. On the other side of each of the spruces were the backyards of the people that lived next to us.

Farther back over the grass beyond the spruce trees was a garden that mom made with dirt and seeds. She was growing plants that grew up like tiny trees and were getting round green balls on the branches that mom said were “tomatoes”. She had shown me how they started out as tiny flowers. Then the flowers fell off and they turned into tiny little green balls that got bigger each day we looked at them. Now the balls were bigger and starting to turn red. She said once they got really red you could pick them and eat them. A different plant grew along the ground around the little tomato trees. It had tiny flowers too that turned into tiny little green hotdog shaped things with prickles on them that kept getting bigger. She said they were cucumbers and when they got big enough you could pick them and eat them too. I didn’t think so, but she seemed to be pretty sure.

I went inside the side door of our house and walked down the stairs into the basement. Dad was over in his office corner reading a book and writing things on white cards. I could tell he saw me but he didn’t say anything. I went over to my corner where my toys were on the shelf and found the box with all my soldiers in it, the green good guy American soldiers and the gray bad guy German ones. Looking at the gray soldiers, I started thinking that when making stories, sometimes the bad guys did more interesting things than the good guys. They caused trouble that made the story interesting. That’s what happened in Treasure Island.

I took the box of soldiers outside by the pile of new dirt. I took out all the green soldiers and put them in a long line with the captain in front. They were coming to the dirt island to build a fort before the bad guy pirates came. All the grass around the dirt island was the sea where the pirates were. I decided that instead of turning all the dirt into a fort and then putting the soldiers into it, I would have each group of soldiers go to one part of the dirt island and start working on it to turn it into part of the fort.

So the captain climbed to the top of the dirt island and started to tell his other soldiers where to go and what to build. Some had to make walls and others made towers. Still others had to build places where all the soldiers could sleep when it was nighttime. I piled and pressed the dirt into the different parts of the fort. For the sleeping places I first tried making big mounds of dirt that I would dig out the inside of like a cave. But as I tried to dig it out just a little more the top parts of those places kept falling down.

Having this happen several times, I started thinking really hard about some other way to make the top part so it didn’t fall down. I thought about the box my soldiers were in. When it had shoes in it it had a top part that was now on the bottom of the box instead. I didn’t keep it on top of the box, because then I couldn’t see what was in the box if the top was on. So I used it as the top part of my sleeping place for the soldiers, and it turned out that it was strong enough to let me make the sleeping place bigger so more soldiers could sleep there.

After the good guy soldiers had worked for a long time mom came out and said it was time for lunch. She looked at everything that had been built in the dirt, now full of soldiers watching out for pirates while others were sleeping.

“Cloob, you really put in a lot of work on this!” she said. Her words made me feel shy. I didn’t like grownups saying things about what I was doing, even if they liked it. So I just nodded and said nothing, and tried to wipe the dirt off my hands.

“Please take your shoes off in the landing when you come inside”, she said, “And wash your hands before you eat!”

She had made “grilled” cheese sandwiches in the oven. The bread was brown, warm and crunchy and tasted like butter. The cheese was warm and soft, and it all felt good in my mouth as I chewed it.

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