Tag Archives: 1950s

Clubius Incarnate Part 7 – Baseball

When I woke up this morning I could see out my window that it was raining again. I liked it when it rained. It made the house feel more like a fort where you were safe and “cozy”. That was the word mom said. I liked being cozy inside when there was lots of weather outside. The bad part about when it rained was that I couldn’t ride my tricycle outside.

I did go for a walk with dad with our raincoats on. That was fun, but Molly couldn’t go because she wasn’t home. Everything was different outside when it rained. The weather was in charge instead of the people. It was washing everything off.

Dad would stick his tongue out to “taste the rain” and he got little drops of water on his glasses. I would taste it too. It was tastier and softer than the water that came out of the sink or the tub inside the house. The water made all the plants really green and shiny, and the grass too. Mom said that the grass was thousands of little plants all growing next to each other forming a “lawn” we could walk on. I had looked closely and seen this for myself. But when there was too much rain some grass got all squishy with mud. The flowers were all blooming because it was warm enough for them, like those special “bulbs” that mom had planted last fall. Not light bulbs but plant bulbs. They had all just grown up with very big red or yellow flowers. Also the lilac bushes across the street in the park had little purple flowers and smelled really sweet.

But now I was down in the basement playing. The rain still tapped on the small basement windows above me. Dad was over in his office working, but he was also listening to baseball on the radio. He said there was an “announcer” who was watching the game from a special “booth” and talking into a “microphone” that you could hear even far away with your radio. He said it was like when I talked to my grandparents on the telephone, they were far away too. He said today the announcer, his name was Van Patrick, was at the stadium of the New York team which was the Yankees. “Our” team, the “Tigers”, was playing against them and was ahead, “two to nothing”.

I knew what it meant to be “ahead”. Mom, who really liked numbers as much as dad liked words, had told me that “nothing” was another way of saying the number “zero”. “Zero” did not quite make sense to me because I used numbers for counting and I had never counted zero. She said that zero was how many of something you had if there was nothing to count. It seemed dumb to me, but she said in “mathematics”, the “study of numbers”, it was very important. Just as important as the word “nothing” was in “English”, the “study of words”.

Both mom and dad had explained to me that in sports, like baseball or football, you tried to score points. They called those points “runs” in baseball, because you had to run around all the “bases” to get one. I had seen kids and grownups play baseball in the park so I kind of knew how it all worked. The guy they called the “pitcher” was in the middle and he would throw the ball at the “batter” who would try to hit it with his bat. If he hit it in the right place then he would run around the bases, but sometimes he got “out” and had to go back to the “bench” and sit down and wait his turn to try again later.

You won a baseball game or a football game, she said, by having more points than the other team at the end of the game. That made sense. If you had two points and the other team had one at the end of the game, you won, because two was more than one. So the Tigers were ahead two runs to zero runs. They had more than the Yankees but the game was not over yet, so they were only ahead, but you still didn’t know if they would win, because the Yankees could still score more runs before the end of the game.

“Our team?” I asked just repeating dad’s words.

“Yeah Cloob”, he said with a serious face like this was important, “Our team is the Tigers, because they’re the Detroit team, and Detroit is the big city with a baseball team that’s closest to us”.

He could see I was not sure about that, I was “dubious” he would say.

He continued, “If we lived in New York, ‘our’ team might be the Yankees, because that would be the closest team to where we lived”.

He grabbed his cheeks with his hand and kind of rubbed them, which was something he did sometimes when he was thinking.

“Of course, I lived in New York but I hated the Yankees”, he said.

That got me really interested because he didn’t usually talk about things he liked or did not like, you just had to figure that out watching him if you could figure it out at all. Were the Yankees like the Germans during World War Two, or like the Soviet Union now? It didn’t seem like the same thing.

He could tell I was unsure. He was really good at figuring out what I was thinking because I hadn’t talked much before my third birthday.

“I always thought the Yankees were full of themselves”, he said, “Too big for their britches.” I could see in his eyes him thinking about what he had just said, then he started to chuckle. “I bet those two sentences make no sense to you at all!”

I shook my head. He laughed and his eyes sparkled. I always liked seeing that because that meant he was happy.

“The Yankees are bullies who always think they are the best”, he said.

As he said that I heard footsteps coming down the stairs slowly. It was mom. Her stomach was sticking way out because she was “pregnant”. She had told me about it a lot of times that I was going to have a brother or a sister soon, though it did not make a lot of sense to me. She slowly sat down on the bottom stairs.

“The Yankees ARE the best”, she said with a big smile on her face. “Your grandparents and I used to listen to the games on the radio when I was a kid. They are still MY team!”

Now this was all getting very interesting. Dad had lived in New York which was close to the Yankees but he didn’t like them, and now he liked the Tigers because he lived here in Michigan and now they were the closest team. Mom came here too from New York and she liked the Yankees. Now she lived here but she still liked the Yankees.

“What’s the score?”, she asked.

“Two nothing Detroit, top of the third”, dad said.

“Who’s pitching for the Yankees?” she asked.

“Whitey Ford”, he said

“He’s the Yankees best pitcher, right?”. She said that to dad but then glanced at me and raised her eyebrows like some signal that she and I had a secret that dad didn’t know.

Dad nodded.

“Eric… I’ll bet you a buck the Yankees win”. She smiled and then looked at me to explain. “I’m so sure that the Yankees are the best that I’ll bet even though they’re behind! That’s how good they are.”

Dad chuckled, looked at mom, and gave her a fierce kind of smile. “Liz, you’re on!”

The voice on the radio wasn’t talking about the game anymore, but about “buying” a new car at “Roy O’Brien’s at Nine Mile and Mack”, wherever that was. Dad went back to his work. He was reading these blue “booklets” with white paper inside them and using a red pencil to “grade” them. He had told me before that meant to give a student a “score”, but a letter like A, B or C, rather than a number, for how good their writing was. But then he would also write down what they could do to make their writing better next time.

Mom, still sitting on the bottom stairs, looked around like she wanted to do something.

“Hey Cloob”, she said. She was calling me that name that dad liked to call me rather than “Zuper” now. “Throw me a wiffle ball, one of the big ones.”

I went to the shelves where all my toys were and took a big white plastic ball with holes in it out of a wood box. I threw it to her and she caught it.

“Wow… good arm lefty!” she said.

She held the ball in front of her and waved it at me. “Try to catch it?”

Standing there on the basement floor, I nodded and put my hands in front of me. She threw the ball to me and I tried to grab it out of the air but it bounced off my hands.

“Nice try”, she said “You got your hands on it!”

I ran over to the ball and took it in my hand again. She held her hands up in front of her, fingers spread, and I knew she wanted me to throw it back to her, which I did. She caught it.

“Okay”, she said, holding the ball right down on the floor, “Ground ball this time”. She rolled the ball towards me. I bent over and grabbed it when it got close. That was easy. I threw it back to her.

“He’s out!” she said, making a fist with her thumb out and raising it in the air. I smiled.

“One hopper”, she said, and threw the ball and though I reached out it bounced in front of me, and as i pulled my hands back the ball hit my thumbs but bounced toward me. I pulled my hands back towards my body and managed to hold the ball between my arms and my chest.

“All right! Now throw him out at first”, she said, holding out her hands. I threw her back the ball and she caught it. “He’s out!” She did the fist and thumb again. I could see dad was smiling though he still was reading and writing in the blue books.

“Eric”, she said, “You remember the first time we met?”

Dad made a big smile and he looked up in the air thinking.

“I remember it was the semis of the IBM tournament in ‘43” he said, “I was covering your upset win over what’s her name.”

“Betty Wilson”, mom said.

“She didn’t know what hit her until you went up a break in the second set”, he said.

Mom could see that I was not understanding what they were talking about. She looked at me and I could see in her eyes she was remembering.

“Your dad worked for the newspaper and he wrote about the IBM tennis championship I was playing in”, she said

I wasn’t quite sure what that all meant. I knew what a newspaper was and what playing tennis was, and though not sure what a “championship” was, I had an idea that “champion” was something good. “IBM” was something mom talked about a lot when she talked about “New York”.

Dad turned from reading the blue book to look at me and then mom. “Your mom was quite the tennis player. She won several local tournaments.”

“Was!” mom said, looking deep into my eyes, and I could see some sadness in hers. “I don’t get to play much anymore.”

“Well, Liz”, dad said it like she was wrong, “We got out there and played until we found out you were pregnant.”

Mom squeezed her lips together like she did when she was mad. “It wasn’t the same Eric. I’m talking about real competitive tennis, not just a casual game.”

Dad seemed to maybe be mad now too, but you couldn’t hear it in his voice. “I gave you a run for your money sometimes!”

Mom puffed out her cheeks and then blew air out of her mostly closed lips. “It’s not the same Eric. You’re a man. You’re bigger and you can hit harder.”

Mom gave a fierce look in his direction, but then got quiet and thinking and her head turned to look at me.

“My point was that your father and I both love sports, and here we have you, our son, who seems to enjoy them as well, and we enjoy sharing all that with you.” Her eyes twinkled and she smiled at me. Grownups seemed more like me when they talked about their feelings. Mom did that much more than dad.

The voice on the radio got louder and more excited.

“Who hit a double for the Yankees?”, mom asked, she was excited too.

“Whitey Ford”, dad said, “But I think Kuenn misplayed it in center!”

“Hey, a double is a double”, she said, flashing more twinkly eyes at me, “How about that! Whitey Ford is a good pitcher and he can hit too! That’s unusual. Right Eric?”

Dad nodded and chuckled.

“Who’s up next?” she asked.

“Bauer”, he said, “The leadoff hitter”.

“All right”, she said, “Another base hit will drive in the run. Go Yankees!”

They both listened to the guy talking on the radio. I noticed the voice rising when he said “the pitch”, and then falling to say either “ball” or “strike” and then some other stuff. Then his voice rose for “the pitch” but then rose higher for “base hit to right”, followed by “Ford rounds third”.

“Yeah!” mom called out, making another kind of thing with her fist, different from the “he’s out” one she made with her thumb sticking up. Dad shook his head, but said nothing, still looking at an open blue booklet. She looked at me. “Those are my Yankees Cloob, they keep coming. They’ve got talent and they never give up. That’s what makes them the best!” She had a look on her face like it really was not so serious, but just fun. “At least in my opinion!”

She wagged her finger at dad. “Better have that dollar ready Eric!”

Dad chuckled. “Yeah I got it Liz, but we’ll see!”

Mom seemed to have even more energy now.

“How about you, lefty”, she said, groaning as she stood up, “You want to take a few swings?”

I looked at her and I wasn’t sure what to say. When one of them took me to the park it was always boys or men playing baseball, never girls or women. Dad had thrown the ball to me a few times so I could try to hit it. I always got nervous playing with grownups, but I really liked trying to hit the ball, so I would do it. But mom was a woman. Was she supposed to do stuff like this?

“You know”, she said, seeing that I was unsure and then looking at me more carefully, “Before I taught myself to play tennis I played baseball with the boys in the neighborhood. When they picked teams I was the only girl who wanted to play, but I was such a good player I always got picked first!” Her eyes lit up and her face was filled with a big smile.

Mom liked to say stuff like that, about how good she was. Dad never said anything like that. I had watched him play baseball and tennis, and he always tried really really hard to be good and win, but he never talked about it. I had never seen mom play baseball, and I could barely remember her playing tennis.

I looked at dad to see if he was okay with all this. Again, I felt strange playing with them. I had gotten used to playing in the basement when one of them was down here working at their own stuff while I played. This was different, they were both looking at me. But baseball was not something you could do by yourself. You did it with other people.

Dad looked in our direction and smiled. “Cloob’s got a nice swing. You’ll see!”

That changed things, I thought. Now it would be bad not to do it. I grabbed the plastic bat and stood like dad had shown me and like the guys did in the park. Not facing the person that was pitching but facing to the side, but turning my head to see them throw the ball towards me. I felt I had to do everything the right way because they were both watching. I was nervous.

My mind was still thinking about mom saying she was good at baseball, when she threw the ball towards me. Still thinking, I swung at it and missed. The ball bounced off the shelves behind me and rolled back towards her.

“Good swing”, she said, reaching down to grab the ball and groaning some more.

From his office chair across the basement dad said, “Keep your eye on the ball Cloob!”

She tossed it towards me again and I swung. This time I just barely hit the ball and it went up, and bounced off the top part of the basement and then back down and off my arm and rolled into the corner

“You okay?” she asked, though not looking too worried. It was just a wiffle ball, not a real baseball. Those real ones were really hard.

I nodded. I got the ball and threw it back to her. Dad had gone back to his work. I got ready again to swing and looked at her. I could tell she could see that I was nervous and thinking too much.

“When I’m about to hit a tennis ball that’s coming towards me”, she said, “I look to try to see the seams on the ball.” She looked down at the wiffle ball in her hand. “If I were trying to hit a wiffle ball, I guess I’d look at the holes.”

That didn’t make sense to me, but when she threw the ball toward me I saw the holes spinning. I swung at it and there was a thud. The ball flew across the basement and hit the side of the furnace and made a loud clang before bouncing once on the floor and then off the wall on the other side of the basement. When he heard the noise dad looked up from his work and smiled.

“There we go”, mom said to me, then glancing at dad, “Base hit to right! The kid’s a natural, Eric.” Dad nodded and grinned. They both seemed happy.

I could see her start to get down on one knee, but she groaned a little and stopped, looked at me and said, “Do your ole mom a favor and get me the ball!”

I ran and got it and handed it to her.

“How are my Yankees doing?” she asked dad.

“They’re out of the third with just the one run. Two one Tigers.” Then with more feeling in his voice. “That dollar’s got a dozen donuts written all over it!” Dad loved donuts more than anything.

“Okay”, mom looked at me, waving the ball in front of her, “Cloob one’s on first, Cloob two’s up, another lefty folks.”

Mom continued to throw the ball to me, and a couple more swings and I hit it again, this time bouncing along the floor and onto the rug in dad’s corner of the basement.

“Cloob two gets a base hit to center”, she said, “Cloob one rounds second and”, she paused and winked at me, “he’s headed to third!”

Dad went and got the ball this time and tossed it to mom.

“First and third, no outs”, she called out, “Cloob three comes to the plate. Yet another lefty, ladies and gentlemen!” I could see dad chuckle as he continued to read a bluebook.

Liking mom’s pretending, dad turned round in his wood chair to face us. They were both now looking at me.

I swung at and missed three times in a row.

“Ooo”, she said, “Out swinging but he had his cuts ladies and gentlemen!” Then with the ball in her hand again, “But only one out folks!”

I swung and missed one more time before hitting one hard right at mom.
She stuck her hand out and caught it. She didn’t even use the other hand at all. Wow, I thought. She really COULD do this baseball stuff.

“That’s Jane Zale on the mound”, she said, “Snagging that sizzling linedrive from Cloob four.”

“Two outs”, she said, “It’s all up to Cloob five, yet another lefty, ladies and gentleman.” She threw the ball to me. I had to reach out with my bat but I hit the ball hard toward dad. Still sitting in his chair he reached out and caught it.

“Ohh”, mom said, making a pretend sad face, “Great catch by that center fielder for the Tigers, the kid from Pennsylvania.”

“Hey Liz”, dad said, “I’m just a fan sitting in the bleachers with a souvenir to give to my son. That’s a dinger!”

“A dinger?” mom asked.

“A home run”, he responded.

“The fans go wild!” mom called out, then in different voices, “Yay, wow, whoopee”. Then continuing, “Cloob five waves to the fans as he trots ‘round the bases”.

The Tigers ended up scoring eight more runs by the end of the game and the final score was ten to one. Mom had gone up to the kitchen to make lunch. When I ran upstairs and told her the score she said, “You win some and you lose some!”

Dad went out later in the day and came home with a dozen donuts from this place called “Quality Bakery”. He liked the plain ones, but he also bought some with chocolate “icing” on top for mom, and vanilla on top with sprinkles for me.

At bedtime, he came into my room as he always did and sat in the rocking chair. He carefully set the Tom Sawyer book on his lap like it was very special. The book was closed but a piece of paper stuck out from between the pages. He picked up the book with one hand and with two fingers of the other hand touched the top of the pages all pressed together between the closed covers. His two fingers touched the piece of paper coming out of the top of the book and he opened it.

“Okay Cloob”, he said, “Chapter 31. You ready?”

I didn’t say “yes”, just nodded without using any words. I had only really been talking since my birthday, so it still felt regular just to nod. I was more than ready. This is one of the things I liked best each day.

Tom and Becky were lost in the cave and lit candles, one at a time, to see in the dark. Becky got scared and started to cry. Tom tried to make her feel better. When I saw the story in my mind I was Tom and Becky was Molly. I remembered when Molly fell off the merry-go-round and cried, but not because she was hurt, but because she was scared. I didn’t try to make Molly feel better, but the grownups did. Grownups felt they had to make kids feel better, and make sure they were okay. But also grownup men felt that they had to keep grownup women safe and make them feel better too. Tom and Becky were pretending to be grownups I guess.

Then both Tom and Becky were scared by all the “bats” flying in the cave. Not “bats” like baseball bats, but flying animals that were pretty scary. Dad had shown me a bat in the sky the other day when it was starting to get dark. He had got a pinecone on the ground and thrown it up in the air at the bat. The bat then changed which way it was flying and followed the pinecone straight down almost to the ground. It was exciting and scary too. Dad said it was not a bird but more like a mouse, a mouse with wings. It felt like a thing that was “wild”, a thing of the dark, and not what we people were, we were people of the light. So one bat was scary enough, I figured what a hundred bats would be like. All that being wild.

Finally the last candle that Tom and Becky had was gone and it was all dark. I liked how Tom was smart to give Becky one end of the string and take the other end himself when he explored the cave, so he could use it to go back and find her in the dark. And then he saw a person with a candle and thought the grownups had found them but it was Injun Joe instead. Injun Joe was a grownup, but a lot of the other grownups thought he was a badguy. Like that pirate guy Long John Silver in Treasure Island, though Long John Silver was sometimes nice, at least to Jim, because Jim was a kid.

When he finished reading, dad said there were just a few more chapters to read and he seemed maybe a little sad, though he would never say so. I wondered if men pretended not to be sad so they could help women when they were sad.

When he stopped reading the story, it was time to sing. I loved it when dad sang because it was easier to tell how he was feeling. Now I was trying to sing with him because it made both of us feel better when I did. Along with singing some of the usual songs, he added a new one about baseball…

Take me out to the ball game
Take me out with the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks
I don’t care if I never get back
Let me root, root, root for the home team
If they don’t win it’s a shame
For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out
At the old ball game

That was the last song. Now it was time to say goodnight, and he always did the same thing. He got up from the chair, and came over to the foot of my bed. He felt around in my covers to find one of my big toes and wiggled it, saying, “Sweet dreams kiddo!” That was a different funny name he only called me at bedtime, I didn’t know why.

After he left I waited for mom to come in.

She looked at me with her big warm eyes and shook her head and frowned. “Cloob, you don’t know how much I wish I could carry a tune like your dad. Life is not fair!”

She did what she almost always did and kissed me on the cheek.

“Night night my sweet little slugger!”

“Night night mom.” I wondered if “slugger” was another one of those funny “nicknames” they kept coming up with for me.

Clubius Incarnate Part 6 – Attic

Back from our tricycle adventure, Dad, Molly’s mom, Molly and I went in the front door of Molly’s house. I loved the inside of her house. It had lots of furniture unlike mine. But what I really liked the most was that it had many more different places to go than mine, and every room was up or down from the other rooms, with stairs everywhere. Where our house was simple, Molly’s was “complicated”, a word I heard mom and dad use. Her house was like the pirate ship in the Treasure Island book dad had read me. The book had pictures of the top part and inside the ship.

Just inside the front door of Molly’s house was the first choice. You had to decide whether to go straight and up the stairs, or go right into the living room. I could remember right from left because mom had told me to pretend I was throwing a ball, that was left, and the other side was right. Unlike our living room which was pretty empty, Molly’s had this big thing called a “couch”, which was like a giant chair for more than one person. It was soft and puffy, and great for climbing on, sitting on, and playing around on. There were also two big chairs across from it that were soft and puffy like the couch. Then there was a fence in the middle of the living room on the edge of this top part of the room that kept you from falling into the bottom part of the room. You had to walk down six stairs from the top part to get to that bottom part, which had a big shiny wood table and shiny wood chairs around it where you ate food and did other stuff. Or you could look down into it from the fence. It was like the back part of the ship in Treasure Island.

Then once you went down to the bottom part you could go through a doorway into the kitchen. Like in our house, from the kitchen you could go down a couple steps and go one way out the door into the backyard, or the other way down more steps into the basement. But it wasn’t like our basement, it had a rug all over the floor and shiny wood on the walls and another couch with that television thing across from it. There was another door in the basement to the room with the washing machine and other stuff for cleaning clothes.

Back at the front door, if you didn’t go into the living room, you could go up the stairs and around a corner to a hallway with a door to the left to Molly’s mom and dad’s bedroom. The door to that room was always closed and I had never been inside it. Farther down the hallway on the left was the bathroom. It had a tub like mine, but also a thing that sprayed water from way up above into the tub. Molly called it a “shower”. She said you took your clothes off and stood in the tub, and then the water fell down on you like rain.

At the end of the hallway, across from the bathroom were even more stairs that went up to a small door. It was the door to Molly’s room, which was in the top part of the house just under the roof. Molly said it was an “attic”, but it wasn’t like the attic in my house. You could walk on the floor and it wasn’t all dark.

I liked all the parts of Molly’s house, but her bedroom was the best part. I felt like I was in some secret fort above the rest of the world, or inside a pirate ship. The room was really long and had a top part that was slanted like a roof. There were three windows along one side looking down on Molly’s front yard, our street, and my house across it. The windows were strange because they were closer to the floor than the windows in our house, so you could sit on the floor and still look down from them. Across from the windows were shelves in the wall filled with books and toys. Molly’s bed, with wood posts sticking up, was at the end of the room away from the door. There were also two big soft puffy chairs like the couch and chairs in her living room. They were great for pretending, either fun to sit in, or fun to hide behind so we couldn’t see each other.

So the four of us went into the house and followed Molly’s mom into the living room. She told the rest of us to “make yourselves comfortable”, which seemed to me a strange thing to be told to make, but that was grownups for you. Molly took off her shoes and jumped on the couch, so I took mine off as well and did the same. She lay her head on one side part, like it was a pillow, and stretched out her body along the couch and wiggled her feet. Her eyes told me to do the same, so I did on the other side, my feet going towards her and past her feet in the middle. Dad grinned seeing the two of us and sat in one of the big chairs across from the couch. Molly’s mom called them “easy” chairs, I guess because of how soft they were.

Molly’s mom came up the stairs from down below in the kitchen with a flat thing with four big cups that had strange patterns on them and steam coming out the top. She set the thing on the tiny table between the couch and the two chairs, and said the cocoa was still very hot and we had to wait before it was cool enough to drink. She sat down in the other “easy” chair and looked at the two of us lying on either side of the couch.

“Look at these two Eric”, she said laughing a little, “They look like they own the place.”

“Well Joan”, dad replied, squeezing his face with his hand as he thought, “They certainly own the future. We just need to make sure there’s a future for them to own.”

“I agree with you there”, she said, “And I have hopes that Khrushchev will be very different than Stalin, and we can end this insane nuclear arms race.”

“I wouldn’t hold your breath.” I wondered what he meant. It didn’t make any sense to me why Molly’s mom would want to hold her breath.

But it looked like it made sense to Molly’s mom, who pressed her lips together and said nothing. She looked at Molly and me and her face was serious and I could tell she was thinking about us and what to say next. I knew dad did not like that “Khrushchev” guy, but mom and Molly’s mom both were hoping he would do something good.

Sadness flashed in her eyes, but then they looked at the tray of cocoa on the table between the four of us.

“I think the cocoa is good now”, she said. She took a cup off the tray and put it by the corner of the table closest to me, then one by Molly, one by dad, and finally took the fourth in her hands, smelling it carefully.

“Here’s to the future!” she said, holding her cup up, though she didn’t look or sound sure about what she was saying as she took a sip.

“To the future!” dad repeated, picking up his cup and holding it the same way in the air before taking a sip himself. He seemed more sure when he said it.

Molly slid her body off the couch and flopped onto the soft rug that covered the floor, folding her legs together under the little table which came up to her chest. I did the same. She sipped her cocoa and said “mmm”. I sipped mine quietly, uncomfortable with the energy between the two grownups across from us.

I could see Molly’s mom relax again as she drank her cocoa and even smiled and looked at dad.

“So Eric, when will you be able to start on your dissertation?” she asked.

All the other grownups that were dad’s friends were always asking him about his “dissertation”. It was something he had to write, or make on the typewriter. All the other grownups thought that things would be so much better once he did it.

Dad looked up in the air, thinking. He took a deep breath, puffed out his cheeks, and blew air out between his almost closed lips. I could tell he was thinking though he didn’t say anything yet.

“I hope to get started pretty soon”, he said, “But everything seems to take longer than I’d like.”

Molly’s mom nodded her head and put on a big smile. “Well, you got to keep at it, I guess.”

Dad nodded. He did not talk about how he felt about things.

“I’m jealous, Eric” she said, “I wish I could go for my PhD, but when is there time?”

Dad nodded again but didn’t answer her question. Usually dad liked to have answers to questions about how to do things, but not this time. I wondered why not.

Molly and I watched the two of them talk to each other about it while drinking our warm sweet cocoa. We both finished quickly, and I felt new energy in my body. I could tell that Molly did too because her knees were bouncing under the table.

She looked at me. “Coob, you want to come up to my room and play?”

I nodded, and Molly stood up.

Molly’s mom wrinkled her nose. “Molly, when we are with company we always ask to be excused!”

Molly, already standing up, said, “Excuse me!”

Molly’s mom chuckled then told her how she should say it. “Say, ‘May I be excused’.”

“May I be excused” Molly said. I could tell she was just saying the words because her mom told her to.

“Yes of course”, Molly’s mom said. She turned to dad. “Eric, you are welcome to stay for a while. I could use some adult company.”

Dad nodded and grinned.

Molly ran to the stairs by the front door and then ran up them, just like I liked to do. I followed her up. I could hear Molly’s mom behind me, laughing a little and quietly talking to dad.

“Molly is such a tomboy”, I heard her say, “I’m glad she has Jonathan as a friend. He appreciates her for who she is. He doesn’t expect her to behave like a regular girl.”

“Molly is SUCH a bright kid.” I could just hear dad say that to her as I followed Molly down the upstairs hallway to the last stairs up to her bedroom door. Mom and dad were always talking about kids who were “bright”.

I followed Molly up into her room and she closed the door. The room was full of soft light from the outside coming in the windows. Drops of rain tapped on the windows and I could hear the wind blowing outside. I liked being inside during a storm, and Molly’s room was the best inside place to be, because it was so high up.

I sat down on the floor by the first of the three windows and looked down at the street and my house getting wet on the other side. My house looked so different from up here. Small and lonely. Molly sat next to me and looked out too, pressing her nose against the glass. I had an idea on what to pretend.

“Let’s pretend we’re in a fort guarding the bay”, I said, “If a car comes we have to shoot at it before it shoots at us.”

“Okay”, she said.

I looked out at the streets I could see in the distance on the edges of the park. There were no cars.

“All clear”, I said. I had heard older boys say that in the park when they were playing that they were soldiers looking for badguys.

“All clear”, she repeated.

Finally a car did appear on the street on the edge of the park over by the trees where the swings were.

“Uh oh”, Molly said. Not excited, but steady like we were soldiers.

“I see it”, I said, “Aim the cannon and get ready to shoot.”

Her hands moved a pretend cannon to point at the car far off in the distance but headed towards us. The car did not turn onto the street that would have taken it along the edge of the park by our street, and instead disappeared behind houses.

“Whew, we’re safe”, I said, “Close call. But stay ready.”

“Staying ready.” Molly’s voice was as steady as she could make it.

We waited but we were still ready.

A car zoomed by on the street along the edge of the park.

“Oh my god”, she said, “We got to fire before it gets away!”

Molly made a cannon shooting noise with her mouth.

“You hit it!” I said, “Good shot!”

Molly nodded with her soldier face, not happy or mad or sad, just ready. The car didn’t turn on our street but continued out of sight.

“We can’t let any cars come down our street or they’ll get us!” I said.

She nodded, still with her soldier face.

Another car came down the street across the park.

“Ready to fire”, she said, her voice was cold and steady.

“Fire!” I said.

Molly made another cannon noise. “Got it!” she said.

This time the car did not disappear behind the houses, but turned on the street next to ours, still heading towards us.

“Oh no! Get ready to shoot again!” My voice was excited. My pretend captain wasn’t cold and steady like Molly’s cannon shooter.

“Getting ready”, she said, her hands moving fast. The car came up to our street.

“Fire! I said.

Molly made a third connon noise. The car turned on our street and drove between Molly’s house and mine.

“Oh no!” she said, “They’re firing!”

She made a big explosion noise and threw herself backward from where she was sitting to the floor behind her. I did the same.

“We’re wounded”, she said, “But we have to keep shooting!”

The pretend game continued with each car that we saw. With each wound we got we needed even more courage to keep shooting our cannon. We even tried to fix each other’s wounds, but it was never enough. Finally the end came.

“I can’t… do it anymore… sorry captain!” She closed her eyes and let her head fall to the side and she was dead.

“You tried your best!” I said, like I was so wounded I could barely talk anymore, and I closed my eyes and I was dead too, lying right next to her. Though I was dead I could still smell her hair, which smelled like plants. We lay there next to each other, dead. No one else knew what we had tried to do to stop the badguys, but we were still heroes.

Molly finally got up, and sat in one of the big puffy chairs.

“Let’s pretend we’re grownups!” she said. I got up and sat in the chair across from her.

“Okay”, I nodded. We hadn’t pretended that before, and she could tell in my eyes that I wasn’t sure how to do that, even though I had done a lot of watching and listening to mom and dad, her mom and dad, and other grownups.

She kind of held her shoulders stiff and pushed her lips together like she was sucking on a straw.

“I must tell you Coob”, she said, putting her chin on her open hand and looking into my eyes, “That was such a storm at the stadium! Don’t you think so?”

I just nodded, still trying to figure out what I could do to act like a grownup.

Molly looked at me like I wasn’t trying hard enough. I didn’t want her to think that about me.

“Oh my god, yes it was!” I said, rolling my head around, “All those lightnings!”

“Oh yes”, she said, nodding slowly more like a grownup would, and then in a different deeper voice like my dad or hers, “Scared crap out of me!”

Seeing the look in her eyes and remembering her scream, I got pulled into the pretend.

“Oh Molly!” I tried to put a lot of feelings in it, like I remembered mom saying to dad when he told her about something bad that had happened to him.

I could see Molly was also pulled into this part of the pretending. “Oh Coob! Oh Coob!” She said it a little different, like she wanted something that she couldn’t get.

“Oh Molly! Oh Molly!” I said it like I had heard mom and dad say it to each other in their bedroom one night when I couldn’t sleep. I looked at her eyes and she looked back at mine.

As I kept looking deeper into her eyes, I could see she was doing the same to me. As we kept our eyes that way for a long time, the room around her began to turn fuzzy and gray like it wasn’t really there anymore. There were only her eyes. I remembered being on the merry-go-round with her when something like this happened before. She put her thumb between her teeth and I could tell she had to say something.

“Did you see that too?” she asked, “The room went away.”

I nodded. “I didn’t see it anymore. Just your eyes.”

“I know”, she said, “Let’s do it again, even harder!”

I wasn’t sure how I could look at her harder, but I nodded and figured I would try to do whatever she was doing.

Her eyes met mine with a fierce look this time, like I had seen in some dogs’ eyes when they growled at me, or in a picture of a real tiger in one of dad’s books. She was so fierce it was almost scary, but I knew it was her behind the look, so I wasn’t really scared. My eyes still looking at hers, I tried to look back in a fierce way myself. I tried to pretend I was really angry. I could see her see my angry look and she tried to look angry back at me.

It looked like she was trying so hard to look angry, she really was looking more silly, and I couldn’t stop myself from starting to laugh a little. My laugh made her laugh, really hard, so much so that she let her body roll off the side of the chair onto the floor as she did. Falling off the chair made her laugh harder. I loved the way she liked to throw her body around, and the joy in her laugh as she lay there on the floor, arms and legs spread.

I tried to do something silly. I put my hands on either side of my face, looked up, and slowly shook my head back and forth, like I’d seen dad do when he was looking at the typewriter with a piece of paper in it but not knowing what to type. It worked. Molly laughed at my funny face and that made me feel good like a clown. I let my own body tumble off the side of my chair like she had done. Even when we both stopped laughing we continued to lay there on the floor. Neither of us said anything. There didn’t need to be anything that was next. It felt good just being there together, in Molly’s secret attic pirate fort, above the world of the grownups, where they usually looked down at us.

Clubius Incarnate Part 4 – Third Birthday

I woke up knowing today was my third birthday. My whole body shivered with excitement. I heard mom and dad in the kitchen talking about my birthday party. Rather than go into the kitchen so they knew I was listening, I stood in the back hallway by the door to the living room where they couldn’t see me and listened. It was always good to know what grownups were really doing, and they said more interesting stuff when they did not know I was listening.

“Liz”, dad’s voice was almost always soft, even when he got mad, “If it rains we can have the party in the living room. The kids can play down in the basement.”

“Eric”, Mom’s voice was louder than his with more feelings in it, “I’m not comfortable entertaining our friends in this house when we don’t have any furniture.”

“Oh it’ll be fine!” Dad was always saying that to mom, but she usually didn’t think so. “We’ve got the kitchen chairs, we can bring the lawn chairs in from the outside, plus the chairs from the basement and the rocking chair from Cloob’s room.”

“Where will people put their drinks and their plates?” I could tell mom was not happy.

“We can move the kitchen table into the living room. Open up the card table and even bring up the white table from the basement.” Dad always thought he had figured it out.

Mom sighed. “I know furniture is not a priority right now. But I’m having trouble asking people to come over and see that we have so little. I don’t want Jonathan to feel impoverished.”

I did not know what “impoverished” was but it didn’t sound good.

“I have another year of graduate school and hopefully just a year after that to complete my dissertation. Then I can get a real teaching job.” His voice was still smooth but it seemed more worried.

“I know. I know. God, I know!” Mom said, “But honestly Eric, I dread sitting down with the bills each month and figuring out which ones can wait til next month to be paid.”

I listened, but did not hear dad say anything back to her. I felt bad for him. I knew mom thought we needed more money, and dad was supposed to get it. But I was okay. They bought me toys to play with. I thought about that tricycle I had seen yesterday in the attic. After they started talking about different stuff, not about my birthday, I finally decided to go into the kitchen. When mom saw me she did a big smile and started singing the happy birthday song. Dad started singing too. It made me feel shy but I was still happy that it was my birthday.

“Are you excited about your party?” she asked, her eyes twinkling. Mom loved parties.

I did too, and it was my birthday. Feeling shy, I just nodded really hard.

Mom made me a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast, putting on extra sugar for my birthday. I told her when to stop adding the milk. After breakfast, she and dad stayed in the kitchen and worked on boiling potatoes in the big pot and then making potato salad. I watched them for a while. They seemed the most happy together when they had something to do together.

I didn’t want to watch anymore, so I went back into my room. I opened my closet door and looked up at the attic hatch in the ceiling. I thought about climbing up and looking again to see if that tricycle was still there. Then I remembered that I hadn’t closed the hatch the right way yesterday when I had heard my dad coming, but now it was back in place. Dad must have seen it and put it back the way it was supposed to be. He must know that I had looked up there. It made me worried thinking dad might know something I did by myself when no one was watching me. My “secret” stuff. I knew they did secret stuff too, that they didn’t tell me about because they were grownups. Molly said her mom and dad did too. But I did not want them to know that I did the same thing.

I played down in the basement all morning. Mom called down to me from the top of the stairs that we were ready to go over to the park for the party. I ran up the stairs like I always did.

“Well”, she said with a smile on her face, clapping her hands together, “Mother nature is giving you her birthday present of a partly cloudy afternoon with no rain in the forecast!” Dad looked happy too, like he was right that it would be okay.

We drove our car over to the park instead of walking. Mom said we didn’t walk because the picnic basket was really heavy with all the food. Even though the park was right there across the street, we had to drive on four different streets to get there. I counted them. They “parked” the car on the fourth street and we walked through the big trees, like that “maple” tree in our backyard only bigger, to where the picnic tables were. Dad carried the picnic basket and mom and I carried the other bags with stuff for the party. Under the trees there also were swings, monkeybars, a seesaw, a slide, and my favorite thing, the merry-go-round. Two girls were swinging on the swings, talking to each other and laughing. Two boys, older than me, were at the merry-go-round, working to try to spin it around really fast before jumping on.

As I watched the two boys keep trying to make the merry-go-round go even faster, mom and dad started getting ready for the party. While they did that stuff, I walked over to the merry-go-round. I stood just far enough away so I wouldn’t get in the two older boys’ way as they hung off either side of it until it finally slowed down. They looked at me with red cheeks and excited eyes.

“Can I get on?” I asked. I was still worried about talking to grownups, even mom and dad. But talking to other kids felt easier. Kids just said what they were really thinking and it didn’t make me worry.

They told me to sit in the center and hang on, which I did. They grabbed the metal pipes on each side of the outside circle part and started to run. Everything began to spin around me. I saw mom and dad by the picnic tables, then the lilac bushes far away and my house and our backyard even farther away, then the girls on the swing, then other houses across the street, then back to mom and dad, over and over again. It all didn’t seem real anymore, more like the things I would see sometimes when my eyes were closed, or when I was sleeping and then I woke up.

The only thing that felt real was when I closed my eyes and felt something pulling me away from the middle. If I went where it was pulling me it got stronger and stronger. The only place where it didn’t pull me was right in the middle. I couldn’t figure it out, but it kind of made sense somehow, and that was one of the things that made the merry-go-round so neat. Stay in the center of things and let everything else spin around you. As the thing slowed down the pulling went away and mom and dad, the girls on the swing, my house, and everything else, seemed real again, at least mostly so.

“Again?” one of the boys asked, looking at me with fierce but friendly eyes.

I nodded and off we went again. Back to the spinning pictures and then closing my eyes to feel the realness of that spinning center. Finally the boys didn’t want to do it anymore, looked at the girls still on the swings, and then walked over to the seesaw and got on. No longer going around, I still sat in the middle of the merry-go-round, and when I closed my eyes I felt like I was going around again, though when I opened my eyes I was not. I did it more times until I opened my eyes to see a face I knew looking at me wondering.

It was Molly. She lived across the street with her mom and dad. She looked strange because she was wearing one of those “dress” things like a grownup woman would wear. Not the regular clothes like mine that she usually wore. Her straight light colored hair came down over her ears, unlike my hair which was really short. Other than mom and dad, I had probably spent more time with her than anyone else. She was a kid like me, and we both tried to figure out these strange grownups.

“I saw you going around”, she said, “It looks fun.”

Like a kid, she said what she saw and how she felt about it. Unlike all the thinking I had to do before saying stuff to mom and dad, I felt like I could say everything I was thinking to her. Now that I was talking, I was going to have a lot to talk to her about.

“Two older boys spun me around really fast. It’s strange to see everything spinning around me, like it’s only pictures. I close my eyes and I feel it pulling me away from the middle.” It was the best I could tell her with the words I knew.

Molly looked at me, pushing up her nose and biting her thumb, which she did when she was trying to figure something out. She took it out of her mouth to talk.

“You’re talking”, she said. Her thumb was back between her teeth as I could tell she was thinking about that, but then out again to say more.

“I want to try spinning too!” she said. I figured she would want to try it.

“Okay. Sit in the middle and hold on”, I said. I climbed off the thing and pointed at the center. She climbed on the merry-go-round on her hands and knees, and by the time she got to the center the open part at the bottom of her dress was up around her waist and her underwear showed. Not worried about it, she sat in the center and looked at me.

“So spin it… really fast!” she said.

I tried to do what the older boys did, and pushed on the bars on the edge of the circle, but I was only strong enough to move it slowly.

The two older boys on the seesaw were watching us. They came back over to help.

“You want us to spin you two around?” one of them asked.

Molly and I nodded.

“Well get on in the center”, he said to me, “And hang on!”

I climbed on the bumpy metal surface of the thing and sat in the middle looking at Molly. I grabbed the bars on either side of us just below where she had grabbed those same bars.

“You ready for a wild ride?” the older boy said.

Molly and I looked at each other and were both excited. “Wild ride” I thought, that sounded really neat. We both nodded and looked at each other again. I could tell she was thinking the same thing I was. “What’s about to happen to us?”

The boys stood at opposite sides of the merry-go-round and started to push. When they were running really hard, they jumped on and the thing spun around with Molly and I sitting in the center looking at each other. Molly moved her hands to hold on better and I felt the bottom of her hands touch the top of mine. As we looked at each other again, heads just a couple feet apart, our hands touching made it feel even more like we were hooked together. As everything spun behind her, I watched her hold her body still and I saw her eyes looking behind me at all that same spinning stuff too. Then she closed her eyes.

“I feel it pulling me!” she said. I could see her letting her head and the top part of her body being pulled away from the middle, then the hard work as she pulled herself back.

It was like I stopped thinking and just watched as I saw my mom and dad and hers at the picnic tables, then our houses far away across the baseball fields, the girls on the swing now watching us. It all turned into just pictures, only Molly was real. It seemed like she and I were part of the same thing. I didn’t want it to end.

But it did. The merry-go-round slowed down. But then I was thinking that though something was ending, something new could be starting. As we still looked at each other, now just slowly turning, I could tell she had thought the same thing.

“That was fun!”, she said.

She said it, but it was the same thing I was thinking and about to say. It was the only thing you could say! And we both knew we had to do it more to figure out the different things we were seeing and feeling.

“Again?” one of the older boys asked.

Molly and I looked into each other’s eyes. I could tell she was excited like I was to have this adventure to see and feel new things.

“Again!” Molly yelled out, her eyes flaring with fierceness, “faster this time!”. I liked that she wanted it faster, and that she was looking at me when she said it.

“Okay then”, called out one of the boys. I could hear in his voice that this was just what he was hoping we would say, maybe even what the two of them knew we were going to say. They started pushing again, making lots of noises to tell us that they were trying to go super fast, smashing each foot into the ground, as they made it spin faster than the first time. Finally they let go this time, and watched us whirl around, both of them I could tell feeling really good they were helping us littler kids have this “wild” ride.

“Wow!” We actually both said it this time, and at the same time.

Still spinning fast but not as fast as it had been, I felt like I wanted to try to stand up, while still hanging on to the bars. Molly watched me and started doing the same thing. We looked at each other fiercely, like we could do anything. The thing slowed more and Molly let go of the bars, took a step toward the edge, but looked like she couldn’t figure out how to stand up straight and it was pulling her more than she thought it would and she went off the merry-go-round. She tried to stay on her feet, but when they hit the ground, she fell face first into the dirt.

The older boys grabbed the bars and stopped the thing spinning. I jumped off and felt like I couldn’t stand up straight either, like it looked like Molly had. But I was able to stay on my feet as I ran over to her. She sat up. There was dirt in her hair and both knees and one elbow were scraped pink, quickly changing to red. Her dress was covered in dirt.

She looked at me as her mom ran over yelling, “Molly, oh my god!”. You could hear the fear in her mom’s voice, like Molly had been hurt bad. As I saw the thinking in Molly’s eyes, I could tell that at first she thought she was okay, just surprised. But what her mom said made her scared, that maybe she was not okay, and only then started to cry. Now all the grownups came and stood around us, like they were in charge now. The two older boys stood back, next to each other, worried.

“We’re sorry”, one said, “We didn’t think she’d try to do that!”

Molly’s mom nodded at them and then just looked at Molly.

Mom was behind me and put a hand on my right shoulder, patting my left shoulder with the other one. I stood there and didn’t say anything, wanting to say something to make Molly feel better, but feeling scared to, with all the grownups watching. Molly’s mom and dad rubbed their hands on her dress to try to get the dirt off. Then they looked at her arms and legs to make sure they were okay, and looked closely at the scrapes on her knees and elbow. Molly looked at me with sad red eyes, sniffling, as the tears rolled down over her now pink cheeks.

I could see Molly’s mom worried about what the other grownups were thinking about Molly.

“Molly is such a tomboy!” she said.

I didn’t know what a “tomboy” was, but it didn’t sound good, and I felt sad for Molly and mad at Molly’s mom for saying that, and mad at the other grownups who I guess wanted her to say that.

Her mom took Molly’s hand, looked at dad then focused on mom.

“Jane”, she said, “Let me take her home, get her cleaned up, and we’ll be back.”

Mom’s hands still on my shoulders, I looked up and she nodded with lips pushed together and worried eyes.

“Joan”, mom said, “When I was a little girl I was just like Molly. I’d come home at least once a week with some sort of bruise or scrape!” Molly’s mom looked like she felt better that mom had said that. Mom was good at saying stuff that made other grownups feel better.

The other grownup women said things to Molly’s mom to try to make her feel better too. One said, “Molly is such a pretty girl!”

Molly’s mom said, “Thank you”, and rubbed Molly’s head. Molly stood there quietly looking down, as her mom tried to fix her messed up hair. I watched her mom start to walk her home across the baseball field.

Now other kids and grownups were at the party, the kids came over to me. Kenny lived across the street next to Molly, but I didn’t play with him as much. Danny, who was older than me, I played with when my mom took me with her when she would go to their house.

“So what happened to that girl?” Danny asked. He didn’t know Molly.

After seeing Molly’s mom worried about what the other grownups were thinking about Molly, I wasn’t sure what to say to him.

“She fell I guess”, Kenny said, though he wasn’t there at the merry-go-round.

“Yeah!” Danny said, “Girls!” He said it like he thought girls weren’t as good as boys.

“Girls!” said Kenny, thinking he wanted to think the same way as Danny who was older than we were.

I wanted to tell them that I didn’t feel boys were better, but I got worried when older boys talked about girls being different, so I didn’t say anything and just looked down at the ground.

Dad and Molly’s dad were making the corn and the hot dogs on that really hot “grill” thing. Mom was passing out plates and being in charge of things. The other grownups were sitting at one of the two other tables, including Kenny’s mom and Danny’s mom. The other two men were dad’s friends. Kenny, Danny and I were sitting at the other table, which had boxes on it, that I knew were presents for me, on the other end. Just looking at them made me feel excited, and I wondered what was in each. Mom called out to the three of us to come over and get some food.

“Jane!” Danny’s mom said, “You’ve got a bun in the oven. You should let me do that!”

“I’m just getting into my third trimester”, mom said to her, rubbing her big stomach with her hands, “I still have lots of energy.” Mom didn’t used to have a big stomach like that, but she said that was my “little brother” getting ready to come out, though I couldn’t figure out what she was really talking about.

“I wouldn’t disagree that you do, dear”, said Danny’s mom, “But please let me help!”

Mom nodded, and Danny’s mom and Kenny’s mom put the corn and hot dogs on our plates, which they brought over to the table where Kenny, Danny and I were sitting. The three of us ate our food and didn’t say anything. I thought about Molly and why she let go of the merry-go-round bars, and that she was okay really until her mom got scared. I figured I would ask her about it later, now that I was talking.

I could here the grownups talking about my name, though they didn’t think I was listening

“So what are you calling him?” dad’s friend asked, “Johnny?”

“Well…” said dad like he wasn’t sure what to say.

“His name is Jonathan”, mom said, her voice was loud and kind of fierce, “Not Johnny or John. My brother is named John. Our son is Jonathan!”

I didn’t really feel like my name was Jonathan, or John or Johnny. It was one of those nicknames, but it wasn’t “Zuper” either. Mom and dad mostly called me “Clubius” or “Cloob”. Molly called me “Coob”, I think I liked that one best. When grownups asked me my name and I wasn’t talking yet, mom or dad answered for me and said “Jonathan”, but they almost never called me that. Now that I was talking, I wondered what I would say my name was.

Molly and her mom finally came back. Molly was now wearing regular clothes like me, with a bandaid on her elbow. Her mom got her a plate of food and pointed at the table where Danny, Kenny and I were sitting. I could see that Molly didn’t want to sit with us, but her mom kept telling her to and she finally came over. I figured that it wasn’t because Molly did not want to sit with me or the other kids, but that she didn’t want to talk about falling down. She came over and sat next to me without saying anything.

But Danny did want to talk about it. “So what happened to you on the merry-go-round?” he asked.

Molly looked fierce, putting her thumb in her mouth and biting it. She moved her shoulders up and down and took her thumb out and said, “I fell.”

“Are you okay?” he asked. He didn’t ask it like a grownup would. Not like he was going to do something about it if she said no.

Molly nodded and stuck the end of her hotdog into her mouth, and seemed happy that that kept her from having to say anything else. All four of us ate and didn’t talk. I was happy to have her back and sitting next to me.

When we finished eating, Danny’s mom came over and took our plates. Then all the grownups sang happy birthday to me. Danny was singing too and really loud. Kenny sang to, I think because Danny was singing and he wanted to be like Danny. I looked at Molly and she smiled like they were singing the song to her too.

The song ended with mom carrying my birthday cake towards me so everyone could see it, with three candles that had fire on top. I remembered Molly’s birthday, when she was three. Her cake was different but it also had three candles. I remembered her blowing them out, so I figured I was supposed to blow them out since it was my party this time. Mom put the cake down in front of me. It was all white with blue words on it. I knew that first word “Happy”, since mom had shown it to me in some of the books she read to me where she pointed at the words when she read them. And I knew that the last word was my real name, “Jonathan”. The word in between starting with the “B” I figured had to be “Birthday”.

“Now make a wish before you blow out the candles!” Mom said to me, looking into my eyes with hers like she was trying to figure out what my wish would be. I didn’t remember this part from Molly’s birthday. I got worried that all the grownups were waiting for me to say what my wish was, and then what would I say now that I was talking. I thought about the tricycle, maybe that would be the wish. But then if I said that was my wish, would mom and dad figure out that I looked in the attic and saw it there. Would they think I was bad for doing that? I tried to think of a different wish to say.

I was so happy when mom said, “Now don’t tell anyone your wish or it may not come true!” Not worried anymore, I thought about the bicycle and blew out the candles with the biggest breath I could make. Danny and all the grownups cheered and clapped. Kenny and Molly did what the grownups were doing and clapped too.

Mom asked me if I wanted to open my presents. Even before I could say anything, Danny said, “He definitely wants to!” All the grownups laughed.

I was mad at Danny for saying that, but didn’t say anything. I didn’t like that he was thinking he knew how I felt and was talking for me, even though I did want to open my presents. When I wasn’t talking yet, I had to let other people, mostly mom and dad, say what they figured I was thinking or feeling, though sometimes I still didn’t like it.

But I stopped worrying about it when I got to open my presents. I loved holding each box in my hands, with that special paper stuff all around it so I couldn’t see what it was, feeling how heavy it was, and wondering what it might be before tearing the paper off. I didn’t care that others were watching me, even all the grownups.

The first present I opened was from Kenny and his mom. It was a box of Lincoln Logs, with a picture of a fort on it. Kenny’s mom said, “Kenny told us you already have Lincoln logs, but you can never have too many!” That was true, and I was excited and nodded really hard.

Mom said, “Thank you Kenny and Missus Novak.” Kenny’s mom nodded her head but just once.

The next present was from dad’s two friends, Frank and Walter. It was six books, all the same size and wrapped together.

Walter said, “It’s the latest series of Tom Swift books. Frank and I know you’re probably not reading quite yet, but we made your dad promise to read them to you. And we have verified that your dad’s reading skills are sufficient for the task.” Frank, Molly’s dad, and dad all laughed.

The book on top had a picture on the cover of a rocket ship shooting up from the ground below with a big window in it with a boy in a gold suit looking out. Each of the others had something like that – jet plane, submarine, rocket ship – with the same boy either inside it or next to it. The pictures, and the stories each picture made me think about, were very exciting.

The next present was from Danny and his mom, Danny said he had picked it out himself. I ripped off the wrapping paper and the cover of the box had a picture of four smiling boys around a small board that looked like a football field with little figures of football players on it in two different colors. I figured it was a football field because mom and dad had taken me to a game at the Michigan stadium not far from our house. Danny said it was an “Electric Football set”. You turned it on and the players moved all by themselves. It interested me, but Danny said I should probably wait until I got home to open it up and try it, and ask my dad to help.

The last wrapped present was from Molly and her mom and dad. It was a space helmet with a front part that you could see through like a window, and that could be opened and closed. I took it out of the box and put it on my head, looking out through the clear front part at the people around me.

“Jonathan sure looks like he’s ready for what’s coming!” It was my dad’s friend Frank talking. “Just heard that Eisenhower wants us to set up a civilian space agency so we can outdo the Russians.”

I didn’t know who these “Russians” were, and if they were the same thing as the “Soviet Union”, but I figured this was not the right time for me to ask.

“I don’t know if you could pay me enough to sit on top of one of those big rockets”, said dad’s friend Walter, “I watched that Vanguard rocket explode last December at Cape Canaveral.”

Then dad said, “Once they work out the kinks, I’d do it! Poe, Verne, and others have been writing about taking a rocket to the moon since early in the 19th century. And I grew up reading all the pulp science fiction – John Carter and Buck Rogers.”

“Yeah, me too”, said Molly’s dad, “Though I never in a million years thought it could ever come true!”

The grownup women at the party had not been saying anything, but now mom did. When she talked, it sounded like she was in charge, and other people stopped talking and listened.

“I believe”, she said, “That anything we can imagine we can make come true!”

“Really Jane?” asked Walter, “Even time travel?” Like mom didn’t know what she was talking about.

But it didn’t change what mom was thinking, and she said, “Really Walter… even time travel!” She didn’t sound mad but her voice was kind of fierce. Walter sighed and shook his head.

“Honestly,” Danny’s mom said, putting her hand on mom’s shoulder, “I sometimes wonder if Jane hasn’t traveled back in time to our age to get us all off our rear ends!” All the grownups laughed, even Walter.

Mom nodded and grinned, her cheeks got a little red as everyone was looking at her. But I could tell she LIKED IT when everyone was looking at her.

“Lennice”, mom said, “I’ll never confess, but it’s been a heck of a ride!” More laughing from all the grownups. The four of us kids just looked at each other, not sure what they were talking about. Danny rolled his eyes. Strange grownups.

“But Liz”, dad’s voice was always quieter and less fierce than mom’s, always reminding her of something, “There’s one more present.”

“Right!” Mom looked at dad like there were lots of things she was thinking about. She turned and looked at me, still with my new space helmet on my head, her eyes sparkled. “This is for you from your dad and me”, she said.

Dad ran over to our car and opened the back part and took out that red tricycle with black wheels. He carried it over to the picnic tables where we were sitting and put it down in the middle of them. There it was in front of me, the one that I had seen in the attic yesterday, but wasn’t supposed to see until now. I stared at it, feeling everybody looking at me, so I didn’t know what to do next. Unlike my mom, I did not like talking when everyone was looking at me, especially when grownups were looking at me.

“Do you like it sweetie?” mom finally asked.

I nodded, but felt the grownups maybe were thinking I didn’t, thinking I should be more excited and say so. But I had already been thinking about that tricycle for a long time. I looked at mom and didn’t say anything, but nodded again really hard, and then at dad and did the same. I decided I should at least sit on it to show how much I liked it. It was all shiny and new. The seat felt cold and slippery under me. My hands circled around the black handle grips. Plastic had a special feeling to it when it was new. My feet rested on each of the black plastic pedals. I pushed the pedal with my left foot and then with my right and the big wheel in front started to turn and I was moving.

I headed toward the merry-go-round. Molly, Kenny and Danny got up from the table and walked around me. I was happy to just be with other kids and away from the grownups.

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Clubius Incarnate Part 3 – Basement

I could hear that the rain was still outside, and it made me like the quiet cozy basement even more. It was a while before my dad came down the basement stairs to keep working at his desk. He was in the opposite quarter of the basement from where I sat on the hard gray floor looking at my box of plastic toy soldiers and a second box with trucks, cars and boats in it. I wanted to keep playing that story I was playing last night in the bathtub of the pirate ship in the hidden cove shooting at the goodguy ships out in the bay. The captains were trying to figure out what to do to stop the pirates from sinking their ships and killing their sailors.

I looked at the two boats in the box with the cars and trucks. They were ships that were big enough to put some soldiers on them. But only the two of them was not enough, I needed the boats that I had in the tub upstairs. I was thinking that if I went upstairs again dad might wonder what I was doing up there. This was where talking would help me.

“I’ll be right back!”, I said to him, something he and mom said to me and each other. He turned and looked at me and nodded, but I could tell he was mostly thinking about what he was working on. I ran up the stairs and through the house to the bathroom, grabbed the small plastic bin of boats and soldiers there, and ran back down into the basement. Now I had seven boats, that was better.

But now I was trying to figure out where or how to make the hidden pirate cove. Maybe if I could find something to build the land between the cove and the bay. I dumped all the soldiers out of their box and the cars and trucks out of theirs. I turned the wood boxes over and put them next to each other to try to make a mountain between the cove and the bay. I put the pirate ship in the cove part and the rest of the boats in the other and looked at how it was set up. I didn’t think it was very good. The mountain island between the pirates and the goodguys just wasn’t big enough in the big basement.

I thought of the laundry basket in the laundry room. If it was empty I could turn it upside down into more mountains hiding the cove. I walked around the furnace into that quarter of the basement. The basket was full of clothes, sitting on top of the washing machine. But as I stood in that area, with the furnace on my right and the washing machine and staircase in front of me, it made me think that the laundry room would be a great secret cove. The furnace and the stairway could be the mountains between that cove and my part of the basement, which would be the bay where the other ships could be. The sailors could try to climb up the staircase to get into the cove. I could even build a pirate fort guarding the hidden cove, and a goodguy fort guarding the bay on my side.

I was excited about pretending all this, and I got my ship that had been the pirate ship in the tub last night and put it in the middle of the floor in the laundry room. I looked at it there from different places, including looking down from the basement stairs. It looked good, but I couldn’t really stand the gray soldiers, my pirates in this story, on its deck. I would just have to pretend they were on the ship.

I brought my box of Lincoln Logs into the laundry room and used them to make the walls of the pirate fort plus a house for the pirate guy in charge in the middle. I put two of the smallest log pieces together, leaned them over and they looked like cannons, and put them along the wall of the fort pointed out into the beginning part of the cove, so they could shoot at any goodguy ships that tried to go in it. The gray German soldiers were the pirates and I put a couple of them around each cannon. The gray plastic guy in charge, with his hands on either hip and elbows out on either side, I put in the square house in the center of the fort so he could be in charge of all the cannon shooting pirates. His helper was next to him.

Back in my quarter of the basement, I made a second fort out of the rest of the Lincoln logs. I put it looking down on the bay up on the end of my lowest toy shelf so it could look out on the whole bay. The good guys’ ships could stop under it and they could climb up to the fort. I put different groups of the green American soldiers in and around the fort, each group with a special job. The watcher guys looked out down on the bay. Others worked the cannons. Others were ready to go out on the ships. The last group below the fort helped put things on and take things off the ships. The green commander, Captain Dale, his figure pointing a hand out in front of him, I put in the center of the fort with his main helpers next to him.

I took one of my bigger boats and put it in the middle of the bay. It was big enough to put five soldiers on it if I put them very carefully – one in the front, three in the middle, and the ship captain, Captain Drake, in the back. They kept falling down, but I finally got them all standing, and I laid on my side and put my cheek on the cold floor and looked at them on the ship, trying to pretend they were real. They looked neat standing on the ship. I looked at the captain in the back and imagined him being worried about his crew. I put the second bigger boat by the dock part of the fort, and then put the other smaller boats in different parts of the bay around the big one.

Once everything was set up just right for the story, I sat on the basement staircase for some time, where I could see both places, the bay and the hidden cove, and I thought about all the different things that could happen. For cannon balls I could use the small plastic wiffle balls I had. Yes, this was all good, very exciting.

I got all of my small plastic wiffle balls in the plastic bin where I kept my bathtub toys. I took it into the laundry room and sat on the floor between the pirate ship and the fort and I imagined the talking between the pirate ship captain, Captain Black, and the fort captain, Big John.

I sailed the pirate ship over to the fort and imagined Captain Black waving from the ship to Big John in the fort. Big John looked at the men and cannons around his fort and felt good. “The fort cannons are loaded and ready and the cannon shooters are ready for a fight if the good guys find the secret cove and try to come in!” he said.

Captain Black liked that. “Ha ha that’s good”, he said, “We’ll sail to the far side of the cove where we’ll have a better shot at ‘em and give ‘em hell!”

Big John laughed and said, “Yes give ‘em hell. They won’t know what hit ‘em!”

Captain Black said, “Ha ha you’re right matey!” Pirates talked that way.

The pirate ship sailed across the cove near the staircase mountains that were between it and the bay. Its cannons started to fire. I made the cannon noise and I threw each ball over the staircase and I could hear it hit the floor and bounce on the other side where I couldn’t see it. I moved to the other side of the basement and sat against the basement wall next to the goodguy fort on the end of my toy shelves and looked at what had happened. The fort and all the ships looked like they weren’t hit, but the captains, sailors, and fort soldiers were really worried. Dad was at his desk still working.

Captain Dale in the fort looked out over the bay and was very worried. “Oh my god… someone’s shooting at us. Pretty soon one of our ships or our fort will get hit!”

His helpers tried to make him feel better. “But Captain”, they said, “We built the strongest fort we could on the side of the cliff. The pirates can’t get it!”

Captain Drake aboard his ship was really worried too. “This is really bad!” he said, “Pretty soon one of our ships will get hit!”

His helper thought so too, and said, “You’re right, Captain!”

After looking at and thinking about the fort, bay and goodguy ships for a while, I got all the balls in the bin and went back into the laundry room.

Captain Black was excited. “Keep up the shooting lads! We have them right where we want them!”

Making more cannon and explosion noises, I fired more pirate cannonballs over the staircase mountains into the bay. On one of the shots I heard the crash of the ball hitting something.

Captain Black said, “Sounds like we hit something boys!”

His main helper said, “Yes, but how can we know for sure! We can’t see across the mountains.”

Captain Black thought about what to do, then said, “I think that’s a good job for you mate! Take some of the boys and climb the mountain so you can see what we hit!”

“Aye aye, Captain!” his main helper said.

I took several gray soldiers and began to have them climb up the steep side of the staircase, finally getting high enough on the washing machine where they could see out onto the bay.

I went back to the other side of the basement and sat by the goodguy fort to see what they were seeing. Three of the green soldiers that had been standing on the big ship in the middle of the bay had fallen on the floor around it, their ship had been hit.

The fort guys watching the bay yelled out, “Oh my god, they hit Drake’s ship!” Then to the Captain’s main helper, “Let Captain Dale know.”

“Will do”, he said, then to Captain Dale, “Captain… Drake’s ship’s been hit! There’ll be dead and wounded! What should we do?”

Captain Dale was quiet while he was thinking. Then he said, “Send out the rescue ship to get the dead and wounded and bring them back here. Tell the doctor to get the hospital set up.”

“Aye aye, sir!”

I had the fort captain’s main helper go down to the docks below the fort and talk to the captain of the rescue ship there.

“Captain Strong, time to go to work”, he said, “You need to rescue those sailors! Is your ship ready?”

Captain Strong said, “We’re ready! Sail boys! We must save our men if they can be saved!”

The rescue ship went out into the bay and had a hard time but got the dead and wounded sailors floating in the water and brought them back to the fort. Then the story was about the doctor, Doctor West I named him, who had to get the hospital ready. One area for the wounded and one for the dead. He looked at each rescued soldier and had to figure out which one could be helped and which one was dead. I imagined he was very worried and sad.

Finally, like in my bathtub story before, the good guys sent a team out to climb up the mountain staircase and see if they could figure out where the pirate ship was shooting from. Lieutenant Cord was in charge of that team, and they were taken by boat across the bay to the mountains. Before they could land, I went back into the laundry room and shot more wiffle cannonballs from the pirate ship’s cannons into the bay.

Returning from the laundry room I found that another ship had been hit, but not the one with Lieutenant Cord’s team, which finally reached the shore at the bottom of the mountains, ready to climb up the steps. But first the goodguys had to send the rescue boat out to get any dead and wounded from the latest pirate cannonball. Since the boat that was on its side had no soldiers actually on it, I decided there were two dead and two wounded. The rescue boat headed out and got the four of them. The two dead guys were floating in the bay by the ship and the two wounded were below deck in the front part of the ship hit by the pirate’s cannonball. Once the rescue boat returned to the fort the wounded and dead guys were brought to the hospital, and there was more worrying and being sad by Doctor West.

That taken care of, I went back to Lieutenant Cord’s team, getting ready to climb the dangerous mountain stairs. Seeing that other ships got hit out in the bay, they were all talking and worried and figured out that their mission was really really important. Lieutenant Cord talked to his team and told them they had to do it, even though they might get killed or wounded. They had to find where the pirate ship was or all would be lost. “It’s up to us boys”, he said, “Everyone else is counting on us!” I had heard grownups talk like that, at least in the stories dad read me.

Just then I realized that dad was standing behind me as I sat between him and the bottom step of the stairs. I was startled, and turned to look up at him. His eyes were dark and sad, though he had a smile on his face. He was strange that way.

“I want to get up the stairs”, he said, but he paused without taking a step up and said, “So what is this group of soldiers up to?”

I usually didn’t tell mom or dad the stories I was pretending. I was worried they might think they were bad, or silly, or even stupid. I really liked them, but I wasn’t sure they were going to like them. Or maybe they would think I should change the story and I wouldn’t want to and then I wouldn’t know what to do.

But he was asking me a question, and I felt that now that I was talking, that I should at least say something to answer his question, if I wanted them to answer mine. You had to be careful with grownups, even mom and dad, even though they gave me food, read and sang to me at night, bought me toys, and did other things for me.

So I told him, “Lieutenant Cord is leading his team to climb up the mountain to try to find the pirate ship.” That seemed like a good answer to his question.

His smile, there way above me, turned into a bigger grin. I could see he wanted to laugh but he tried hard not to and didn’t. But then his face got worried, and like he was thinking.

“You know”, he said, “I was a lieutenant in World War Two!”

I had heard him talk to his friends about the War, and that he had been a soldier in it, but this was the first time I could remember that he talked to me about it. I knew that real war was not something fun, or something you laughed about. It was what grownups said was “serious”. So I’d never asked him about it, only listened really hard when he did say something about it. And listened when other grownups talked about it too. But now I really wanted to know more so I nodded and looked at him like I was ready to hear his story.

“I was in charge of a platoon of motorized mortars”, he said.

“Mortars?” I decided to ask. What I asked was kind of quiet like I was asking whether it was okay to ask him at the same time I asked him. I wasn’t sure if he’d get mad or sad if I asked him about war stuff.

He pushed his lips together, closed his eyes and nodded, then opened his eyes again but looked over where my toys were and not at me. “They’re like cannons”, he said, “But they shoot way up high in the air”, his finger went up above his head and came back down, “Rather than cannons that shoot more straight.” He moved that same finger from one side of his body to the other without it going up very much.

Even though I had been worried, I could tell that he seemed happy to talk about it, maybe even wanted to talk with me about it. So I figured I could ask more questions.

“What did you shoot at?” I asked

He looked at me for just a second and pushed his lips together. It seemed like he was wondering whether it was okay to tell me this stuff.

“Mostly at German artillery pieces”, he said, “Eighty-eights. That’s what they call cannons nowadays, ‘artillery’.”

I knew eighty-eight was a number with two eights in it, but I didn’t know that it was a kind of cannon or “artillery”. Dad still seemed happy to talk about it so I asked another question to find out more.

“Eighty-eights?” I asked.

His smile turned into more of a frown, but he nodded his head like that was the next question.

“Big German field guns, field ‘artillery’, that shot big eighty-eight millimeter shells”, he said, holding up his thumb and finger, and moving them apart to show me how big. “That could take out one of our tanks with one shot.” He looked over at my toys, and I could see him remembering something.

“During the war”, he said, “When we crossed the border from France into Germany, the German soldiers were dug into their Siegfried Line. They set up their Eighty-eights in bunkers, which are like little forts, in groves of trees on hilltops guarding the road we were trying to advance on. My unit would be sent up to hide behind another hill near those German guns, in range but where they couldn’t see us to shoot at us. I would go up to the top of the hill, hide in the bushes, and try to spot the bunker with the Eighty-eights on the next hill and radio back to my unit how to aim our mortars to try to knock them out. Since mortars shot upward we could fire shells, they’re called shells because they aren’t shaped like balls anymore, over the hill and drop them down on the enemy guns from above. That is if I could spot their guns and give my gunners the correct direction and distance. Their Eighty-eights could only shoot at something they could see, like a cannon. Hopefully they did not see me!”

He finally stopped talking but was still looking off at my toy shelves. I kept thinking about what he had said to me. It was a lot of interesting new stuff to figure out and lots of new words, like “Siegfried Line”, “in range”, “spot” and “bunker”. He seemed to like answering my questions and wanting me to ask more. I wondered if he might even be sad about me if I didn’t want to know. I couldn’t stop thinking about that last thing he said, so I figured I’d keep asking.

“What if they saw you?” I asked.

He pushed his lips together, nodded, and his eyes got really big, as he still looked at my toys.

“Sometimes they’d see me”, he said, “And they’d start shooting at me, and I’d have to run for my life. If I was running at least they knew I couldn’t radio in their location.”

He looked at me, smiled, and said, “Let me show you a picture.”

He went over to his bookshelf and pulled out a big thick book with a dark red cover and sat down in his chair. He opened the book, then touched a couple fingers to the tip of his tongue and used those fingers to turn the pages, as he looked carefully at the pages in between. I went around behind him so I could see the book pages too. They were full of words but lots of pictures too. Not drawings like some of the books he and my mom read me, but pictures that I figured were from a camera because they were black, gray and white and looked like pictures I had seen in newspapers. There was a picture of three smiling soldiers in their helmets and uniforms standing around a large tube pointed up in the air.

“That’s a mortar”, he said, “But ours were set up on the back of halftracks.”

I nodded, but it didn’t look like any cannon I had ever seen in pictures.

He turned a bunch of pages with pictures of things I had seen before, tanks, airplanes, ships, soldiers marching, and people lying on the ground with their eyes closed. Finally there was a picture of a bunch of what looked like trucks but their back wheels looked like tank wheels. His big finger tapped on the picture.

“These are halftracks”, he said, “You drive them in front like a truck with wheels but instead of back wheels they have treads like a tank which help them go over rough ground where a truck would get stuck. They are also armored, like a tank but not as much, so the soldiers have some protection if the enemy shoots at you. The ones in this picture are set up to carry soldiers in the back. The ones in our platoon had mortars mounted on the back and carried the gun crew.”

I looked at the picture carefully and he waited for me to show that I was done. It all seemed interesting but made me worried too about all this “war” stuff, and if dad would tell me I would have to fight in a real war too. I finally nodded without saying anything and he closed the book with a clap noise and I watched him slide it back onto the shelf next to another book that was the same size and color. He looked at all the books on the shelf, smiled and nodded.

“You’re welcome to take any book off the shelf and look at it if you like”, he said “Just put it back when you’re done, okay?”

I nodded again. I would be sure to do that. Look at them and put them back.

“I have to get back to grading papers!” he said, pushing his chair with his feet so it rolled back to his desk. Then he reached behind him with a hand to grab the desk edge and spin him around to face it. I watched him sigh, fill his cheeks with air and blow it out. He took his red pencil in his right hand, and looked down at the papers on his desk.

I went back to the bottom of the stairs where Lieutenant Cord and his men, his “platoon”, slowly made the dangerous climb up the stairs. Finally they reached a stair step where they could see into the hidden cove where the pirate ship was.

Lieutenant Cord was excited. “Boys we’ve found it! There is the ship that is shooting at us. And look, they also have a fort guarding the cove too. Tell Captain Dale and Captain Drake!”

Captain Dale in the goodguy fort told Captain Drake to have all his ships with cannons fire into the cove. I got all the whiffle balls and started to throw them over the stairs into the laundry room. I could hear them bang against the floor, and that different sound when they hit the washing machine or the furnace. When I had finished shooting, I raced back up to Lieutenant Cord and his platoon up on the stairs looking at the cove. The pirate ship didn’t look like it got hit, so Captains Dale and Drake were told the bad news.

After a couple more times of firing cannons back and forth, hitting, and this time sinking one of the goodguy ships, Captain Drake, had a new plan. “We must sail to the secret entrance of the cove, sail in, and destroy the pirate ship”, he said.

“But the fort cannons sir,” Lieutenant Cord said, “They’ll tear our ships apart!”

It didn’t change what Captain Drake was thinking. “We have no choice!” he said.

On my hands and knees I moved the rest of the goodguy ships across the basement floor by the furnace to the “secret” entrance to the laundry room and the pirate cove.

Captain Drake was very brave. “Man your guns boys”, he said, “We’re going in. Give ‘em hell!”. I moved the four remaining good guy ships past the cove entrance and where the pirates in the fort with their cannons, could see them, and were ready for a fight. I made the sounds of lots of cannon shots and explosions, as the battle started. The goodguy ships were hit and got damaged, but the fort was hit too. Captain Black turned his pirate ship guns towards the goodguy ships and joined the fight. Lieutenant Cord and his men watched from up on the stairs.

His men were sad and mad. “What can we do?” they asked.

But he had an idea. “Did you bring the bag of bombs, Joe?” he asked.

“Aye, aye, Lieutenant!” Joe said.

“There is a path along the mountains there that leads to a spot right above the pirate fort” Lieutenant Cord said, “It’s dangerous, but we have to do it so we can drop those bombs on them.”

There was a narrow ledge between the bottom and the top half of the furnace, about three feet up from the floor. From the stairs they made the dangerous climb up to that path and continued from there. As the battle was going on below his platoon made their way to the far corner of the furnace above the pirate fort. Some pirates on the washing machine saw them and started shooting at them. One was hit and fell and was killed.

“Oh my god, we lost Sam!” said Lieutenant Cord.

“Keep going men”, he said, “We still have Joe and the bag of bombs!” He couldn’t worry about who was dead, they had to keep going. The rest of the platoon reached the place on the mountain path just above the pirate fort. I ran into my quarter of the basement and got all the whiffle balls into their box, and very excited, went back into the pirate cove. As the battle kept going below, Lieutenant Cord and his men dropped the bombs on the fort below. The first wiffle ball hit the fort wall. Two Lincoln Log cannons flew apart and most of the pirates shooting them were knocked over, dead or wounded.

The pirates in the fort were suddenly scared. Big John from his house in the middle of the fort yelled at his men to keep firing and not to get scared. But Lieutenant Cord and his men dropped their next two bombs right onto Big John’s house. Logs scattered, and the Big John figure was badly wounded and started to die. The pirate gun crews left their guns and ran to his side. I put all those gray soldiers in a circle around his fallen figure. Big John breathed his last breath and died. The rest of the pirates in the fort surrendered, not being able to figure out what to do about the bombs from above. The goodguy sailors got to the fort and pointed the fort’s guns that weren’t wrecked at Captain Black’s pirate ship out in the cove. He then also decided to surrender.

All the pirates that weren’t dead or wounded were marched onto the goodguy ships and brought back to the goodguy’s fort. One of the parts of the fort was turned into a jail for those pirates. Lieutenant Cord and his platoon were the last to return to the goodguy fort. They were now heroes.

That night at bedtime, dad read the next chapter of Tom Sawyer, Chapter 18. It was the morning after Tom surprised the grownups by coming to his own funeral. All the other kids at school thought he was a hero. Except for Becky, who was mad that he was ignoring her. After Tom left, she got another kid named Alfred to pour ink in Tom’s spelling book. She did that because she wanted Tom to get in trouble. The next day when the teacher found the mess, Tom would be “whipped”. Dad said being “whipped” was like being spanked, but they did it with a stick instead of their hand.

I liked that Tom always figured out what to do and then did it, no matter what. My Lieutenant Cord was like Tom, even though he wasn’t a kid. I also wondered about girls not liking to be “ignored”, which meant you weren’t talking to them when they thought you should be. I wondered if girls were different than boys that way. I thought about Molly. She didn’t seem different like that.

After we finished reading, dad added a new song to the end of his singing. I always liked hearing a new song, and this was a war song…

Over hill, over dale
As we hit the dusty trail
And those caissons go rolling along
In and out, hear them shout
Counter march and right about
And those caissons go rolling along

Then it’s hi! hi! hee!
In the field artillery
Shout out your numbers loud and strong – two, three
For where’er you go
You will always know
That those caissons go rolling along

Dad said that a “caisson” was a wagon that was carried behind a cannon that had the “ammunition” for that cannon, now shells but in the old days cannonballs. It was interesting, because he sang it like a happy song. I guess it sounded happy, because the guys singing it were brave soldiers, like Lieutenant Cord, ready to fight the badguys, even if they might get killed or wounded.

Mom came in after he had wiggled my big toe under the covers and left. She told me that tomorrow was my birthday party, which if it didn’t rain, would be across the street in the park. I remembered about that tricycle up in the attic but didn’t say anything.

“Night night birthday boy!” she said.

Now that I was talking, instead of just nodding I said, “Almost!”

She looked at me and grinned, nodding her head and said the same thing, “Almost!”

She kissed my forehead, looked at me and then left the room. I was still thinking really hard about at least two things. First my dad being a soldier in the war, and second that tricycle up above me in the attic. It was a long time before I finally fell asleep.

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Clubius Incarnate Part 1 – Dubious

My parents when I was three

“So Clubius”, mom said, “Are you excited that it’s almost your birthday? You’ll be THREE YEARS OLD!”

I nodded. I WAS going to be three years old and I WAS excited. But I think they already knew that so I’m not sure why they even asked me. Grownups were always asking kids questions that the grownups already knew the answers to. She, dad and I were sitting at the table in the kitchen eating dinner. It was macaroni and cheese that I liked and that other salad stuff that I was supposed to eat too.

I didn’t like to talk very much, though I knew lots of words that mom and dad said and could say them if I wanted to. I just said “yes” or “no” sometimes if mom or dad asked me something and I wanted to tell them but they weren’t looking at me. Or if I got scared I might say “mom” or “dad” really loud if they didn’t see what was scaring me or figure out I was scared. The rest of the time mom and dad figured out what I wanted.

My friend Molly liked to talk a lot, so I didn’t need to talk very much when we played together, because she always knew what I was thinking, at least most of the time. She lived across the street and she was older than me right now because she was already three. That’s what she said. She also said that when I had my birthday and was three like her, then we’d be the same again. We both liked it when we were the same.

I was excited because I remembered that mom and dad had got me presents on my last birthday, which was a really really long time ago. I got Tinker Toys, soldiers, cars and boats. Those were all “toys”, and they helped me do more pretend stories.

Then this other time called “Christmas”, they put this tree in the house, which was strange, because all the other trees were outside. Then they put little lights all over it that were different colors, and then other shiny stuff they called “ornaments”. All that stuff came out of this big box that dad got from the “attic”, which was this place on top of my bedroom that you had to go up a “ladder” in my closet to get to. Putting all that stuff on the tree was strange too, but dad liked it and mom liked it A LOT. It did look neat when it was nighttime and those little lights were turned on.

But then they said this guy called “Santa Claus” would come on “Christmas” and put presents for me under the tree. That seemed really strange. Mom read me stories about him. He was this big fat guy in a red suit that flew in the sky in a “sleigh” that had these flying “reindeer” animals that pulled it through the sky. She showed me pictures. Then this “Santa Claus” guy would land on the top part of your house and go down the “chimney” with a big bag of toys. He’d take the ones out of the bag that were for you and put them under that special tree inside your house.

It didn’t make any sense that he would come to our house because I had looked around and we didn’t have one of those “chimney” things. We did have that attic on top of my room, so I wondered if he would come down from there, but I didn’t ask about it, I just listened. Then one night mom said tomorrow was Christmas, and while I was sleeping he would come. That made me worried that he would come down into my closet from the attic, but mom was so happy that he was coming that I didn’t say anything. But I kept opening my eyes all night waiting for him to come out of my closet but he never did.

But in the morning mom came into my room and said that he came and left presents for me. I ran out into the living room in my pajamas and there were those present boxes under the tree like in the stories she read. I was so excited to get more presents and I could tear that special paper off to see what they were. I got Lincoln Logs, a baseball glove, and more Tinker Toys.

So now that it was my birthday again and I was hoping I would get more presents. Molly had gotten presents on her birthday. Mom and dad hadn’t said I would get more presents so I was worried. I figured maybe if I talked they would know that I wanted more presents and I would get them. If I didn’t talk, maybe I wouldn’t get any. I wanted more toys so I figured I better talk.

“I want presents for my birthday”, I said. I’m pretty sure I said that the right way.

Mom and dad didn’t think I would talk, so when I did, the two of them looked at each other, tried to keep from laughing, but finally did laugh. I didn’t like it that they were laughing about me. So I decided to ask a question too. I couldn’t remember ever asking a question before but I knew how to do it. You started with one of those special question words.

“Why are you laughing?” I asked.

They both stopped laughing and looked worried. And I could tell they weren’t worried about me but worried they had laughed at me.

Mom looked at dad again and then made a sad look on her face. “Oh my god Jonathan”, she said, “We are so sorry we laughed. We were just so surprised and thrilled that you”, and she stopped to do more thinking before she said, “Spoke your mind”. She looked at dad and he looked at me kind of sad and nodded.

“Jonathan” was that name that they sometimes called me when they were really worried or really mad at me. They said that was my “real” name. Other times they mostly called me other names like “Clubius”, “Cloob”, “Zuper” or “Sweetie”, though they called my friend Molly “Sweetie” too sometimes. Other grownups mostly called me “Jonathan”, except for Molly who called by “Coob”.

I nodded, but I was thinking that they never laughed at me when I didn’t talk. It seemed like grownups didn’t tell you what they were really thinking, not even mom and dad. They did a lot of things and said a lot of things that didn’t make sense. They were so big and mostly looked down at me and looked worried a lot. They would throw a ball with me, even throw it so I could try to hit it with my bat, or take me over to the park and sit and read while I played. But a lot of the time I did not understand what they were up to or why. Like mom, who seemed to do lots of things she didn’t want to do.

Dad made more sense, though he seemed to feel one way and pretend that he felt another way. He liked to read and write and sat down in his “office” in the basement with his shelves of books and read them, and wrote things on his typewriter. He liked eating donuts, sweet rolls, and ice cream, as much or even more so than I did. He wanted the Michigan football team or the Tigers baseball team to win, and was mad when they lost. I could tell other things made him sad and worried, but he didn’t say what they were and I couldn’t figure it out.

The other people like me, kids, were different. If they wanted stuff or liked stuff or didn’t like stuff, they told you, at least they told other kids.

After dinner, dad put water in the bathtub for me. All five of my plastic ships and some of my plastic soldiers, green Americans and gray Germans, were in the plastic “bin” thing so I could play with them. Also a little “wiffle” ball. I remembered stuff from that Treasure Island story dad had read me, but I wanted to change it all around to make my own story.

I got in the tub and sat in the middle so the back part of the tub was on my left and the front part was on my right. I put my toy ship that looked like that one from the pictures in the Treasure Island book in the back part of the tub. That was the “pirate ship”, and it was in the “secret cove”. I put the other four ships in the front part of the tub. They were the “goodguy ships”. My body was the mountain island between the secret cove and where the goodguy ships were. I brought my knees up so there was no way for the ships to go between the front part and the back part, and they couldn’t see the other part either because of the mountain.

I put some of the gray soldiers on the top part of the tub in the back. They would be the pirates who were on the shore of the secret cove finding a place to make a base so they could live there. Some of those pirates could see on the other side of the mountain island in the middle, that is me, and see the good guy ships.

“Uh oh”, said one of the pirates, “The goodguy ships are trying to get us!” He jumped in the water and swam over to the pirate ship to tell the captain.

“Good”, said the pirate captain, “We know where they are and they don’t know where we are so we can shoot at them with our cannon!”

“Okay captain”, said the other ship guys, and they started firing the cannon over the mountain at the goodguy ships. I took the wiffle ball in my left hand and threw it up in the air towards the front part of the tub. It landed in the water there but didn’t hit any of the goodguy ships.

“Oh my god”, said the sailors on all the goodguy ships, “Someone is shooting at us!” There was more talking back and forth between the sailors on the ships and they told all their captains.

“Hmm”, said the captains of those ships, “It must be that pirate ship. It’s here somewhere hiding and trying to get us. We have to figure out what to do!”

I took the wiffle ball in my left hand again and threw it way up above the front part of the tub. It bounced against the wall and came down and hit the blue and white goodguy ship. I made an exploding noise.

“One of our ships is hit!” said one of the sailors on the main green and yellow goodguy ship.

“Which one?” asked the main captain.

“The blue ship”, said the sailor, “Five sailors are dead and three are wounded!”

“Take those wounded guys to the shore so the doctor can take care of them!” said the main captain.

“What about the dead guys?” asked the captain of the blue ship.

“Don’t worry about them”, said the main captain, “They’re dead. We have to figure out how to get that pirate ship!”

I took three of the green soldiers from the bin and laid them down on the edge of the front part of the tub. I took another green soldier that wasn’t holding a gun and had his hands on his sides and put him standing up looking at the wounded men lying down. He was the doctor. He looked at each wounded sailor and had to figure out how to fix them.

I did another shot from the pirate ship cannon. It splashed in the water near the main green and yellow ship. Two sailors on that ship got wounded, but they were only wounded a little bit.

“I have a plan!” said one of the young sailors on the main green and yellow ship, “We need to take some guys and try to go along the shore around the mountain and try to see where the pirate ship is so we can get it before it gets all of our ships.”

As the pirate ship kept shooting its cannon at the goodguy ships, the brave young sailor was in charge of other sailors that went on shore to try and get around the mountain island in the middle. I put five green soldiers in a row on the side edge of the tub. The young sailor leading them was a soldier with a pistol in one hand and pointing ahead with the other. It would be very dangerous, but the only other choice was to let the rest of the four ships get all wrecked too. If a team of brave sailors could make their way to the cove they could see the pirate ship and maybe figure out a plan to attack it. Cannonballs from the pirate ship kept coming down from the sky.

Dad peeked in the bathroom door to check on me. He saw the boats and the soldiers on the edge of the tub. He saw me worried, looking at the soldiers on the side edge of the tub.

“Five more minutes”, he said. It was kind of like he was just saying it but also kind of like a question. I nodded without looking at him, too busy thinking about the next thing in my story. He went away.

The team of sailors started on their dangerous “mission” to try to get around the mountain to figure out where the pirate ship was. They had to walk one behind the other along a narrow path with a steep cliff on either side. As I slowly moved five green soldiers along the top rim of the tub towards the back, one slid off and fell to the floor outside the tub.

“Oh my god”, said the young sailor in charge, “He has fallen and is probably dead or dying, but there is nothing we can do for him now! We must continue or all is lost!”

Finally the rest of the four sailors made it around my body to the back part of the tub. They finally saw the pirate ship in the secret cove.

“There it is!” said the young sailor in charge, but the pirates on the shore in the back part of the tub saw him and the other sailors and started shooting at them. The young sailor in charge got shot in the arm.

“I’m hit!”, he said.

“Oh no!”, said the second sailor behind him, “Now what do we do?”

“I’ll make it”, said the young wounded sailor, “Everybody get down so they can’t shoot us very well, and we can still shoot them!” I laid all the sailors down. Another one slid off the edge of the tub.

“Oh no”, said the second sailor, “Not another guy!” Now the team of five sailors was only three.

The goodguy sailors shot at the pirates on the back edge of tub and got one who fell into the water.

“One less pirate to worry about”, said the young sailor, even though he was shot in the arm. He told the other sailor on his team to go back to the goodguy ships and tell them where the pirate ship was so they could shoot at it.

Dad peeked in the bathroom door again. “Hey Cloob, I have to grade some papers so if you want me to read you a story you need to wash yourself including your hair and get out!”

I thought about where I was in my story. From the books dad had read me, I knew that the long stories were in “chapters”. I would remember where everything was when this chapter of my story ended and start the next chapter tomorrow night.

“Okay”, I said, “I’ll wash up and get out!”

Dad grinned, I could tell he liked hearing me talk and then asked, “Do you need help washing your hair?”

I shook my head really hard and said, “No!” Mom or dad used to wash me, but I didn’t want them to anymore, because that made me feel like a little kid. I wanted to be more like a big kid so I wanted to do it by myself.

I cupped water in my hands and poured it over my head like dad had shown me. Then rubbed the soap bar in my hair until it got bubbly and slippery on my head. Again cupping water in my hands, I dumped handfuls of it on my head. All the boats quivered in the water. I imagined it was nighttime in my story, and all the boats were shaken by the waves. The goodguy boat that had got hit by the pirate cannonball sank. Luckily all the sailors but one were able to escape and not get drowned. I now took the soap and rubbed it all over my body including the parts of me that were under the water. Now all rinsed off I picked up each toy ship, looked at it closely and put it back in the bin just outside the tub. I put all the green and gray soldiers back in the bin. I got up in the tub and used my foot to flip the drain lever open. Dad did it with his hand, but I liked doing it with my foot pretending it was another hand. The water started to glug glug out of the tub. I got out of the tub and stood on that special towel that was always on the bathroom floor, and I rubbed myself with the other towel dad had left for me and then walked naked back into my room. I looked behind me and there were wet spots on the wood floor where my feet had been. Finally, I put on my pajamas and got into bed under my covers.

“I’m ready!” I called out. I was getting used to this talking thing.

Dad came into my room grinning, holding a book in his right hand.

“So the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, chapter 17?”

I nodded but also said, “Yes!”

He sat in the rocking chair across from my bed and started to read. In the chapter he read yesterday, Tom and Huck had gone to Jackson Island and everyone thought they had drowned in the river. In this chapter everyone in town was sad thinking that they were both dead and got ready for their “funeral”, whatever that was, that you did when people were dead I guess. But Tom and Huck had snuck back into town and were hiding and surprised everybody by showing up in the middle of their own funeral! I had liked the story so far, and I liked this part because I liked surprising people, like I did today when I talked to mom and dad. It was neat to surprise people.

Dad finished the chapter, closed the book, looked at the cover thinking, and put it on his lap. He was wearing just a white t-shirt and shorts.

“So what shall we sing?” He asked. I thought I would surprise him.

I said, “Everything!” and he laughed! Then he was thinking for a minute and looked worried. Then looked at me and said, “I’m not laughing at you. You just said something funny.”

“I did?” I asked, and he nodded. I HAD said something that was a surprise, and I guess because it was a surprise, it was “funny” too.

One of my favorite things was to listen to dad sing. It wasn’t just the words in the song, but hearing him sing, and all the things he did around singing that I liked. He looked up at the ceiling thinking, trying to figure out what to sing first. Then he nodded and smiled, when he figured it out. He raised his head again, opened his mouth, took a deep breath and sang. His voice wobbled a little but sounded good. He loved the “college” songs about being good to your “school” and its “team” and not liking the other school and their team. But he also liked sillier songs about being in college. He started out with one of my favorites, “I Want to Go Back to Michigan”…

I want to go back to Michigan
To dear Ann Arbor town
Back to Joe’s and the Orient
And back to some of the money I spent

I want to go back to Michigan
To dear Ann Arbor town
I want to go back
I got to go back
To Mi-chi-gan

Mother and father pay all the bills
And we have all the fun
In the friendly rivalry of college life (hooray)
But we have to think of a hell of a lot
To tell what we have done
With the coin we blew in dear old Michigan

I liked that the guy in the song story seemed more like me, like a kid, maybe an older kid, who was able to trick his mom and dad.

He sang two more college songs, including the regular words and then the silly words of the “Indiana” song. Indiana was another school team that the Michigan school didn’t like I guess, so when the guys that liked Michigan sang it, they sang it with silly words.

The regular words were…

Indiana, oh Indiana
Indiana, we’re all for you…

At the altar, you never falter
From the battle, you’re tried and true

The silly words were…

Indiana, oh Indiana
Indiana, the hell with you…

At the altar, you always falter
From the battle, you’re black and blue

I liked the way just a couple of the regular words were changed to change what you were singing about. As he sang the silly words he would wink at me and I got the idea that you said bad things about them just to “tease” them, but you didn’t really not like them.

After singing the three songs (I counted them) dad said, “Just one more!”

I knew what I wanted to hear.

“Don’t fence me in”, I said, before he could start singing anything else.

He nodded, but I could see him thinking about something else and not the song. He finally started singing it and I got to hear the feelings of wishing for something he didn’t have in the way he sang…

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
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

That song made sense. The guy singing didn’t want anything to stop him from having an adventure. I wondered if that guy was a grownup or an older kid. There was no wink from my dad like with the Indiana song. This wasn’t a silly song, at least to dad.

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
Gaze at the moon ‘til I lose my senses
Don’t like hobbles and I can’t stand fences
Don’t fence me in

The last thing he did every night, after reading and singing, was the saying goodnight stuff. He would get up from the rocking chair, come over to the end of my bed by the door, feel around to find one of my big toes under the covers and wiggle it, and say, “Sweet dreams kiddo!” Sometimes I would play a little game with him and move my feet around so it was hard for him to find one of my big toes, but tonight I didn’t make it hard.

After he left mom came in.

She looked at me with her big eyes and shook her head and made a pretend sad face. “I wish I could sing like your dad!”

She came around to where my head was and kissed me on the cheek.

“Night night sweet Zuper!”

Instead of nodding I said, “Night night mom.” I could tell she liked it more when I talked instead of just nodding, when I said her name.

She looked at me and grinned, touched my cheek again with her fingers and left the room. I knew they were both happy that I had decided to talk. I wondered if that would help me be more like a big kid.

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