The Road Home

        We were heading north across the Sacramento River Delta up into the flat lands of northern California, having just come through the evening rush hour traffic in downtown Sacramento.  It was 104 degrees outside, the sun was going down, and we were slipping by the lush fields at a cool 78 mph.  It had been a long day, starting out in Newport Beach at 9 a.m., sitting in Los Angeles traffic for a few hours, and then breaking out to rise up over the sacred Grape vine, with all of its stories, and then steeply down into a different kind of country entirely.  Now the day was closing and we rose up over the river again, and then along a viaduct over bottom land, alive and thick with green crops, and made the slow curve north, riding along I5 like it was a cushion of air, going towards Oregon, our home.   I was playing radio bingo, hopping around the channels looking for songs, and then I heard the first refrain of “Bye Bye Miss American Pie”.

            I turned it up loud and my husband and I sang along to the music at the top of our voices as we flew through the dusky American heartland. The fields rushing by us were vast and fertile, the day was gentling down to a rosy amber sky, and I felt a connection then, with all those other  road-trippers:  in their jalopies, in their old wagons, in their rusty cars, in their red convertibles, in their safe tank-like SUV’s.  We were all just traveling through the world, just for now un-tethered to houses, yards, routines, schedules.  We were rolling along, on the way to somewhere else.  And for just a moment the world was young again.  It was more than just the beauty of the place, I think, more than the music.  It was the freedom of knowing we were just passing through, and that this exact moment was perfect.  Whatever came next was not here yet.  Whatever had gone before was behind us.

            As we sat on the deck later, having our Cadillac Margarita’s and tostadas, the memory hung on in my mind.  Not all road trips are magical of course, but sometimes, when everything is just right, you can catch a hold of that sense of freedom and hope that usually only belongs to the young.  Miss American Pie is out there somewhere, cruising along in her old red convertible, I can almost see her.  It is even possible that this time, when she gets there, the levee will be full.  To the very brim.

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The Sea

                The sea came to her sometimes in dreams.  She had never known the sea, so at first the dreams were full of fear.  She had been grown up in the full flat surety of Kansas, the only seas those of endless fields of tall green corn, whispering forever forward.  Now she lived surrounded by ancient deserts, where each person was aware of the presence of water at all times:  bottled, pooled, splashed, a precious liquid that no one could hold, no one could really be sure of.

            In her dream the water flowed around her in great soft tides, warm and comforting, bathing her every crevice and hidden fold.  And she was not afraid, but knew she belonged there, laying face down on the velvet beach, waiting to welcome the sea’s wetness, its tender suffusion, its nourishing touch.

            Waking in the cool pool of sheets, gathered around her in heaps of silken ripples, she knew only her aloneness, her bed a mute soft friend, still and so distant from that warm shore she remembered.

            But the day would pass away, and in the shadows of the starlit hours, she would hold her book and wait:  wait to close the light over the page, wait until she could slip again into the depths, wait until the sea would come to her once more and she would join in its embrace, floating into its deepness, tenderly waiting for it to shimmer within her.

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Avis Vobiscum

          Tom recognized it immediately.  He looked away, into one of the shop windows he was just passing, thinking that he was imagining things again.  But when he sneaked a quick peek upwards, it was still there.  Round and black, a bundle of feathers, with large golden eyes looking down at him.  He had seen that bird before. 

            He had to find out what kind of bird it was. 

            It was early, only 9:00ish, and the shops were just beginning to open, but seeing a door standing ajar, he ducked in and found an oldish woman in the back, sweeping with one of those picturesque handmade bundled brooms. 

            “Please, help me.  Bird.  What is name of bird?”

             The woman looked up at him, with an expression of someone looking at a stupid child, and Tom realized that he really should not have expected her, here on this small Greek island, to understand English.   He started to turn, but was stopped by her words.

            “You’ll have to speak in complete sentences, young man, if you expect any help.  Now, what bird are you speaking of?”  Her accent was clearly British of some sort.  Welsh?  Scottish? He had no idea.

            “The one outside, sitting on the ledge above the street.  I have seen one before and I want to know what it is.”  He walked as he talked, and she followed behind him.

            “Where?”

            “There – see it?  Right on top of that ledge.  He is huge, and black, and he’s looking down at us.”

            “Sorry dearie, I don’t see any bird.  My eyesight is usually pretty good, too.  I’d say you were imagining things again.”

            “Did you say ‘again’?”

            “Say what?”
            “Again.  Did you say again?”

            “I don’t think so.  No.  Sorry I couldn’t help.  I have to get back to me shop, now.  The cruise ship is due to land in an hour and it will be a flood of tourists in here.  Have to get my specials all displayed.”

            The end of her sentence trailed out from the recesses of her shop, and Tom, stopped in the open doorway, looked up at the bird, which hadn’t moved from it’s perch.

            Shortly a couple came along from behind him, the retired type, he wearing cargo shorts and fanny pack, and she with her white tennis shoes and foldable canvas sunhat. 

            “Excuse me please.  Can you help me?”

            “Yes,” the man answered, but with some kind of a heavy accent.

            “Do you see that bird up there?”  Tom pointed to the bird, who seemed to shuffle its position as if to get a better look at the retired couple.

            “Da?”

            “Yes, up there.  That bird.  Do you see it?”

            The man turned to his wife and said “Weißt du, was er redet?”

            “Ich habe keine Ahnung,” she answered, while looking at Tom, not her husband.

            “Sorry,” the man said, taking the arm of his wife and walking her down the market alley.

            Tom looked up and noticed that the bird seemed to have edged closer to him along the ledge.

            Well, the cruise ship would be in port in a hour, according to the shop mistress, so he would just stay in position, and wait.   He moved a few feet away from the shop entrance, put down his backpack, un-velcro-ed his water bottle, and leaning against the whitewashed surface of the ancient wall, taking a sip as he watched the bird.  The bird didn’t move.  It was already getting hot, even in the cool shade of the walled street.  Tom realized that he could take a photo of the bird, since it was sitting so still, and pulled up his iPhone, centering the black bundled shape and clicking one, then two, then turning the position and clicking a third shot.

            Just then an very tall, very thin, middle aged man came striding towards him, wearing a safari hat and khaki shorts, looking as though he had stepped right out of British India.  He stopped beside Tom and said

            “Good day there, sir.  I see you are catching the way the light effects the angles of stone in these lovely old walled streets.  Jolly good.   It is a subject that is sadly not as appreciated as it should be.  So keep up the good work!”

            “I am taking a photo of the bird.”

            “The bird? Which bird is that, sir?”

            “The big black one, there, sitting on the ledge, looking down at us.  There, see, he just moved a little.”

            The man stood looking up at the ledge for a moment, watching, and then turned to pat Tom on the shoulder.

            “Well, chap, I don’t see any bird, but carry on.  I am sure you will find one.”

            The angular man’s knees seemed to jump up ahead of him as he strode away up the slight slope of the stone street.

            Tom checked his iPhone to see if he got enough detail in his shots to look up the bird at the Audubon website.  But all three shots showed only the ledge.  How odd.  He must have aimed the camera lens wrong.   So he pulled his up phone and took some more photos.  He took ten, in fact, moving into several different positions in the alleyway so as to capture different angles of the big black feathered bundle.  

            When he checked his phone, none of the photos showed a bird.  Just ledges.

            Enough of this crap, Tom decided.  He loaded up his backpack and walked down towards the little cafe area near the wharf.   He ordered a cup of coffee and sat down at a small table to sip it and watch the little fishing boats come and go in the harbor.  He was on a tour of the Greek Islands in a small boat, only twelve passengers total, and they were not leaving until 3:30, so he had the whole day to roam around the little island.

            He tried not to think about the bird.  There must be some reason it did not show up in the camera.  And inner voice said, “Yea, and that might be the same reason that no one else has seen it, dummy.  It’s not real.  Not a real bird.  You are imagining things again.”

            Tom hated it when his inner voice talked to him.  He hated that he could almost hear it in his head.  But he knew he wasn’t imaging things.  Again or otherwise.  He had seen that bird, before, and now. 

            He would finish his coffee and the climb the steps to the old monastery, and go through their museum.  He had promised to meet a few of his shipmates for lunch at 1:00 so he had enough time to read all the labels in the museum, which he loved to do, without being rushed. 

            At noon, Tom exited the cool of the old monastery into the heat of the bright sun, and quickly grabbed his hat.  It was only May, but it was very hot.  The tour guide on the ship had said it was unseasonably warm for May in Greece, but he wondered if he was trying to hide the fact that it was hotter here than it used to be.  He had also mentioned that that fifty years ago all the window boxes in the Greek islands had tomatoes growing in them, but there had not been enough water to grow them for many years now.

            As he descended the old stone steps, heading down into the cool walls of the lower town, he saw the bird again.  It had moved.  It was now on a new ledge, a different ledge, a much higher ledge.  And it was standing up.  He would have to walk beneath it, and as he moved down the stairs, he saw that the bird was looking at him.  Then, to his amazement, the bird spread his wings.  They were enormous!   Tom stopped to watch as the bird rose into the sky, and circled around as if to get its bearings, and then turned toward him.  It was going to dive!  Tom realized with a sick feeling that it was actually coming at him out of the hot noonday sky and it was coming fast.  Tom looked down at the uneven steps and began to hop down them, one then another. They were not the kind of stairs you could run down, because not only were they steep, and uneven, but some were considerably shorter than others.  He went as fast as he could, but just as he thought he might have escaped the diving bird, something hit him, and it hit him hard.

                             ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            He woke up in a hard bed on top of white sheets, near an open window over-looking the little harbor.  The room was cool, in spite of being able to feel the warm air floating in the widow.  All the walls were covered with pale green tile.  The floors were stone.  It looked like it had been freshly washed.  Out the window he could see that the shadows were long, and that it must be late afternoon.  The cruise passengers must have come and gone, for the public areas were sparse of people again, with only the odd tourist couple mixing in with the locals.

            When he tried to roll off the bed and sit up he realized he was wearing a cast on his lower left leg.  And he realized that it hurt.  And so did his head.

            The doctor explained, with the help of a young boy aide who spoke English, that he had had heat stroke and taken a bad fall on the stairs.  They had set the bone but Tom had to stay off of it for at least a week, and then use crutches.  He asked Tom if he would like to use his phone to call his party – were they on a boat, or somewhere on the island?  Tom tried a couple of different numbers, but no one answered. When he found out it was 5:30, he realized that they were already quite a ways out in the Aegean and did not have cell service.

            It was complicated, and also very simple.  He had to stay on the island, and then when he felt better, take the ferry back to Athens, and fly home.  So his vacation was ruined, but on the other hand he had a week of lazy days in the glorious Greek sun.  The ferry ride was fascinating, and he enjoyed it much more than the little exclusive sailing ship he had started out on.

            He was at home in his backyard in Aloha Oregon, sitting on the chaise lounge on his deck, reading a book,  three weeks later, when he found out about the sickness.   The tour company called him. Ten people, passengers and crew, had become seriously ill on the trip to the next island, and two had subsequently died.  The others were still recovering slowly.  The tour company was offering a lump sum compensation to each of the passengers.  They would be sending him a check and a release form.   They would appreciate it if he would have the release from witnessed and notarized, and send it back immediately in the overnight delivery envelope that would be provided. 

            For some odd reason, at exactly that moment, Tom looked up in the trees in his yard to see if he could see a large black bird.  But it was not there.  There was a Nuthatch, a Junco, and a Blue Jay, but other than that, the trees were empty.

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A Bird in the Hand

He stopped at the tiny landing near the top of the staircase.   There was a mullioned stained glass window in the wall, just as the stairs turned left for their final three steps.  He opened it and gazed down, past the dark square beams, to the large living room below.   The size of the room seemed even bigger from up here. The room looked OK.  He had worked through his hangover to pick up all the remnants of the party, and now the place was almost normal.  He had had to move a chair leg over a cigarette burn in the rug, but they wouldn’t figure that out until he was long gone, back in school.   

            He congratulated himself.  He was feeling pretty good, finally, with the headache retreating to behind his eyes.  Time to have one beer, and then hit the road before the parents showed up from the airport.  Pulling the windows towards him he wished someone would clean the thick layer of dust off those rafters.  He stopped.  Was that a bird?

            At first he thought it could have been some kind of a trash – a bundled up black garbage bag? – that someone had thrown up there the night before. But then it moved.   It was clearly a bundle of feathers, a bundle of bird, seemingly sleeping on the rafter.  Tom didn’t know much about birds but this was a big one.  Much bigger than a crow.  And very black and shiny.

            He knew he had get it out of there.  He was supposed to have just checked on the house while they were traveling:  not left any windows open; or patio doors; or had a party for fifty of his friends, of course.  So how would a very large bird have gotten in? 

            And would it shit all over the furniture if he just left it there and drove away?  That’ed be the ticket, alright.  They would kill him for that.

            How was he going to do this?  There were brooms on the back porch but to get to it he had to pass through the wide front hall which was open to the living room.  Would he wake up the bird?  Had the damn thing been sleeping up there the whole time he had been cleaning up after the party?  Or had it hid somewhere else in the house and moved while he showered.  The wrought iron railing feel cool and secure as he tiptoed down the eighteen stairs to the main level.  Did the bird feel cool and secure on the rafter?  You would have to hear it to think to look up for it.  It could stay up there for a long time before it was noticed.

            But he heard no sound as he tiptoed to the back porch.  Was the bird still asleep?

            Then he remembered the pool skimmer.  The handle was too long for him to get it in the back door, so he disconnected the net attachment and took the thing inside in parts.  Then he reassembled it in the dining room, on the floor, slowly and quietly.  He would lift it and walk down the two steps to the front hall, then two steps to the living room, and then swing the skimmer up and net the bird.  Tom figured he could do it in five to ten seconds.  He stood by the skimmer on the floor of the dim dining room and practiced in his mind.   Then again. 

            But wait.  Maybe he could get the bird to go outside.

            Plan B.  Tom took tiptoed around to the den, then down to the patio, and tried to open the double glass doors into the living room.  They were still unlocked.  He went back and got the skimmer, and quietly moved it to the patio, and slowly, oh so slowly, he pulled one door, then the other door, open to the bricked outdoor room.  He looked up.  He could see the bird’s eyes, watching him.  It looked even bigger now that it was awake.   He eased the pole into position, over the end table and lamp, around the old Steinway square piano, and raised it up with the net now just above the bird’s level.  The bird was sitting quietly, watching this.

            Showtime!  Tom jumped forward, and brought the net down on the bird.  There was a huge thud sound as the pool skimmer pole hit the rafter.  Dust exploded into the air and then spread out as it flooded down into the room.  But the net was empty.  There was no bird.   Oh wait, it had moved sideways six feet. 

            They stared at each other, blue bloodshot eyes and golden sparkling ones, for a full minute.  Then Tom, began to move slowly under the rafter, to try again.   As he lifted his pole the bird suddenly launched from its perch, spread wings that seemed to be six feet across, flew over Tom, down the living room, circled over the piano and the crystal lamp sitting on top of it, and sailed back over Tom, away from the doors to the outside, over the two steps up to the front hall, ducked left at the coat closet, and disappeared up the stairwell.  He had not only not gone outside, he gone farther into the house.

            This might be tricky, Tom thought.   Did birds like this claw at people’s faces, he wondered?

            Gathering his courage, Tom stood at the bottom of the stairwell and looked up.  Then he went up a few steps.  No bird.  Not on the wrought iron railing; not on the chandelier.    

            What would a large bird-of-prey be attracted to?  Maybe something in the refrigerator.

            But now, aha!, there was a sound coming from the den.   A little sound, like a soft scrabbling.   Tom tiptoed down the hallway  and peaked around the corner.  There were two built-in bookcases on either side of a large picture window overlooking the pool.  The shelves had stacks of books jumbled on top  of them, and one of those stacks was moving a little.  In the shadowed corner of the completely paneled room,  it appeared as if there was a huge old dictionary shifting in and out of shape.

            The room was too low to use the skimmer, so he got the broom.  Pulling the door behind him so the bird could not get back out into the hall and stairwell, he looked into the bird’s eyes.  Back off, bird, he thought.  I have enough problems without you.  Time for us to go our different ways.

            The bird, seeing Tom with his broom, rose up from its crouched position, gathering its largeness.  It’s head almost touched the ceiling above the bookcase, as first a book, then another, fell off and hit the floor.   Tom walked to the right around the round coffee table in the middle of the room and looking into the birds fierce eyes, feeling brave in spite of his fear.  He shoved the broom forward.  But the bird was already hopping – hopping! – over him to land on the circular coffee table behind him.  As he turned the bird hopped again, this time to the leather couch.   This was a very weird bird.  Since when do birds hop around rooms?

            It moved from the couch to the red leather chair, and then to the stool beside the antique spinning wheel, with Tom right behind.   Tom had grabbed the afghan and was planning to throw it over the bird to capture it. 

            Then the bird stopped.  It was standing on the floor in front of a section of paneled wall, just looking at Tom.  This is one dumb bird, said Tom, as he lifted the afghan to throw it.  Just then the bird rose up, flew across the room, and then flew back to the same section of wall and hit it head on. It fell the floor, with a muffled thump, a little bit of blood coming out of its beak. 

            Tom stood and waited to see if the bird would move in a minute.  As he stood there he saw the crack in the paneling.  It took him a minute to realized that it was a door that had been unlatched by the impact.   The bird still lay there motionless.  Tom lay the afghan down beside it, and carefully rolled the heavy body over onto it.   As he did this the bird whimpered, and then the paneled door swung open.  As the bird began to stir on the floor beside him, Tom could see that there were stairs leading down into the darkness from the open low paneled door.   He had grown up in this house, and had never known about this door.  Who did know? 

            Just then, far away in the bowels of the old house, he heard the garage door opener activate.  The parents were home.

            He pushed the paneled door closed.  Closed it was completely hidden.  You would never suspect it was there.

            He reached down to pick up the bird, but it wasn’t there.  He looked over at the bookcase, but it wasn’t there, either.  Then all around the room.  No bird anywhere.  

            Tom picked up the afghan, and ran into the kitchen and quickly shoved the skimmer out the through the back door.  He ran to the living room to shut the doors to the patio. 

            When his father walked out the back door Tom was standing on the patio, holding a hose, watering a potted planter.  A dutiful son.

            There were a few sparrows in the hedge, a hummingbird hovering over the quince, a woodpecker on the neighbor’s fence, and a murder of crows in the treetops down the street.  But there was no sign of a very large, very black, bird.

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Little George Series, No. 7: Uncle Charlie

            Uncle Charlie didn’t take to that little kid like his wife Leaitis did.  He seen Little George sneak those biscuits and that ham and he seen him do another thing or two that weren’t so ‘sweet’.  Leaitis thought he was just a nice little boy who missed his Momma.  Uncle Charlie thought Little George might just like having no mother around and everyone to feel sorry for him.  Oh no, he waren’t a rascal nor anything that was so easy to catch.  That boy, he was always ahead of the game.  Uncle Charlie saw him watching him, too, and he knew that Little George knew about his stash of liquor.   But he hadn’t told Leaitis about it.  Which be more worrying than if he had a done.  Never could tell when that boy going to just up and blab out something that would get him in big trouble with the Missus.   Uncle Charlie sure did like to see that boy go off inta that there swamp.  Maybe a big ol’ gator’ed get em, and then he would be shut of him. 

            Course Leaitis would cry and fuss and probably blame him.  Darn that sister-in-law of his for getting left by the no-good husband of hers.  Uncle Charlie had kind of liked the man, afore he up and disappeared.  Who knows about these things, anyway?  Who knows if Little George isn’t going to grow up just like his Daddy.  

            Little George is a cagy sort of boy.  The sort of boy who il’ stand back, quiet like, and wait to see what the big folks was talkin’ before he say a word.  Always a calculatin’.  And then he would open up them big blue eyes and smile and be so sweet he would charm the ladies.  They would want to hug the little fellow and give him a sandwich, or some cake.  Uncle Charlie’d watch him and see that Little George would catch his eye, for just a second, and it was a sure thing that chile was acting his theater part, like some traveling salesman, selling that snake oil.   But the ladies never did catch on to his shenanigans.   He was just like that, a snake oil salesman, Uncle Charlie thought, on account of he always got them ladies to fawn over him.

            Durn kid was too smart for his own britches, too.  Always coming up with some fancy answer or big question about something. 

            Well, we would just see how smart he was.  Playing down in the swamp with all them snakes and gators and his little black friend Dime, it weren’t likely he would outwit those critters for long.  Maybe for a while, do tell, but not for ever.   

            Uncle Charlie slipped his bottle back down behind the work bench and pushed the leaning  shed door to closed.  Some day he was going to get around to cleaning up that rusty lock, but for now, this’ed be just fine.   Where was that boy this morning?  He thought he would rock a bit on the back porch and see if he could spy him coming around.  It was a mighty fine morning for porch rocking.

           

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Little George Series, No. 6: Grampa Jones

Lord have mercy, I cain’t believe it.  Poor chile had to walk home in that terrible storm.  I feel so sorry for him.

            Ain’t real sorry for Daddy, however, being as he been living the life of a drunken coot since Momma gone an’ died.  Still and all, it is a sadness, with him alone in that cabin and Little George just staying there with him for a few days.  Poor Daddy.  And poor Little George.  If’n he hadn’t had the new pony it would of been Little Jimmie there instead of George.  Jimmie almost a man, now, but Little George, he still such of a tender age.  

            I got to find him and settle him down now.  Maybe Pastor can have a talk with him and help him with the troubles.  Boy has had so many troubles, with his Momma and all, and his Daddy running off and leaving them so poor.  Please have some mercy, Lord.  How much you ‘spect one little boy to take?

            Reading his note just breaks my heart.  I’m going to give him a quarter for writin’ out such a good letter.  I wish I could give him more.

 Der Aunt Leaitis:

          Sorry that I missed you.  Elmer in the barn said you had gone to see Pastor Jones but I had to sleep so I am leavin’ this here note.

          Grampa died last night in his sleep.  I came right to tell you, like I promised I would, but I had a lot of trouble.  There was a giant storm, which I ‘spect you already know,  and my pony Belle was so scared I almost had to drag her instead of ride her.  That 9 miles took a couple’ a hours at least, which is why I didn’t get here before you left.  The creek got so filled up with storm water that the footbridge was covered over and even tho’ the lightening had mostly passed, Belle was afraid to cross the bridge.  The water was half way up her legs. I knew my way real good, like you know I do, so after a little while me made out OK.

          Grampa was awful quiet these last couple ‘a days. I would dip him some fresh water and put it up to his lips with a big spoon but a while ago he stopped wantin’ to take a drink.  When the thunder woke me up I saw he was staring out at the rafters and that is when I saw that he weren’t breathing a’ tall.  Cousin Jimmy is supposed to come in a few days and I was going to stay, but I figured I should come tell you right away.

          I covered Grampa up mostly with the afghan Gramma made for him and put an old quilt over his legs, too.  I left his beard out over the afghan like he always did when he was sleeping and his head is on the middle of a real good pillow.

          After me and Belle started I run back because maybe I was wrong about it all, but when I saw him laying there I knew I wasn’t. 

          The front door is barred from the inside like you said, so go around to the back through the screen porch.  I took the Winchester with me ’cause of snakes but I am leaving it with Elmer to give you.

          I’m  plum tired now and gotta get me some sleep.  After Belle has some hay I’ll put her in the pasture, like I promised, and go on up to the attic so as not to bother anyone. 

          I am sorry this is in pencil, but I still cain’t write so good with a pen.

                 Your nephew, George

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Little George Series, No. 5: Aunt B

            He ain’t never been on a train.  It’ll be an a’venture.  Aunt Leaitis says he’s goin’ to like it lots.

            He’s goin’ take a train to meet his Momma.  Aunt Leaitis ‘ll take him to the station, and he will get off in Edison. Aunt B’s gonna meet him and take him to her house.  Her and Uncle Joel’s house.  Little George went there once, a long time ago, with his Momma.  But that was when he was just a little kid.

            Aunt B and Uncle Joel are giants.  Aunt B is a whole lot taller than any woman he has ever laid eyes on.  And Uncle Joel is even taller.  And he’s big, too.  Too bad he’s so mean.  Little George heard him from the bedroom yelling at his Momma, telling her she was a bad woman.   Little George didn’t like to hear that at all.  He doesn’t feel too good about seeing Uncle Joel, but he surely does want to see his Momma. 

            Uncle Joel has a fake leg.  It’s got metal strips around it and leather on the top.  Little George had seen it once when he peaked into their the bedroom when Aunt B and Uncle Joel was sleepin’.  His Momma was sleeping away it that guest bedroom up front and he couldn’t sleep no more, so he figured he’d do a little scouting around.  He scouted him up the door to the back stairs, which went down to the cellar.  Weren’t nothin’ exciting down there.  Then he scouted him up the cabinet in back of the closet where they had all them guns.  Took him a long time to get that lock open, but he put it back.  Didn’t take a gun, neither.

            But he couldn’t help himself about the leg.  He knew Uncle Joel had a war injury and had got himself a new leg, and he surely did want to see it.  Now Uncle Joel was not the kind of man a boy could ask to see such a thing, so Little George just had to peek in on his own.   He pushed the door open a tiny bit, and it didn’t even squeak, and there it was, a giant old wooden thing taller than Little George himself.  Laying right across the chair over from the bed where Uncle Joel was snoring.  He sorely wanted to tiptoe in and just touch it.  He would like to take it away somewhere – the cellar? – but his Momma would have killed him dead if he did that.  Besides, he was still a very young boy then and used to cause a lot of trouble. He had grown out o’ that now.  He was much better on being good now.    

            Aunt B is waiting at the station with a basket of sandwiches. She doesn’t have any kids, so he figures he’ll be real sweet to her and maybe she will treat him real special. Maybe she would let him have a quarter to take to the Five and Dime store here in town.  He remembers that store.  His Momma didn’t have a quarter when they visited before, but she allowed they could walk around in it anyway. There weren’t no Five and Dime back home, and he would surely like to have a quarter and go in there.

            Little George smiled up at Aunt B and said “You’re sure looking pretty today, Ma’am.  Right pretty, indeed.”  He smiled his biggest widest-eyed smile.  Aunt B smiled back at him and patted him on the head.

            “You’re OK, there, Little George.  You’re OK.”

            “Thank ee, Ma’am, for saying so.”

            “Have a sandwich, now, ya hear?  You need to put a little fat on those skinny bones of yours.”

            “Yes’m, I surely do.  Thank ee, Ma’am.  This looks mighty tasty!”

            Aunt Leaitis had given him two apples for the trip, which she said was a couple of hours, but he had et em right away.  He was grateful for the sandwich.  It was pineapple and tomato on white bread.  Delicious and sweet. 

            He hoped he didn’t have to see Uncle Joel much.  If’n he just saw Aunt B he was sure he would get that quarter by and by.  Then when his Momma came he would have her a present.

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