Tuesday, July 21, 2009

World of Darkness, part five

I mentioned before we didn’t have television. One day, while sitting at the field below our house that was also the ball field for the kids in the neighborhood, I heard the sound of television. The house in back of where I sat had one. The windows were open and I could hear it. I crossed the street to see if I could catch a glimpse from a window. I could from the opposite side of the driveway. The television was on the opposite wall and I could see it and hear it! That was my first introduction to a show called Johnny Quest. I was so involved in the show I didn’t see the man come around the side of the house. "Hungry?" I jumped to my feet and was about to go into high gear. "It’s OK. You can watch." His voice was more gentle than any I’d ever heard. I wanted to run but Johnny Quest had captured my interest. "Hungry?" He wasn’t pushing just asking. I didn’t want to admit my stomach was rumbling and though it was Saturday no one at home bothered to make anything for breakfast. Not that I usually got much more than a slice of homemade bread, with weak tea or water. My mother was sleeping off her previous nights drunk and if I was to help myself to her store bought bread or cereal I’d live to regret it. So I nodded as I couldn’t hide the grumble coming from my skinny middle. He waved a hand and led me into his house. No one around invited one of us in! We were treated like the lepers of the Bible. At this time I didn’t even know what a Bible or leper was anyhow. He held the door and I followed him. It struck me as odd that I didn’t see any kids watching Johnny Quest. When I walked into their kitchen I knew why. A boy a couple years older than me sat at the table with a sister. When we came in they nodded. The girl squirmed with excitement. "Daddy, can we have toast with the peanut butter and jam?" She pointed at a jar on the counter. "OK." He smiled and popped bread in a toaster. Opening the cupboards he set several dishes around the table. He pointed at me and then the boy. "He was watching Johnny Quest from the driveway," I sat in silent fear. Waiting for the hidden insults and ridicule. I wished I’d never come inside. Food was not worth what I was sure was coming next. "You live up the hill?" The boy didn’t seemed to care about the general reputation of our family. "Uh, huh." I remember looking around their kitchen as I answered. It was spotless! They had a coffee pot that plugged in and it bubbled away. "You want to come in and see the show?" I hate to say at this point that although I learned his name it is one thing I have forgotten over the years. I’ll refer to him as James. I looked at his dad and waited for the look that said, we’ll give you food but stay out of the rest of our house. Instead he pointed and said, "go ahead. I’ll bring the toast when it’s ready." I followed James and we sat on the floor in front of the couch. Johnny Quest ended and my toast was gone. I must have looked like an animal about to be released into unfamiliar territory. James’ dad walked in and handed me glass of milk. I nearly died. I got milk at home sometimes. I watched my mother pour water into a pitcher and mix the white powder with it. This milk however, came from a jug! Real milk like my grandfather on my father’s side got from his cows. We didn’t get real milk from him though. He said it was money. He sold his milk and that was his job. I was as full as I’d ever been after two slices of toast with peanut butter and jelly and a whole glass of milk. We watched a second show on television. I’d seen this one through a window of one of our other neighbors. I didn’t know what they said but it fascinated me. It was called Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. This was the first time I’d heard the voices. James’ dad said he needed to go shopping and I was welcome any time. I left that house happy and afraid. I was sure he mustn’t have heard about my family. Lazy Reliefers, it would all change when he did. The week dragged by. Andy was hardly around and I was left to myself. I sat at the ball field several times hoping James or his dad would be out side and I would get invited over. Finally it happened! They came home and saw me. James called out for me to come over. I did and we played that afternoon and rode his bike around the yard and driveway. I wasn’t real good at telling time but I could ask. When James’ dad said it was just after five I said a quick good bye and bolted. Our mother arrived home just after five. If I was not in the yard or house,,. I managed to pull off my escapade to James’ house all summer with no one the wiser. On Saturday mornings I watched cartoons with James and his sister. We ate oatmeal and toast and no one ever called me names at their house. No one swore. No one yelled except in playing. God why couldn’t I have been born James’ brother? My mother usually worked Saturday mornings. I made sure I was home in case she decided to come home before going out drinking. I did mention I had a streak of bad luck. One Saturday I made my way to James’ house. My mother had been up early and grumbling how she had to work all day today. She usually worked Saturday mornings only. That was how I got to watch cartoon with James without fear of getting caught. I arrived at James house and his dad was waiting at the door. "Come on in quick." He had toast already made and hot chocolate! James wasn’t around. "He’s combing his hair. He’ll be down shortly. We’re going to town." My heart fell. I had all day to play with James and he was going away. I ate quickly and stood to leave. "No, you wait." James dad spoke firmly and I froze. I thought, well he’s going to tell me to stay away. James came in with his sister. "Ready dad." "Ok, everyone in the car." I followed them and stood facing the open door. I could see James bike laying in the back of the station wagon. "Get in we need to go." "I can’t." I was horrified. My folks would really kill me if I got in someone elses car. "It’s OK. I saw your mom go to work earlier. I’d ask but no one is home to ask, right?" I nodded. "Then get in." I sat in the car next to James. Their car smelled like something brand new from a store. We crossed the bridge over the river and after several stops, we stopped at a bike shop. James’ dad told us to sit and he took the bike from the back. He returned several minutes later and put the bike in the back. James’ dad had a pleasant face and I had seldom seen him with anything but a smile on it. Today was no exception, other than that he and his two kids seemed to be smiling bigger than ususal. We arrived at their house and the morning was barely gone. I was invited to have lunch. When I looked in the open refrigerator door in their kitchen I could not believe any one had that much food! We had sandwiches and potato chips. We had soda to drink and once more I felt as full as I’d ever been. James’ dad put the dishes in the sink. "Come on out." He led the way to the porch and I noticed for the first time that James bike looked cleaner than it ever had. "I had to take the bike to get the tire fixed. It was old and worn out." James had disappeared while we looked at the bike. I heard some noise and looked around. James was pushing a shiny, new bike! It was bigger than the old one. James was growing. "We wanted to surprise you. I bought James a new bike for his birthday last week. I got this one fixed because he wanted to give it to you! Now you can both ride at the same time." His smile was big and I caught it. I could feel the grin on my face spread. My own bike! He handed me the handle bar. "He’s waiting. Better get going." I jumped on the seat and peddled like a Fury. We rode about the ball field all afternoon. The sun seemed to hover in place forever. Eventually James’ dad called out. "Going on five." I stopped at the edge of their drive way. James’ dad stood on the porch. "Take it home. It’s yours now." They stood watching as I peddled to the hill and up it. I looked back almost sure they would say it was joke bring it back. I reached our yard which was usually muddy and looked behind. They were gone. It really was my own first bike!

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My childhood was spent growing up on a farm in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. In those years I learned the lessons that would mold my character and moral center. In my teens I moved to a small city in southeastern PA. Like many teens I had my rebellion and found the futility of it. During my late teens I moved to central PA and in high school lost my heart to the girl who is now my wife. Presently I'm well into midlife and slowing rapidly. The things I used to do, I can't even remember. Married for 37 years, we have a son, a daughter and five grandchildren. My son has two boys, my daughter three girls, I love irony! I'm self-employed for most of 25 years in construction. Doing a project for a customer and getting their approval is wonderful and inspiring. I started writing when my children were younger. I did some stories for them and over time it became more of an interest. I now have four completed novels and several shorts and am working towards getting one or more published. One short has been published.

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