Posts Tagged ‘Aleta’

Chapter 7 “Two hours door to door.”

The nights are getting cold when we pack The Pelican for the last time to go back to Missouri.

I start kindergarten, and watch the moon landing with my class. My brother learns to walk and the year that killed Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy finally ends. This year has taught me that everyone good must die.

My father has worked hard and won a spot teaching magazine writing at Syracuse University, a city just a couple of hours from Clayton, which is the town just across from Bluff Island. While the rest of the country is in upheaval, my parents’ mantra is: “two hours door-to-door.” Now my father can go to the river any time! This is the solution to all of our problems. We are all ready for a fresh start.

Before we leave Missouri for the last time, my uncle Ronnie comes to visit us. He is home on leave from Vietnam.  He is her little brother. It’s when he comes that I really see how much he loves her:  he is gentle with her, and listens to everything she says like it is important. I’ve never seen anyone do that before. Uncle Ronnie has a dark brown crew cut, and dark brown eyes. His face is round and he has a shadow of a moustache. He likes to talk to me too. We sit at the kitchen table together for a long time.

“What’s that?” I point to a butterfly bandage on his thumb.

“That’s a band-aid.”

“It doesn’t look like a band-aid.” He is smiling,

“It’s a butterfly band-aid.”

“Where did you hurt yourself?” I’ve been instructed not to ask him about the war, but maybe now he will tell me something.

“Working on an engine.”

“Oh.” I say, and we smile at each other some more. Ronnie isn’t really about talking. He’s different. He’s just about being. Just being there with my mother in the room while she feeds Rufus. It worries me when he tells me he’s going back to Vietnam.

“Just for a little while.” He smiles at me and gives me a hug.

Now that daddy’s school is out, the movers come and pack up our boxes, and we follow them to a house we’ve rented in Syracuse, New York. After the one day it takes to unload the truck, we are off to the Island again.

My parents are more and more excited about our Fresh Start in Syracuse. Mom is doing yoga every day, and I help her. We “walk” on our butts up and down the veranda, the breeze flying our hair around. Mom and Dad still read me stories every night, taking turns to slide in next to me and when the story is finished, kissing me good night. Rufus is almost talking, and my father’s father, Walter, comes to visit. We haven’t had many guests other than Colin and his girlfriends over the years, but my grandfather, Walter, or Wooz, as we call him, is really lovely. He sits on the veranda and smokes his pipe, his long gray hair on either side of his bald head curling up gracefully with his pipe smoke.

“Remember when you were called Jake?” he says. My father starts to smile into the veranda breeze.

“That’s right,” he says. When Walter leaves, he shakes my hand, and lowers himself carefully into the boat. My father is gone a long time, driving him all way to the airport, and when he comes back, mom and I are making apple crisp. We are up to our elbows in butter and flour.

“I’m changing my name back to Jake,” he says.

“What?”  My mother starts to laugh, “What are you talking about?”

“I’m changing my name. I’ve never really felt like a Tim. We’re going to a new place, now is the time.” She looks down at the apple slices mixed up with the flour and sugar for a long minute, like something is breaking loose inside of her.

“Well if you’re changing your name, I’m changing mine. I don’t want to be Aleta anymore.”

“So what name do you want?” She doesn’t answer. “If you’re not Aleta, who will you be?”

“Rosey!” I suggest. She pats down the apples and helps me sprinkle on the oatmeal topping before she answers.

“I don’t know, but if you’re changing yours, I want to change mine.”

“Daddy, why are you going to be Jake?”

“It’s just an old nickname.”

“Mommy, do you have any old nicknames?”

“My daddy used to call me Jinx.” She looks up at my father and starts laughing.

“I don’t get it Mom.”

“He used to say I was unlucky because I was born on Friday the thirteenth, and that’s not a good day,” she explains.


“In fact, it’s a mean nickname.”

“Oh.” I wonder why I don’t have a nickname.

She settles on her middle name, Christine. For the rest of the summer, as we cross through the forest to the back of the island, where the giant stones look like whales lounging in the sun, when they aren’t fighting, my mother and father practice their new names with each other.

“Alet….oh, sorry, Christine…”

“Ti – oh, Jake!”

“Tim, Tim! Are you there?”

“Are you looking for Jake?” he asks, and they laugh.

Now the man formerly known as Tim is filling five-gallon jugs with boxes of Uncle Ben’s converted rice at the kitchen table. The rice is meant to join the other emergency rations in the closet in my bedroom.


“Yes, hold that – “

“Why don’t you just leave the rice in the boxes?”

“Moisture will get into it. This is for an emergency.” I think of ambulances and fire engines.

“Why would we need rice in case of an emergency?”

“Well, when I was a boy, during the war, people needed extra food.”

“Are we gonna be in a war?”

“Oh, no, no, no. That’s why it’s just for emergencies.”

“Can I call you Jake too?”  His hand jumps a little and rice sprays across the table.

“Well, will you still know that I’m your Daddy? Because I really like being your Daddy,” he says.

“I know.” I open the next box for him. “I’ll miss calling you Daddy, but I can still call you that sometimes, but I want to know if it’s okay if I call you Jake sometimes too.”

“Yes it’s okay.” Then I help him carry the rice up to my room and put it into the emergency closet in my room.

The summer goes well. Aleta and Tim make their best attempt to stop fighting. Jake and a slim Christine now share a mission: to become another couple. When we register for first grade, I am given an eye test and mom comes with me to order glasses. Apparently my fresh start in Syracuse is to show up at school in a new pair of brown horn-rimmed cat-eye glasses.

Which gives me MY new name:  Four Eyes.


03 2010

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