My Son Victor
Zeke reached over from his easy chair, put a dollop of tobacco in his new pipe that his cousin Remus gave him for a Birthday present, shifted in his chair to find that perfect comfortable position needed to start a long story, and after several wiggles and final adjustments of his fedora to make sure all of his now long grey hair was in it, began:
“My son Victor is my youngest boy an' our youngest child. Me an' Aby wanted more than five chillun, but we got only five. Folks suggested we have us both checked to see which one weren't doin' their job, but we both knew we was doin' our best and it wouldn't matter which one was at fault, cuz we couldn't have no more together, so it didn' matter which one was failin'. We first had the twins Ebill an' Zoe, then Enos whats died at nineteen years old, then Felice, then Victor. Victor is an active boy whats don' like to sit much, so he never learned like Enos did, whats could sit an' study all day. He liked his brothers an' sisters same as all my chillun did, but bein' the youngest he was left outta lotta their activities, bein' they was older an' into their own goin'-on's, … or is it goin's-on? Anyway, Victor was jest a lil younger than Felice, but Felice liked housework … you know, cookin', crocheting, makin' clothes an' stuff like that. That stuff weren't for Victor, cuz he was all boy. He wanted to play sports, flirt with girls, an' drive a car to Megaville to drink with his friends.
One of Victor's best friends is his cousin Jab, Josh's first born who was a couple year older than Victor. You remember Josh. He is my cousin an' was my best friend until he died few year after Enos did. Well, Jab is the same height as Josh was. Yup, short. We always never asked how tall Josh was, cuz when we was young in Miss Alde's school one of the kids asked an' then one of the other kids said, ‘They don' make rulers small nuff to measure his height.' I twisted that kids ear, but Josh was already embarrassed. I never knew why short folks was embarrassed when tall folks ain't. Seems bein' short ain't no way to judge folks … specially seein' tall folks was short at one time, an' lookin' at the accomplishments of all them short Chinese an' Japanese whats doin' so well, an' rememberin' Einstein, Napoleon an' St. Peter was all short, an' now when we got a food shortage it's best to have a economically efficient lil body over a big one like mine. Victor knew there weren't nuttin wrong with bein' short an' jest saw a good friend in Jab. Victor was jest six foot tall … much shorter than me whats six foot eight, or Ebill whats jest seven foot or Enos what was seven foot eight, but taller than Zoe an' Felice whats is jest five an' one half feet tall. Victor's weight was jest two hundred pound, which was the same as skinny Enos' weight but nowhere near Ebill's three hundred twenty pounds of meat or my two hundred seventy pounds of Aby's fine cooking”, as Zeke grabs a fold in his stomach to shake, chuckling.
“I will start my story ‘bout Victor when he started in Miss Alde's school, cuz that's where the trouble began. You see, back then Victor had the energy of an avalanche, the brains of a creek pebble, an' the attention span of a fruit fly.”
The Start of Trouble
Aby is trying to hold Victor still while she pulls his knit cap over his ears to keep them warm this cold morning. “Hold Victor's hand until he gets to school, Felice, or he will run off trying to catch a leaf or a critter or anything moving. Do you promise?”
“Yes, Mommy”, says Felice, obviously not liking this job of caring for Victor every day to and from school.”
Victor runs over to pet Mrs. Hector and her son Phoenix , the family pet pigs. Felice looks at Aby. “We weren't even out of the house and he ran away. You know I can't catch him when he runs”, says the chubby Felice, ready to cry at the burden her mother is putting on her.
Aby hollers, “Victor. When you get back home I will ask Felice how you behaved. If she says you were bad you will not get desert tonight.”
“What are we having for desert?” hollers Victor.
“ We will be having strawberries on Angel Food Cake. You will be having pig poop pie if you don't behave”, hollers Aby.
Victor runs back from the pig pen and takes Felice's hand. Aby watches them walk down the road until they are out of sight, shakes her head and goes back into the cabin wishing the older children didn't start school an hour earlier and stay an hour later or she would have Ebill and Zoe watch Victor.
“Get back in your seat, young man”, says Alde Long, the school marm who has unbelievable patience with children.
Victor walks back to his seat past the other children who are looking down so as to pretend they don't know him or they might get in trouble too. Only Jab is looking at Victor and smiling. When Victor waves to him Jab looks down with a straight face as the others. All of the other children know they are in trouble when Miss Alde addresses them as “young Man” or “young Lady”. Victor, however, had heard himself called “young Man” so many times he thinks that is just a nickname the teacher gave him. It had no effect on him other than to make him smile when he heard it, thus making Miss Alde all the more frustrated.
“Why are you drawing pictures of Buck Rogers space ships when you is sposta be solvin' the arithmetic problems, Victor? This is your final exam. Do you realize you ain't learned hardly no arithmetic for the whole year? ” asks Miss Alde.
“Drawing spaceships is more fun to do, Miss Alde.”
“You are – sposta – be doing – arithmetic, - SIR! ”
“But I don't need arithmetic to draw spaceships, Miss Alde.”
“You need arithmetic to solve problems in science. Everybody has to learn arithmetic to solve problems … even everyday problems.”
“Momma doesn't need arithmetic. She runs the house and doesn't need arithmetic to do the wash, cook, clean or make lunches.”
“You need arithmetic to solve science problems, Victor. Your momma doesn't have to solve science problems.”
“Uncle Bill doesn't have to solve science problems. He has people he pays to solve them for him.”
“Bill McMullen is rich, Victor. He can afford to hire people to solve some of his problems, but he has to know arithmetic to count his money and calculate the interest he can earn on his investments. Unless you know you will be rich you will need to know arithmetic.”
“I'll try to be rich then, Miss Alde.”
“In the meantime please try to learn arithmetic jest in case you don't become rich, okay Victor?”
“Okay, Miss Alde”, as Victor continues drawing his spaceship.
“Thank ya for seein' me, Aby”, says Alde Long as she comes into Aby's cabin.
“How do you like the Ford Model “A”, Miss Alde?” asks Aby.
“It's a wonderful car, Aby, but it makes it harder to do what it brought me here for. You see, Aby, your son Victor has me at my wits end. He is a smart lil boy but he don' even try to learn. He's got no interest in learnin' at all. He jest draws space ships, talks to the other chillun, an' daydreams. I told him he won't go on to the next grade iff'n he did'n learn his lessons. Well, he did'n. I gotta fail him so he repeats the first grade again. Sorry, Aby. I hate to have to drive my nice Model “A” whats Zeke sold me for only a dollar to give you bad news. It ain't like Victor is stupid. He ain't even lazy, cuz his mind is goin a mile a minute … jest in the wrong way.”
“I imagine Victor will be crying now”, says Aby.
“That's one of the other worse things I gotta tells ya ‘bout, Aby. Most chillun crys when they fails, cuz they know their friends is goin' on without em. Not Victor. He was happy . Said he will have new friends to show around. Now that's got me worried, cuz all chillun look up to older kids, an' iff'n they look up to Victor they will all wanna be like him, meanin' they won' learn neither.”
Alde Long, with a sad expression, looks at Abe and continues, “So I gotta pass em even though he should'n git passed. I gotta push em on, Aby … you know, for the sake of the other chillun. I knows it's wrong, but I don' want them new toddlers led astray. I would ask that yer older chillun talk to Victor to straighten him out, but I asked em already an' they said Victor won't listen to them neither … always changin' the subject to games or spaceships or other things whats he is interested in.”
Alde looks at Aby with an apologetic look and adds, “That's what I hadda tell ya, Aby. I will do my best with Victor. He's really a smart boy, … jest ain't got no interest in school work. Tell Zeke iff'n he's mad at me for not teachin' Victor he can have the Model “A” back.”
Aby, looking sad, says, “You have Victor for six hours a day for five days a week. I have him all the other time. I know what you are going through, and you only have a small idea of what I have to put up with. I am so happy that you take him for that time I should ask Zeke to buy you a new Bentley Touring car for giving me that break”, and Aby gives Alde Long a hug, adding, “What can we do with that little boy, Miss Alde?”
“Can't teach em. Can't scare em. Can't threaten em. Can't throttle em. All we can do, Aby, is hope he finds something of interest that requires a little knowledge. Then we will see what he is capable of. He will be the dumb kid in second grade an' all them other kids will make fun of him. At least them new first graders won' look up to him an' git spoiled. I can always hold him back in second grade iff'n he still won't learn. Thank you for bein' so understandin', Aby. Good day to ya.”
On a sunny Saturday morning as Jab is doing chores for his Poppa he hears, “Hi Jab”
“What are you doing here at my house, Victor? Did you get permission from your Momma to come over here?
“She didn't say no.”
Did you ask her?”
“No, because then she would probably say no.”
“You're gonna get in trouble, Victor.”
Victor laughs, “Maybe I'll get pig poop pie for desert.”
Jab laughs at that also.
“I wanted to show you my new design for a rocket ship, Jab. Look”, as Victor opens up a big sheet of paper.”
Jab said, “You have the Captain steering the spaceship with a steering wheel. They don't use steering wheels to drive a spaceship. You have a clutch pedal, a brake pedal, and a gear shifter too. They don't have gears in a spaceship and they don't have wheel brakes neither, cuz there's no ground for the wheels to ride on.”
“Then how do they change speed and how do they stop if you know everything, Jab?”
“They have more fire come out the back to make them go faster and they turn around to have the fire come out the front to stop them. Didn't you see any of the movies or read any of the comics that have spaceships, Victor?”
“No. Momma and Poppa won't buy me any because they say I spend too much time thinking about spaceships already. I'm going to make a new spaceship and show you a good one”, and Victor turns to go back home.
“Better get permission next time you come over here or you will get me in trouble too. I don't want any of your pig poop pie”, and Jab laughs.
Victor did not laugh. He felt bad that he did not design a realistic spaceship, and walked home slowly with his head hanging.
“Victor! What is you doin' way over here”, asks Pappy, Victor's grandfather, on his way to visit Aby, hoping to be asked to baby sit.
“I was visiting Jab, Gampa. I'm going back home now.”
“Did yer Momma say you could walk way over here alone?”
“She didn't say no, Gampa.”
“That means ya did'n ask her, did ya?”
“I wanted to show Jab something.”
“What ya got there, Victor?”
“A picture of a spaceship, but it ain't a good one.”
“Can I see it? I know a lil ‘bout spaceships.”
Victor reluctantly shows his grandfather his picture.
“Looks pretty good to me Victor, but I only been in a spaceship once, so's I don't rightly knows what the new ones is like, but this looks pretty good to me.”
“You were in a spaceship?”
“I know a lil ‘bout em, Victor. Here's what I know. I know your Poppa an' Jab's Poppa both liked spaceships too, an' usta talk ‘bout em all the time. They invited me for a ride once. Wanna hear that story?”
Victor knew even at his young age that his Grandfather's stories were always interesting, and especially wanted to hear his story about spaceships. “Ya ya, Gampa”, he shouted.
Pappy sat on the bench under the Crimson Maple tree by the cabin, knowing Aby would be able to look out the kitchen window to see Victor is alright and was being supervised. He opened his big coat to wrap Victor inside with him to keep him warm as he started his story:
“It was a warm Summer morning ‘bout fifteen year ago. You wasn't born yet, Victor. None of my granchillun was born yet. Yer Poppa lived here alone an' Jab's Poppa lived in a wee cabin whats he had where he lives now. He lived there alone too. They was best friends an' thought ‘bout spaceships together a lot. I always thought they was actin' like toddlers like you is now, you know, jest wastin' their time daydreamin' ‘bout fantasy stuff. Least that's what I thought till that day when I came to visit real early in the morning an' seen em both in the West Hayfield with a real funny lookin' Model “T” Ford. They had changed it so much that I hardly recognized it, but I knew it was a “T”, cuz I seen so many a'fore.
I come up on em an' asked, ‘What is you youngsters up to now?' They looked real surprised that I was there an' I had a feelin' they wished I weren't.
‘We's goin' for a ride, Pappy', said Josh. Well, I had to see that. That “T” did'n look nuttin like what it was sposta an' I hadda see them drivin' it. I said, ‘I'll watch ya leave.' Yer Poppa said, ‘We ain't leavin for a long time. No need to wait, Pappy.' I said, ‘I gots lotta time to wait', and I sat in the freshly mowed hayfield like I could wait forever.
After only ten minutes Josh, lookin' real nervous, looked at yer Poppa and pointed to his watch. Yer Poppa said, ‘We is goin' to the Moon, Pappy. Wanna come along?' Well you can imagine how hard I laughed. I said, ‘Sure. Ain't never been to the Moon a'fore.' Josh jumped into the front passenger seat an' yer Poppa told me to git in the back seat, an' he got behind the steering wheel. ‘Roll up all the windows as tight as you can get them, Pappy', hollered Josh as yer Poppa started the engine. That engine sounded real funny to me … like it had a lot more power that any “T” I heard before.
Well, after he started that big engine a door opened behind the “T” an' a huge fan started turnin' … like a airplane propeller runnin' backwards. Josh hollered, ‘Hang on tight, Pappy.' Yer Pappa pushed down on the gas pedal jest a wee bit and we started goin' real fast down the west hayfield, jest bouncin' an' shakin' from all them lil bumps. Halfway down the hayfield wings came out the side of the “T”, an' that fan behind me was turnin' so fast I could see it pullin' hay clippin's from in front of the “T” an' throwin' it out fast behind us. We must'a been goin' two hundred mile a hour an' runnin' outta hayfield when yer Poppa pulled back on the steering wheel what swung towards his belly. The front of that “T” raised up an' all the shakin' from the bumps in the field stopped. I looked out the window an' saw the hayfield drop from under me. I was real scared. I ain't never been in the air a'fore. I hollered, ‘What is you boys doin?” Josh hollered, ‘Goin' to the Moon, Pappy, jest like we said.”
After jest a couple minutes I saw we was way way up in the air. I saw the cities as little dots. Josh hollers, ‘Hold on again, Pappy', and yer Poppa shifted to high gear. Well, when he did that, fire come outta that big fan in the back. It was a huge flame, an' when it started comin' out we started goin' a lot faster … an' kept goin' faster as the flame come out. I looked out the back window an' saw the Earth as a big ball gittin' smaller, looked out the front window an' saw the Moon as a little ball gittin' bigger. Then yer Poppa turned a switch an' everythin' got quiet. The flame went out, the engine stopped, the fan stopped … I thought my heart was gonna stop. Josh turned around and said to me, ‘Now we coast for a bit. We only brought sandwiches for two of us, so we gotta share at lunch time.' Josh an' yer Poppa was smilin' an' could'n see I was frightened. Josh said, ‘Don't roll any windows down or the air will git out an' we won' be able to breath.'
After almost half a hour I finally was able to say somethin', ‘Is we gonna crash into the Moon?'
Yer Poppa said, ‘No Pappy. We is jest gonna circle it this time. We calculated the trajectory so's we is pulled around the Moon real close an' then is shot back to the Earth with even greater speed. Josh calls it his “slingshot” move.
Well, that Moon got bigger an' bigger. I was sure we was gonna crash. We was goin' what seemed like a brazillion miles a hour. I wanted to faint but could'n … did'n know how, I guess. I jest looked at the Moon an' thought I was gonna see my Maker real soon. Josh an' yer Poppa jest looked out the window an' smiled. That moon started in the front window an' slowly moved to the driver's side of the “T” … jest whizzing by as we went round behind it goin' faster an' faster. Then the Moon seemed to disappear when we was lookin' at it in the rear window. I hollered, ‘The Moon is disappearin'.' Josh said, ‘Ya jest can' see it, cuz the Sun ain't shinnin' on this side right now. Don' worry. It's still there.'
‘Why is the Moon circlin' us?', I asked. Then I realized we jest ain't turnin', but our back is always facin' the Earth jest like when we left.
When we came back into the Sunlight I saw the moon again out the front window. We was headin' back to earth backwards! Now I was really scared, cuz I did'n know iff'n yer Poppa could drive the “T” good goin' a awful lot of miles a hour backwards.
The Earth got bigger faster comin' back than it got smaller when we left. That's how I knew we was goin' faster now. Josh asked yer Poppa, ‘Is we goin' as fast as ya calculated, Zeke?' Yer Poppa said, ‘I don' know. Seems we is goin' faster.' Josh had a frightened look on his face, an' that did'n make me feel no better, that's for sure. I thought at least I was gonna crash at home where someone could find me an' bury me with my fam'ly. Least that's what I thought until Josh said, ‘Think we will burn to a crisp on re-entry, Zeke?' That's all I needed to hear. How does folks identify a crisp as being me? I don' even knows what a crisp looks like, so I knows it shore don' look like me! Yer Poppa said we had a lotta fuel, so he thought he could prob'ly maybe make a good landing. Hearin' that did'n make me feel no better neither. “Prob'ly maybe”? That did'n sound like he thought he could do it himself neither.
Well, the Earth looked like a big soccer ball jest a'fore it smacks ya in the face when I heard them engines start again. Fire shot out the back of the “T” like somethin' fierce … like them stories you hear of them big dragons in the old days that I hadda fight when I was a toddler on my way to school. I felt me pushed against the seat like we was goin' forward, but when I looked out the back window I seen we was still movin' fast backward. That force on the seat was much greater than when we left the Earth, as I seemed to almost be outta cushion on the seat … jest feelin' them springs pushin' on my back, an' I was havin' a hard time liftin' my head off'n the cushion. I felt a lot of heat in the “T” an' thought maybe I was turnin' into a crisp like Josh said, when I heard Josh holler, ‘Hang on'. Yer Poppa pulled a lever an' them wings popped out again. He turned the steering wheel an' the “T” turned around so's the Earth was in the front window. Josh hollered, ‘Does ya know where we is, Zeke?' Yer Poppa hollered, ‘I think we is over Europe . We forgot to remember the Earth was rotatin' while we was away.' Josh hollered, ‘Can ya git us back home?' Yer Poppa said, ‘Gotta git to the other side of the Atlantic . Shore wish I paid more attention to Miss Alde in Geography class.' Josh hollered, ‘Do yer best, Zeke. We is countin' on ya.'
Well, here we was on the wrong side of the ocean whats was gittin' real close. We was still goin fast, but that Atlantic seemed real big. We was half way across when yer Poppa pushed down on the gas pedal to have more fire come out the back with the fan goin' full blast. We was ‘bout ten feet above the water an' could'n see land nowhere. After ‘bout a hour we saw the Statue of Liberty an' knew we was almost home, but not sure we was gonna make it, cuz Josh said we was almost outta gas. Yer Poppa pushed the gas pedal to the floor an' we gained ‘bout five thousand feet off'n the ground. Then ever'thin' went quiet. We was outta gas. The engine stopped. The fire stopped commin' out, an' the fan stopped turning. I thought that was the end of us for shore.
Josh had his face pressed against the front window as did yer Poppa. I thought they was lookin' fer a good place fer us to crash an' die, cuz I heard Josh holler, “There's one Zeke.' Yer Poppa said, ‘I see it too', and we started comin' down fast. Josh hollered, ‘Hang on Pappy.' I made the sign of the cross, closed my eyes an' waited for the crash, but instead felt a big bump and heard lot'sa tire screechin', looked up an' seen yer Poppa pushin' down hard on the brakes with Josh rollin' down his window when we stopped, sayin', ‘Fill er up, please.' They found a gas station.
That feller at the gas station asked what kinda car it was. Josh said it was a tractor whats used on a farm. Josh said. ‘That's why city folk never seen one a'fore.' That gas station feller said, ‘But there ain't no farms ‘round here.' Josh jest said, ‘That's why we ran outta gas gittin to one.'
Well, that “T” took two hundred gallon to fill, but we only had seven dollar thirty cents, so we hadda stop the filling short of seventy five gallon. Josh said it might be nuff an' thanked me fer my quarter an' nickel whats he said he would pay me back. Yer Poppa drove down the road to where it was straight for a mile, waited till there were no cars in sight and then took off again. We made it back to the farm at sundown the next day after leavin'. We was almost outta gas again, outta food, an' outta money. Josh said next time they want to land on the Moon an' have a picnic, but first he hadda solve the air problem.”
Pappy looks down at Victor who is staring straight ahead with a smile on his face as though it was the best story he ever heard. “Do you know why the air was a problem, Victor?” asked Pappy.
“Because there is no air on the Moon, Gampa?”
“No. Because it takes a whole day to get to the Moon, and being in a car that you can't open the windows for a whole day is a long time not to fart”, chuckles Pappy.
Victor looks up at Pappy, says, “Oh Gampa” and laughs, getting a big hug from Pappy.
“Where is the “T” now, Gampa?”
“Don' know, Victor. I think they took it apart when they tried to build a better one outta a ‘A'.”
“My drawing is a lot like their spaceship.”
“Yup. That's why I thought it was a good one. But I think they make different kinds now. Course ya still can't roll down the windows even in the new ones, so ya still got that air problem.”
“I liked that story, Gampa.”
“Thank ya, Victor. An' I like your spaceship”, as Pappy walks him towards the cabin for lunch, reaching into his pocket and saying, “Here's the same quarter an' nickel Josh paid me back”, now making Victor know the story really happened.
“Course, these two coins did'n go to the Moon, but this penny whats I keep all wrapped up did. Josh did'n borrow it. My Grampa's Grampa give it to my Grampa whats give it to me. He said, ‘Here Ebby'. That's what they usta call me when I was little, cuz my real name is Ebenezer. ‘Here Ebby', he said, ‘Keep this an' you'll never go broke.' Now I'm giving it to you, Victor. Keep it like new in this cloth an' you'll never go broke. It's yours.”
Victor just looked at the penny with awe.
Aby only seen where Pappy gave Victor the penny, and smiled her approval. Little did Pappy know, Aby and Zeke would not appreciate having Victor's imagination fired up even further.