Three young boys, a babysitter, and a cold winter's day.
|Is It Bedtime Yet?
My sons and I live in Nebraska, or THE WILD, as my wife liked to call it. BAMBI, my wife of eight years, had died in an accident two years ago. THE RESCUERS had tried to resuscitate her, but couldn't. We had finally figured out how to get on with life, but still missed her terribly, especially the twins, TOM AND HUCK (Bambi had loved Twain). Gus, seven years old and named for Bambi's dad, tried his best to be MAN OF THE HOUSE when I wasn't around, but he still enjoyed certain "kid stuff", like stories at bedtime.
With three young boys, there was NEVER A DULL MOMENT. I didn't exactly consider myself some kind of SUPERDAD, but I figured everyone knew who was boss. Once in awhile, though, circumstances conspired to make me seem the UNDERDOG; a recent December day provides a case in point.
We awoke to fresh snow, bluish white in the clear MORNING LIGHT, and a temperature, according to the radio, of EIGHT BELOW; a nippy start to the day. I was going to work early at OLIVER & COMPANY, not only because we were trying to close as many files as possible by year's end, but to also pick up some overtime. I was about five extra hours away from making this ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS, and I gratefully handed the kids off to the babysitter. When I walked into the office, chaos reigned. A water pipe had burst and flooded a storeroom, and everyone was spreading files out to dry. Overtime is overtime, and I was soon surrounded by damp paperwork.
Shortly after lunch, the receptionist forwarded a call from the babysitter. It seems she had an urgent appointment at the hair salon, so I was needed at home immediately. When I asked why it was urgent, she said she had no intention of spending three days with burnt hair.
"Burnt!" I'd exclaimed. "What happened, Mrs. Harrison? Are you and the boys alright?"
She told me she'd caught Gus playing with some matches and a can of turpentine in the garage. She'd rushed to stop him, and had probably kept him from blowing himself SKY HIGH, but the vapors had flashed and her bangs had vanished. Immediate salon action was required, she declared. As I was scarcely in a position to disagree, I told her I'd be glad to pay. She also said she had heard some banging from the general area of the twins' room but, due to the hair incident, had been disinclined to investigate. I left at once.
She met me at the door, swept past me and down the sidewalk; her only words, "The boys are on the sofa", came as she disappeared around the hedge. I went inside. They were, indeed, seated on the couch, and looking more contrite than I could ever remember seeing them. That scene with the matches must have made some impression. Good.
"We'll talk about the matches later, Gus. Mrs. Harrison said she heard some banging, so let's see what she heard. "FOLLOW ME, BOYS!" I had commanded. Moving down the hallway, we had stopped next to a number of small HOLES in the wall.
"Okay, I want THE STRAIGHT STORY. The FIRST KID who comes up with some lie or TALL TALE wrecks BEDTIME STORIES for everyone; that means no TREASURE ISLAND. Clear?" Six little eyes had blinked hard; they loved that book. They nodded. "Okay, what's with the holes?"
Tom began. There'd been a big spider and it had scared Huck, but Mrs. Harrison was busy putting out her hair, so he had grabbed my hammer and tried to smash it. Huck had then chimed in, trying to describe the spider. They had ended up interrupting each other over and over, with Huck trying to make some point about its legs, and Tom adding his own clarifications; after all, he'd been the closest, because he'd had the hammer.
After supper, Gus and I had a chat and, while he stayed in his room to think about it, the twins held the nails while I temporarily covered the holes with a small piece of paneling. Afterward, Jim Hawkins met Long John Silver (again), and then the boys were tucked in; sleep overtook them in minutes. I thought about young Jim and how he'd escaped great danger, and about how my own Gus had done the same. The trying day was over, my boys were safe, and that was good enough.