Uppermost House: Two possible definitions for spring

By S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

The phone rang early. Dear friends down the road with life suddenly complicated and is there any possibility we could watch their kids?

“Of course,” I said. “But it’s just me today. Karen’s working.”

Long pause. “Well, your kids survived, so I guess that would be okay.”

I hung up feeling wonderfully endorsed and went to find socks that matched.

An hour or so later I drove over to my neighbor’s house to pick up the children.

“Mom, there’s a pile of dirt on the seat and weird stuff everywhere,” one of the twin girls said.

“That’s not weird,” I said. “That’s my running stuff.”

I considered explaining the dirt, but it wouldn’t have made any sense (especially the part about it being an illustration of living a joyous life) so I just swept it out onto the driveway.

“Yeah,” I said to the mom, trying to explain myself, “Karen says my car is a male-locker-room-thing and that I have some kind of syndrome.”

There wasn’t enough room in the back seat for all three kids (because of all the stuff), so I told the boy to crawl through to the front.

“Wow, look at all those empty coffee cups,” he said, trying to find room for his feet.

“Well, you know, I actually only sit over on this side,” I said, pointing to the seat with the steering wheel.

Back home now. Jackets hung and muddy shoes off.

“What would you kids like to do next?”

“Let’s go for a walk and look for spring,” came the chorus. So back on went the jackets and muddy shoes and out the same door just entered we went.

On down the road we trudged, kicking stuff, listening for bird song (chickadee: “cheeseburger”), and identifying trees by their bark and animals by their tracks in the snow.

“Which way were those deer going?” I asked, pointing at some especially fresh prints at an obvious deer crossing. I got inquisitive stares. “Toward Ricky’s Diner,” I said, without any further explanation.

Continuing on, we hung a left on a dirt road and went down to a little stream I knew about, and well that was just about the best thing ever. We discussed stream terminology (bank, bed, current, riffle, pool, etc.), pretended that we were going to push each other in, but didn’t, played Pooh Sticks through the culvert, threw rocks at floating snowballs, calculated how long it would take the water in the stream to get to the Atlantic Ocean by scribbling some rough math calculations in the dirt with twigs (two years), looked for frogs (too early), tried to see the beaver house (too far), and, you know, the usual stuff.

Meandering back home, the boy came running up to me, “Hey, I found the sign of spring,” he shouted, holding out the year’s first green shoot, its new little roots all raw and horribly torn from the just-thawed earth. “Why yes you did!” I said.

Back at the house again, we busted up some loose chunks of asphalt by slamming them into the driveway as hard as we could, speared the snow banks with broom handles, and played badminton in the garage (not recommended).

After much cavorting and carrying on, we went inside to eat and watch reruns of Leave it to Beaver. It was mid-afternoon now, and just before utter boredom overtook my young charges I mentioned that Karen would be home any minute, and the adrenalin floodgates suddenly opened.

“Really? What can we do?” the crowd shouted, running and looking out the windows.

“Do?” I asked.

“Yeah, do to her,” said the boy.

Then, without waiting for an answer, he yelled, “Let’s spring out and scare her!” And there was much rejoicing.

And so we waited. And plotted. The key, the ringleader told me, was for us all to jump out at the same moment. And so hiding places were identified, debated, and either dismissed or decided upon. In the end, we determined that the cubby under the kitchen island, the slot behind the kitchen door, and around the corner in the laundry room would work fine, but only if we could be assured that Karen would walk over and stand by the refrigerator.

“Hey!” the young lad shouted, pointing at me. “You can stand right in front of it!

“Yeah,” shrieked one of the twin girls. “Cause she always walks right in and kisses you!”

Thus ensconced at our posts, we commenced to wait for the crunch of car tires in the driveway. The clock on the wall ticked. The air tingled with anticipation. Heartbeats pounded in ears. Breathing quickened. Muscles quivered with the pent-up energy of coming surprise.

And the kids seemed excited, too.

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