"The presidential race will be broadcast on radio today. Probably won't be hearing my soap operas today," said my grandmother to my granddad. He was gathering up his cigarettes and lunch heading out to the job. He worked as a carpenter. There were several projects around town these days. He would drive out to seek a day's work. His reputation was such that he seldom came back home before dark.
I stayed with my grandparents during the week since my folks both worked. Clyde's birthday was this month of November. He'd be ten. Mine was a few months off. I'd be six. Clyde was my uncle. He always made a big deal out of it telling me to do this and do that. I'd listen because, as he told me, I was supposed to respect my elders.
"Uh, uh," he'd say if I didn't listen. "Remember what your momma told you. Respect your elders. Since I'm your elder, 'cause I'm four years older and being an uncle to boot, you gotta listen to me."
"Yes sir," I'd say. Inside I thought it didn't exactly sound right but he was older.
"No need to sir me, nef."
It was rainy out that Tuesday. Clyde pulled the puzzle from beneath the bed. It was half together on a large board granddad had brought home. It was the perfect foundation for the puzzle. The pieces we had interlocked so far revealed a rabit, Clyde told me it was a hare, running or jumping over a turtle, which Clyde insisted was a tortoise.
"That's a rabbit!" I insisted.
"Nef, listen to me. I know what I'm talking about. It's a picture of the Tortoise and the hare in a race."
"It's a rabbit. Hairs can't race. Hair grows on your head."
"NOt that kind of hair, dummy. This critter in the puzzle can be called two things. A rabbit or a hare, H-A-R-E. In the race he's a hare."
"Oh. And he's a tortoise in the story?"
"Now you're gettin' it"
"But why don't they just say turtle and rabbit?"
"So's kids like you would be able to ask dumb questions," he said shaking his head.
"So in the race on the radio, is one of them I's a hare?"
"You need so much learnin'. No. It's Eisenhower. He's running against somebody named Stevedore, I think. They'll be runnin' all day on the radio."
"Not much space on a radio. Seems like it'd be over in no time."
"Once again I gotta learn ya. They don't run on a radio. They are running across the country. That guy on the radio will be telling us how far they've gotten. It lasts all day 'cause they have to go with'em. Now results from Kentucky, now from Forida. See? They got a lot of ground to cover in one day."
"Wow, they're gonna be tired tomorrow."
We went back to putting pieces of the puzzle together. The rabbit, oops, hare, was just behind the tortoise who was crossing the finish line. My piece placement revealed the loss by the hare.
"How'd he lose?" I asked. "Rabbits are faster than turtles."
"Yeah, it didn't make sense to me either when I first put this thing together. Daddy said the rabbit was lazy and slept along the way. He slept long enough for the slow turtle to make it to the finish line first."
"Why'd he sleep?"
"Daddy said he was too confident 'cause he could run so fast. Figured he had it in the bag."
"In the bag?"
"Oh yeah, you're a kid. It means he knew he'd win. He didn't worry about it. The turtle didn't let the rabbit's speed worry him either. He just kept moving at his slow pace."
"Do you suppose Mister Steva... Steva.. What's his name again?"
"I don't know Steva something. What about him?"
"Do you spose he'll win like the turtle?"
"Nope. Daddy says Eisenhower's got it in the bag."
"That means he'll win right?"
"Sounds like he's over competent."
"Daddy says this is real life. Everybody knows who's going to win."
"Why they racing then?"
"It's a four malady. Every four years the country goes to the poles to cast a vote."
"Why would you throw votes at poles? Are they the poles holding up the string at the finish line."
"Seems like the finish line will be all cluttered up with votes so's they couldn't get across. I don't get it."
"You don't have to. One of them does. Being first across the finish line makes one of 'em president. I guess the clutter makes it more yellable."
"Yeah, you know. When they get closer to the end the crowd jumps up and yells. The more clutter, the more difficult, the more yells. Sheesh, don't you know nothin'?"
"So who's winning now."
"It's too early to say. They got a lot of stae lines to cross."
"They have to run through the string at each state?"
"Yup. Each one has two poles connected by a string. The winner runs through that line of string breaking it and then on to the next one."
"Wow. I'd be tired after the first one. That's a lot of running."
Tired of the puzzle we found some mercury and put a few drops on some dimes.
"Look how shiny that dime is," he said holding it up to me.
"Can I try it?"
"Yeah. Just put a cuple of drops on this one. It's real dull."
I tipped the bottle. It spilled over the dime and onto the floor. Rolling silver beads crossed the floor to the heater's grating on the floor.
"Look out!' Clyde yelled. "Now look what you did."
He tried to pick them up. They rolled along the wooden floor. Several rolled together forming larger globules. Clyde started bumping them together. WE both giggled as they made a larger ball of mercury. Since we couldn't pick them up he lifted the floor furnace grating and rolled it under. He gave me the you-better-not-tell look. We returned to our shiny dimes with their slippery feel.
We ate lunch not too long after that, then took a nap. When we woke we went back to the puzzle.
The radio annoucer was still talking about the Presidential Race. "The candidates are still neck and neck as the polls close here in the east."
"Sounds like they use the poles line to hang clothes on, too," Clyde said. He grinned at me as I nodded my head with this new information.
"How's Eisenhower doing in this close race?" Asked the voice on the radio.
A different voice answered, "He's doing just like we thought. He's the favorite and his votes are piling up pretty fast. Of course it's too early to tell but I'm predicting he'll be our next President."
"Do you think Stevenson will drop out of the race if he doesn't get as many votes as he thought?"
"I don't get it, Clyde," I said. "If his votes don't pile up at the finish line he won't have as many to push out of the way. It'll be easy for him to get across first."
"He needs more at the end. It's how much he can get through at the end that gets him across. Remember the more votes the more yelling. The more yelling the better the chance."
"I'll never understand elections."
"Yeah, you will," he said. "Stick with me, nef. You can't go wrong with me teachin' ya."
He smiled at me. It was that smile I would come to know with ever stretch of the truth he would utter.
"Alright you kids. Time to get ready for bed," my grandmother said.
"What about the race? Is it over yet. How can they run all day?" I asked.
"Honey, they're going to be running way into the night. You gotta go to bed. You'll find out who won in the morning. WE all know who's going to win. It'll be President Eisenhower tomorrow."
"Clyde," I said after the lights were turned out.
"I don't think Eisenhare will win."
"He's over competent."
"Oh stop thinking about that puzzle. That's a cartoon. This is real life. You can see in the pictures of Eisenhower. He's no hair."
I could sense the crooked smile in the dark.