My cousins lived next door. It was a convenience I never thought about. I just got up and walked over to the next yard, climbed the steps to the back porch and walked right in. Everyone was at the table when I walked through. My aunt was at the stove cooking. She had bacon frying in the pan. A half a dozen eggs sat on the counter soon to be fired in that bacon grease. I could see the handle of the pot that had grits bubbling away on the burner.
“Good morning, Rickey,” said my aunt in greeting. “Join us for breakfast?”
I was always welcome for breakfast.
“Yes’m, please,” I answered heading for the bench seat on one side of the table. My girl cousins sat across from me after I slid in on the other side. My other cousin sat in his chair at the end of the table opposite the two windows facing out over the driveway.
“I got a new record,” said Hayne.
“You do? What is it?” I looked over toward the shelf that held the record player. It was a white player with cartoon characters painted on the side. A stack of 45 records sat on the thick pole at the center of the turntable.
“It’s a story about Henery Hawk and Foghorn Leghorn. Would you like to hear it?”
Hayne was unable to play like the rest of us due to a condition he had from birth. He was confined to a chair but he never complained. He was always with us when we played. Though confined to a chair his imagination brought him right into the middle of whatever we were doing.
I told him yeah and jumped up to turn on the player.
“Where is it?” I had shuffled through several records trying to locate it.
“It’s already on the player. Just hit the switch. Take those ready to drop, off first, though.”
I slipped the stack of records off the spindle then turned it on. The needle arm moved over and down. Through the speaker came the Warner Brother Looney Tune music followed by the voice of Mel Blanc introducing himself as Henery Hawk and soon after as Foghorn Leghorn.
“Not again,” said one of the girls. “Mom! Do we have to listen to that again?”
My aunt took a moment to walk to the end of the table.
“It’s not going to hurt you to hear that story again,” she said looking at the frown on the girl’s face. “How many times have I had to listen to that new singer, what’s his name? Elvis Presley? That’s not even real music but I let you play it over and over and over.”
She returned to the stove.
My oldest cousin of the two, on the opposite bench, stuck her tongue out at me. She didn’t see me do the same because she had already returned to reading her movie magazine.
I went back to listening with Hayne until the record needed flipping it to the other side. I jumped up to switch it. At the same time my aunt called out for us to come get our plates.
“Which one is Hayne’s?” I asked. My aunt smiled handing me a plate with an egg and bacon and a pile of grits. I took it to him.
“Watch out, it’s hot,” I warned. He got his fork at the ready as I went back for my plate. The girls gave me a shove as I went back for mine.
The record ended. The machine automatically shut off. I mixed my eggs in with the grits and broke up the bacon to mix in as well.
My cousin, who always made faces at me, was making one now.
“Eww! How can you eat that mess?” She was looking at the plate piled with yellow grits specked with dark bits of bacon.
“It’s good. You should try it. Your daddy always says it mixes together in your stomach.”
“Yeah, but you don’t have to eat it like that.”
“Read you magazine,” I responded.
“So what are we going to do today?” I asked. The sky was a dark gray. It was supposed to rain all day.
“How about Monopoly?” Hayne offered. Monopoly always brought a smile to his face.
“You always win that game!” we all chimed in.
“Yeah, it’s fun,” he said.
We finished breakfast and took our dishes to the sink. My oldest cousin went to get the Monopoly board. She opened the playing field on the breakfast table. We chose our pieces and placed them on GO.
I gave Hayne the dice. He rolled a twelve. Linda beat out the count with the Top Hat.
“Draw a card!” I shouted. I pulled one off the top of the deck. “Get out of jail free card! You always get the good ones.” I handed it to him and he tucked it away for a rainy day.
This would be one of those days. The rain had begun in earnest now, pelting the windows. A rumble came from far off.
We played until Hayne had collected all our money in rent. He always won. His chances to buy choice real estate were methodical as if he could control the dice with his mind. It was OK. We spent several hours watching our money slip through our fingers into his cash pile.
I looked outside to see if it was slowing down enough to go home. It was a steady rain.
“Do you think it’s too wet to go out on the porch?” We all enjoyed watching the rain fall.
Outside it was still raining but not quite so hard. I opened the door so Linda could ease Hayne’s wheelchair over the threshold. His smile at the outside world was as big as always. He loved outside. He loved life. He never fussed about having to live it in a chair. His enjoyment of family and moment to moment living was remarkable. What we often took for granted he savored.
The porch had a wood floor painted gray. Midway facing forward was an opening between two bannisters that graced the edge open tothe road. Steps led down to a flag stoned walkway leading to the street. Two brick columns about a foot high sat at the end on either side.
A swing hung from the ceiling to the left of the door. Richie and Linda were already piling into it. They swung outside the cover of the roof into the steady rain. They giggled each time the rain fell upon them. We two boys laughed at their silliness.
I sat on the floorboards next to the wheel chair.
“You know what would be great?” he asked me.
“Ice cream?” I asked.
“No, to be able to run out into that rain and splash in puddles.”
I looked at him thinking, I like being dry under the roof. It was hard for me to imagine wanting to go out into it.
“You’d get all wet,” I told him.
“Yeah, but it would be great fun.” He spoke while I noticed his eyes fill with wonder at the ability to do such a thing. I knew he missed out on so much because he couldn’t run with the rest of us but it never occurred to me that he thought about it this way.
I believe it was the first time I ever truly realized he was not able to enjoy fully the things we so took for granted. His was a second hand enjoyment. Sure, he loved playing with us and he always laughed along with us at whatever we were doing but here in this moment I realized how much he missed but how much he loved life and the world around him.
“OK,” I said. I jumped up, rain down the steps and jumped into the first puddle I saw. The rain came down beating on my head plastering my hair to my skull. My clothes became wet, then drenched, as I jumped up and down in every mud puddle I could find. Soon the rain poured harder and harder still.
On the porch my cousins were yelling at me to come in out of the rain.
“Don’t you have any sense?” yelled one.
“You don’t have the sense God gave an animal cracker,” shouted the other.
My aunt came to the porch opening the screen door just wide enough to see what was happening. When she saw me jumping up and down in the muddle puddles holding my hands up to the sky she joined in the outcry.
“Rickey, get back up here on the porch. What would you mother say?” she shouted at me.
The grown up had spoken. I began to trudge back stomping puddles on my way. Climbing the steps I saw my aunt shaking her head at me. As she went inside she looked down at Hayne who looked up to her and smiled. She smiled back.
“Guess I better go home,” I said to Hayne as I finished climbing the steps.
“Yeah, you better go home and change into dry clothes, weirdo,” said my oldest cousin.
“You were right,” I said quietly to Hayne.
His grin was wide. His eyes gleamed.
“Thank you,” he said.