“Can I go, please, mom? Can I?” It wasn’t often I begged like that but this time it was something I wanted very badly.
“I don’t know, sweetheart. We’ll have to ask your father,” was my mother’s reply. It was the knell of doom. All things had to go through my dad. His was the final word on all things family. On the average my chances were one-hundred-to-one against or that had been my reckoning.
“That means no,” I said deflated from the high of securing my momentary strongest desire.
“We don’t know that yet. I’ll ask him. Perhaps he will surprise you,” she said smiling down at me.
“It’s this Friday, mom. I need to tell him,” I reminded her.
“I know. I’ll ask but don’t rush me. I have to bring it up at the right moment.”
That was it, the right moment, the most propitious moment, a moment seldom found in my short memory. It was dependent upon dad’s mood or his experience at work or if he was interrupted in his day’s flow. If he was disturbed while he was doing something or thinking of doing something or just thinking through a problem to complete something it could spell the death of any plan mom or I might have.
“Maybe I should just let him know I can’t.” The dejection in my voice could not be missed.
“Now don’t say that. Just give me a chance.” She was smiling again reaching for the brown hair atop my head. Giving it a tousle she said, “I have a good feeling about it.”
I shook my head from beneath her hand and walked over to the corner to sulk. She watched me aware of the numerous disappointments in my brief life. For me, asking my dad was the stone wall of childhood so I found a book to lose myself in.
I spent some time in my book unaware of the clock’s ticking until I heard dad’s car door slam. Uh oh, I thought.
“Dad’s home! Will you ask him now?” I was shouting.
My mother put her finger to her mouth asking me to hush.
“Don’t rush me,” she said. “All in good time.”
I ran to the door.
“Hey dad! How was your day at work?” Unintentionally I was yelling in my enthusiasm to find out which way the wind was blowing.
“Not now, son,” he said. There was no smile on his face. It was over. Once again I headed for the corner and my book.
Dad dropped his lunchbox on the table and gave my mother a peck on the cheek.
“Sit down, dear and I’ll make a pot of tea.” She took his jacket and hung it on the peg by the door. She handed him the paper which he took with a weak smile.
I was watching him from the corner of my eye as he opened the front section of the News and Courier. He was hidden from my view now by the paper wall.
“Rough day?” mom ventured into the quiet.
“Mmm,” was my dad’s reply.
The kettle let out a loud whistle to alert everyone to its boiling contents. My mother lifted the kettle to the tea pot splashing the bubbling water into its empty belly. She replaced the kettle on the burner. It immediately screamed its protest as my mother swished the water in the pot around and out into the sink. She dropped the tea bags into the pot and carried it to the burner where she emptied the contents of the kettle over those fresh tea bags. Tetley tea bags. Not those bitter Louisiana tea bags. That choice had been settled years before.
With the pot ,beneath a brightly colored tea cosie, placed on the table she retrieved the cups and saucers putting them on the table. She pulled the milk from the fridge and stood it beside the pot. It was added to the cups before the tea was poured.
“There, all set,” said my mother. “Rickey, come get a cuppa tea while I put dinner on.”
She waved me over with her hand, closing it except for her index finger which she brushed across her lips. I knew that was the signal to be quiet. Not disturbing my dad was of primary importance in our house. I knew the score and sat quietly waiting for the tea to draw.
When mom had the pots and pans filled with the evening’s supper she slipped over to the table.
“Tea, dear?” she asked in dad’s direction.
“Ta,” came the response from behind the front section of the paper.
My mother splashed a bit of milk in dad’s and my cup. She poured the tea into our two cups then into her half cup she poured the brown liquid without the aid of milk. She preferred it black.
I sat watching the paper behind which my dad was in deep thought about the news in the world.
I looked over at my mother knowing what I would see. She was shaking her head ever so slightly which meant, do not disturb your father. Knowing this might take a long time I poured my tea into my saucer as I had seen my granddad do with his coffee. I lifted the saucer blowing on the surface to cool the liquid just enough to sip. With the saucer levelled at my lips I made a loud slurping sound. That sound brought the page in front of me to a diagonal opening from which appeared my dad’s face in search of the source of that noise.
“What are you doing, son?” His disapproving look stared at me.
“I was drinking my tea like Granddaddy drinks his coffee. It cools a lot faster this way.” I said all this hoping it would be an acceptable reason.
“Well don’t. We don’t drink our tea that way. It is drunk from the cup.” With those words he shook the paper back into the paper wall. I was left with my saucer half full in front of my face. I tried to drink it without any further noise. After finishing what was left I slipped my saucer beneath my cup once again.
It was a point against me. I could tell by the look my mother was giving me.
The paper rustled as dad turned the page.
“Could I have a cookie with my tea?” I asked hopefully.
“It’ll spoil your supper.” The words flew from behind the paper curtain.
Again my mother shook her head slowly at me.
I sat forward and drank down my remaining tea so I could slip back to the corner and my book.
A few pages into my story my mother called over to me.
“Rickey, time to eat.”
I closed my book and quietly returned to the table. It was left over roast beef, mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts. I hated brussel sprouts beyond any other green food.
“I want to see you eat your greens tonight, son,” said my dad folding the paper.
“Do I have to? I hate brussel sprouts.”
“No matter,” said my dad. “We all have to do things in this world we hate. It’s time you realized it and faced up to it.”
“Yes sir,” I answered automatically.
Mom and dad finished their plates. I sat there fork in hand swirling the speared chunk of roast beef around and around in the mashed potatoes while staring at the untouched brussel sprouts.
“Don’t forget your greens,” dad said as he got up from the table.
Mom dropped the dishes into the sink. She opened the tap to pour water over them since she wouldn’t wash the dishes until they were all ready to be cleaned. She knew I would be a while.
She touched my shoulder as she passed me to go into the other room to be with dad.
I had given up hope that my request would ever be voiced much less approved by my dad. I continued making swirlies in my potatoes as I chewed the reheated roast beef.
The voices in the other room were merely murmurs to me as I stabbed my first “little cabbage” as dad called them. I scrunched my face as I shoved it into my mouth. My mouth stayed open until I resolved to bite down into it. There it was that awful bitter taste squirting across my tongue. Quickly I reached for the teapot and poured it black into my cup. Tea poured over my face as I gulped it down. Even that did not wash away the hated taste fast enough.
The ordeal of the first sprout had kept me from hearing the murmurs from the other room increase in volume. My mother had broached the subject. Dad was not in favor, I could tell.
My self-torture could wait I decided. My fate hung in the balance as the voices grew ever louder from the other room.
It was my dad that became loud enough for me to hear words distinctly.
“NO. He has a perfectly good bed here at home. Why should he want to go to someone else’s house to sleep?”
There it was. My dad would not let me spend the night at my friend’s house.
“He’s a friend who has invited our son to come over for a night’s sleep over. It’s what friends do.” My mother’s voice was louder now.
“Not when I was a child!”
“You’re not a child any longer. Your son is. You lived in England. He’s in America and just wants to go over to a friend’s house for the night. Friends do that these days in America.”
“I’m against it. I don’t know why he wants to go to a stranger’s house to sleep.”
“I talked to the parents. They are nice people, no longer strangers.”
“I don’t know them!” yelled dad.
“Of course you don’t. You’re always wrapped up in your job!”
The house went silent.
It was a sign that I should finish those horrid little cabbages. I poured tea into my cup along with milk this time. I counted six of the dreaded objects. I popped in three and chewed quickly. Two gulps of tea washed them down. I gasped for air. Only three more. I poured the last of the tea into my cup and had it at the ready.
I pushed the last ones into my mouth and chewed. The gag reflex was triggered and they almost flew across the room. Tea to the rescue! With two more gulps they were finally forced down into my stomach. I pushed my plate away and lay my head on the table.
The murmurs began again. I strained to hear but it was impossible.
I sat in my chair with my head on the table. Thirty minutes passed by. I was beginning to doze as my mother’s hand touched my shoulder.
“Your dad says you can go,” she said with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes.
“You mean it!” I shouted.
She nodded her head in affirmation.
“You should go thank him,” she said quietly.
“Yes ma’am!” I said jumping up from my chair.
I ran to where dad was sitting in the other room. He was gazing out the window deep in thought as I approached.
“Thank you, daddy. Thank you. I ate all my brussel sprouts!” I added.
He turned to me. His eyes glistened. I smiled at him for a long time as he just looked at me without a word.
Finally he said, “You’re welcome, son. I just want you to behave while you are over there. It’s nice to be asked to someone else’s home. It’s an honor I never received when I was your age. We were very poor as all our acquaintances were. There was never enough room or food… I… The times, the conditions… I’m sorry, son. I don’t mean to…. Well, you go on to your friend’s. Enjoy yourself.”
I had no idea what dad was talking about. I just knew I was going to spend the night at my friend’s house.
“I will!” I yelled and jumped up and down with joy.
“Alright, son. Calm it down now.” His smile was different this time. I tried to understand but the excitement of his saying yes overcame me. With a hoot I ran to tell my mother I was going to spend the night at my friend’s as if she didn’t know it.