“Are you that new kid?”
“I just moved here. If that’s what you mean.”
The boy pointed at the house Bill’s parents had bought. Bill nodded.
He’d never seen so much grass in his life. They’d moved from the city. He only knew goats ate grass. But there were no goats around.
A butterfly danced back and forth between the trees. A crow called from overhead.
Beyond their neighborhood, cornfields seemed to go on without end.
“What’s your name?”
“My friends call me Billy.”
“I’m Andy. Want to come over?”
Bill followed Andy to his house, half a block away.
He thought about the distinction between ‘a new kid’ and ‘that new kid’. He expected new kids were a semi-rare occurrence, so either would do. ‘That’ was specific.
He wondered how long he would be any kind of ‘new kid’.
They went in the kitchen door.
Andy called out. “Mom! I brought that new kid home. His name is Billy!”
A few moments later, Andy’s mother entered the kitchen and introduced herself.
“Hi. Billy, right?” Bill nodded. “I’m Anders’ mother. You can call me Mrs. Anderson.”
“So he’s Anders Anderson?”
She smiled and nodded.
“Is your husband named Anders?”
She shook her head. “No, honey. His name is John. You can call him Mr. Anderson.”
“So, he’s John Anderson’s son, Anders Anderson?”
She thought for a moment and then chuckled. “Yes. I think you got that straight.”
“But not Anders, John’s son?”
She nodded but had lost patience with his line of questioning. “Would you like to sit and have some cookies? Let’s get acquainted.”
Andy and Bill sat at the kitchen table while she prepared the snack.
“How old are you, Billy?”
“Will you be going to the public school with Andy?”
“You’ll both be in the same grade. Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“One big bother.”
She looked at him.
“He’s a little brother. But he’s a big bother.”
She put a plate of cookies onto the table and both boys grabbed a couple. She poured milk and put the glasses on the table.
“What do your parents do?”
“My dad runs a store.”
“Oh, well. And your mother?”
“She drinks coffee, and shops.”
“Sounds like they’re both very busy.”
“That’s an expensive house. They must do very well.”
Andy slid his glass on the table top and watched the condensation bead up.
Mrs. Anderson asked, “Andy’s dad hunts. Does yours?”
Bill thought for a moment. “Maybe.”
“He takes Andy out sometimes. Do you have a gun?”
Andy imitated the sound of a gun firing as he pretended to aim. “Blam! Blam!”
“I’m talking to Billy, Andy.” She turned to Bill, “Do you have guns in the house?”
“My dad says I’m too young.”
“I see. I forgot to ask, what’s your last name, Billy?”
Andy spoke up. “Like the car? Or the city?”
“Wow! Ever been to Dodge City?” He imitated the sound of a pistol firing.
“I don’t remember.”
“You have a lot of history in that name.”
“That’s an English name, right?”
“Don’t hear those much. Everyone around here is Swedish or Norwegian.”
Bill drank his milk.
“Is your mother English too?”
“No, she’s Polish.”
Andy snickered and whispered, “He’s a Pollack, Mom.”
“Not now Andy.”
Bill looked from one to the other. He finished his milk.
“Can I go now?”
He thanked Andy’s mother for the cookies. She told him how nice it was to meet him.
“I hope to meet your parents soon.”
Bill walked home in time for dinner. But he wasn’t hungry.
His mother, Martha, asked him to set the table when he walked in.
“What did you do, today, Billy? I’ve hardly seen you.”
“I was at Andy’s.”
“Oh good. I’m glad you’re making friends.”
The doorbell rang. Bill followed his mother to see who was visiting.
She opened the door to reveal a woman holding a clipboard, a pen and a broad smile.
“Yes? Can I help you?”
“Hello. I’m Inga Neilson from ‘The Welcome Wheel’.”
Martha did not respond.
“Have you heard of us? We like to welcome people, new to the neighborhood. If you have a moment to help me fill out a brief questionnaire, I have some coupons to give you. You can get valuable discounts at local stores to help you settle in, from your move.”
“I’m preparing dinner. If you could come…”
“It will only take a minute.”
“A minute then…”
“Great. Let’s see…” She looked at her form. “How many children do you have, Mrs….”
“Dodge. We have two boys.”
“Dodge. Hmmm. Great. Are their immunizations up to date?”
“What make and model of cars you drive?”
“It’s for the local businesses, Mrs. Dodge…” She ran her finger down the list. “Oh, here. What is the education level of you and your husband?”
“We met in college. I don’t see…”
“Great. And… is English the primary language spoken in the home?”
“Are any other languages spoken in the home?”
“Good. Did you vote in the last election?”
“Are you currently registered to vote at this address?”
“I have a form to do so if you would like.” She offered Martha the registration form.
Martha took it. “Thank you.”
“If you want to fill it out now, I can take it with me. Would you like my help filling it out?”
“No. I don’t need your help.”
“Okay then. Let’s see. May I ask your party affiliation?”
“I don’t see how that is any of your business. May I see the questionnaire?”
Inga showed her the form on the clipboard. Bill’s mother unclipped the form, folded the form in half and tore it in pieces. Inga’s mouth dropped open.
She handed the scraps to Bill. “Throw these in the trash, would you Billy?”
Bill took the shredded form but didn’t leave.
Inga said, “You can’t do that!”
“I just did.”
“Now I can’t give you the valuable discount coupons.”
“Use them yourself.”
Bill’s mother shut the door. She turned to Bill. “Toss that in the trash and wash for dinner.”
Bill went into his room. He hid the scraps in the bottom of a drawer under his t-shirts. While drying his hands, he heard his father arrive home from work.
He ate his dinner in silence. But he listened to his mother tell his dad about Inga, ‘the rude woman asking intrusive questions’. His Dad thought she handled it well.
“The good news is, Billy got out and made a friend today.”
“That’s great, Billy. And people say you’re shy.” He looked back at Martha. “It takes time, Mart, but we’ll get used to it. We won’t always be strangers.” He thought for a moment. “What happened to the questionnaire?”
“Billy threw it away.”
They both looked at Bill, who smiled at them.
Bill’s Dad said, “Team work at its best. ‘The Welcome Wheel,’ huh?” He put on a comic German accent. “As in ‘Ve vheel come and make you talk’. Ve half veys!”
They all laughed.
His dad smiled at Bill. “This is a good lesson, Billy. We’re not ashamed. But some things aren’t anyone else’s business.”
After dinner, Bill went to his room. He taped the questionnaire together while lying on his bed. He checked the questions on the list.
There were so many. And he didn’t understand some. Mrs. Anderson had asked him several.
Now Bill had lots of questions, but didn’t know who to ask.