Kevin watched his mommy dive into a huge plastic tub in the hallway upstairs. Her rear end was waving around in the air in a way that made the six-year-old giggle uncontrollably. Mommy, aka Sandra Peterson, straightened and gazed down at her son, now holding his middle and rolling around the floor laughing.
“Something amuses you, boy?” she smiled down at him.
“You po-po was bouncing in the air!” he gasped, pointing at where her derriere had been a moment ago. She shook her head and popped back down to her task. After a few minutes of calming himself, Kevin finally came over to the big tub to decide what was going on. Coats and mittens and scarves were being drug from the depth of the blue, plastic bin and thrown in a pile on the other side. He recognized his own winter coat from last year, when he had been a baby of five. He grabbed the purple, quilted overcoat and tried to get it on. It was tight and too short in the arms.
“Look how much I’ve grown, mama!” he proudly announced. Sandra peeped over the edge of her work tote and sighed.
“Great, and tomorrow is the first day of winter,” she stated.
Kevin was puzzled, as today had been a balmy 60 degrees, with a sky full of blue and sun – and all the trees covered in glorious gold, orange, red and rust. He had frolicked all afternoon. School had let out at 11 am this Monday for a special teacher’s meeting, and his mom had picked him up and taken him to the park to eat a lunch consisting of pickle sandwiches (his favorite) and apples and walnuts. They had drunk ice-cold water from her thermos and played on the slide and the swings and the merry-go-round until the sky grew glimmery with oncoming dusk. And while he had felt a little chilly by the time they got home to make a big pot of chili, it was hardly a reason for mommy to now be taking out all their cold weather gear. He could not remember last year, when did she get them out last year he wondered?
“Why are you getting out our winter coats and mittens?” Kevin wanted to know.
“You will see why in the morning, mister,” she informed him mysteriously. Sandra had a great idea pop into her brain. “Come on, son, let’s get you ready for bed.”
With that, she picked up the mound of coats and scarves and led him to his bedroom. They were greeted by the green dragon dancing around on his wall over his little desk. She had painted it with him this summer, dragons being Kevin’s new obsession. Flying around his head, were little dragons, way up in the air – in various forms of play. Airplane mobiles hung from the ceiling, along with planets and stars – the ceiling being covered with little glow-in-the-dark dots that looked like constellations when the lights went out.
Kevin’s childhood was nothing, if not magical.
Sandra marched him to the bathroom, laying out his favorite green jammies, covered with – of course, dragons. She bade him brush his teeth and wash his face and promised to be right back. Kevin did a fair job cleaning his teeth and cheeks, it had been explained a thousand times why this was important and he was dang sure he didn’t want to be toothless by the time he was ten. Nor could he abide the thought of pimples when he was thirteen, so wash and brush he did!
Climbing into his jammies and making basketballs of his stripped off jeans, shirt and underthings – he made swishing sounds as he slam-dunked them into the hamper.
“And Peterson scores!” he exclaimed, dancing around now with his hairbrush for a microphone. His arms went over his head in a victory sign, when his dad came in, with his mommy in tow. It never occurred to him why mommy was mommy, but daddy was dad. Sandra was soft and whimsical and mommyish. But James Peterson, aka dad – his father – was more military in nature. He could talk to his dad about anything, even his feelings, if he did so with articulate words and few tears. Men didn’t cry in dad’s world. Mommy said that was hogwash (at which time Kevin inevitably pictured a fat, nasty-dirty pig being drug to a bathtub full of suds and sponges).
James lived for this child and woman. He built roads during the day and often late into the night, sometimes having to travel for weeks on a site. He was the supervisor at work, and it was hard to put away the bossy voice when he got home. Sandra did her best to help him, though – and being brought up for the nightly ritual of bedtime was an excellent way for him to come down off his scaffold-high horse and cuddle with reality for a while.
“Whatcha doing, Peterson?” he teased his son, having caught the basketball color talk as he entered the bathroom.
Kevin dropped his hands to his side, and with a sheepish grin, admitted “nothing”.
James scooped his big boy up into his arms, Kevin eagerly gripping his legs around dad’s middle and his arms about his neck. Sandra began tidying up the bathroom, as father and son strolled back to the dragon lair. She picked up the hairbrush Kevin had dropped on the floor and took it into the bedroom with her. As dad picked up the book they were now reading and looked for the place they had left off, she brushed Kevin’s curly, dark-brown hair – twirling the locks around her fingers and feeling how the baby-fineness was losing the war against the thickening strands, as Kevin grew another day older. James peeped at her over his readers, raising an eyebrow which clearly restated: the boy needs a haircut.
“Now where were we?” he asked out loud. And Kevin told him exactly where they had left Milo and Tock on their adventures in The Phantom Tollbooth – talking to Alec Bings, who grew from the air downwards and could see right through things. On the story went, ask Kevin sunk down against his pillows, wriggling and moving his feet around the cool, crisp sheets – the way he did every night as he stretched towards sleep.
Back in the hallway, Sandra was putting away the cold weather wear tub, and taking the adult things down the hall to hang up in their closets. James turned to make his rounds, locking doors and checking that the dog had gone out one more time and the cat was in. Then he took himself to the longed-for bedroom with his sexy wife. Smiling enticingly at her as he entered, he read her face and knew there was some talking going to occur first.
“I am going to call Kevin in late for school – take him in after lunch,” she announced as she pulled off her clothes and climbed into her nightie. Sandra had never taken to flannel or raggedy bedwear. She still put on negligees each evening, and always smelled like musk or lavender. He was watching the striptease with appreciative eyes and tossed out a general “uh-hmm”, in response to her stated plans for tomorrow.
“You should join us,” she added.
That brought him more fully into the conversation, and he saw she was enjoying the small torment this was causing him, as she slipped beneath the sheets.
“What?” he said – super smart. “I mean, why?”
“Because, winter starts tomorrow,” she replied.
“And?” he wanted to know.
“At 9:59 am,” she added. “We have never pointed out the change of seasons to him. It will be fun.”
James was thinking of another kind of fun, and decided that rather than postpone that, he would just call in late himself and get this conversation over with. He took his cell phone off the charging station and sent a quick text out to his crew, letting them know when he would arrive in the morning, and what he expected done by the time he got there. He never took hours or days off; it was time to change all that. A new season indeed.
“Done,” he announced – doing his own disrobing performance and joining her beneath the covers.
“Done?” she teased. “Already?”
James turned off the lights.
Kevin was delighted in the morning, when he discovered that not only would he being going in to first grade late, his dad was joining them. He was not sure what watching Winter Arrive meant, but he was all for a midweek morning at home.
They ate pancakes and fried apples for breakfast and turned on music as they did the dishes together and tidied up the kitchen and their bedrooms, getting dressed. Sandra called to him at 9:30 and met him in the hall, by the front door, with his winter coat and mittens. James opened the front door – carrying his and her winter garments outside also. They deposited all of them on the front porch bench, and walked out onto the driveway. They stood there, admiring the bright blue sky and the fiery trees and shrubs growing everywhere. It was a lovely suburb – families much like theirs lived in this fairly new subdivision, Golden Oaks. And the oak trees outnumbered all others, dazzling in autumn, whether the deep orange or the more golden variety.
“It’s not cold enough for a coat, my sweatshirt is plenty,” Kevin told his parents.
James knelt down beside his son, and pointing to various homes around them he said,
“Do you see how everyone has rakes and bags out in front of their homes?”
Looking about, Kevin realized that there were big rakes and bags and trash cans all pulled out in front of every home he could see – including his own.
“Yeah,” he admitted, suddenly wondering what was going on. And even as he said this, moms or dads, sometimes both, began slipping out their front doors and taking up their rakes – getting ready for he knew not what. All of them, however, were wearing cold weather gear.
“What are they waiting for?” Kevin asked.
“Same thing we are waiting for,” Sandra filled in, “Winter will be here in,” she consulted her wristwatch, “six minutes.”
“Huh?” Kevin replied.
James began humming a little tune, one Kevin recognized as it had been sung to him throughout his short history. Sandra filled in some of the words, here and there: one season following another, laden with happiness and Hmmmm-mmmm-hmmm.
As they finished, they looked at their watches and began counting: 10, 9, 8, 7…
“Keep your eyes wide open, boy,” James instructed, turning Kevin to face their front yard. “4, 3, 2 and…”
WHOMP. With no warning, every leaf on every tree and shrub (except the fir trees) plopped in unison to the foot of the plant. All that had been, seconds before golden and red and breath-takingly beautiful, was now completely barren-limbed. Stark brownish-grey tree trunks and shrubs looked spidery and lonely somehow, stripped so suddenly of their leaves.
The men and women who had come out of their homes, along with Sandra and James, grabbed the rakes and bags and cans – and made a beeline for the piles of foliage. They began raking like maniacs. Except for a few modern neighbors, who, instead, fired up their lawn tractors - the big baggers receiving heavy loads of leaves and sticks. Kevin’s mouth was hanging open as he realized his parents had put on their winter coats before assailing the leaf piles. He shivered and made for his own coat, a bit snug and short in sleeve, but fighting against the thirty-degree drop that had accompanied the leaves abandoning their treetops. His breath puffed out in front of him as he grabbed his mini-rake and joined his parents in filling big, brown paper sacks with leaves.
“What is going on?” he asked.
“Winter is here,” mommy grinned at him.
“December 21, 2021 at 9:59 am, this year,’ dad explained. He was starting to move his rake faster, mommy picked up the pace of packing the leaves down in the bags.
“Why are we in a hurry?” Kevin wondered aloud, watching for a last moment his parents and the adults up and down the street, seeming to race each other to get the fall colors sacked up. Full sacks were being drug to the curb already…only eight minutes after the whomp of winter announced itself.
James did not answer with words, but grinning even more than mommy, he merely pointed up to the sky. Kevin’s head fell back as he looked up and up – and what he saw made him begin to sing and dance around, instead of help. Dashing off to the garage, he exchanged the rake for his little shovel. He bounced back into the yard, whooping like a banshee and using his shovel as a sword – thrusting it up into the air, challenging the flakes that were beginning to land on the suddenly brown grass. When had the green gone away? And when did the sky turn from bright azure to heavy grey?
9:59, Kevin answered himself. And in wonder and joy – he watched the snow fall faster and faster around him, coating the remaining leaves – even as his mom and dad rushed to the back yard to finish the raking they could still get to back there.
Kevin welcomed Winter with his happy, believing heart. Sure, that all of life would be as kin. Sure that someone would announce every change that would one day come, so he could be prepared.
And all he had to do, it seemed, was pay attention.