“Murph! Murph! Wake up!” I gently nudged my little brother as he lay snoring under the plush throw on our large couch. He groaned, and wouldn’t open his eyes.
I hit him with the velvet throw pillow from the end of the couch. “Get up, dummy.” He opened his eyes, and growled, “I was having a pretty good dream. What do you want?”
“Your nephew is on his way over for us to take him shopping for his Halloween costume,” I said as I picked dishes he left on the coffee table the night before.
My brother apparently had slept on the couch again last night. We all have some insomnia in our family, but Murphy seems to have the worst of it. I never know where I will find him asleep.
“Liv, can’t you take him? I got in late last night and didn’t fall asleep until ...” Murphy sat up on the couch, rubbed his eyes, and looked at his cell phone. “Three hours ago.”
I walked on to the kitchen in our apartment and put the dishes in the sink. “No. He has been looking forward to both of us taking him … we promised Kyle we’d do it for him. Get up.”
My brother stood, and growled at me, “I liked you better when we weren’t roommates, Olivia Margaret Downing.”
“When haven’t we been roommates, dude? We share a room until I turned 10 and you were nine, and then when you came to college, we got an apartment since neither one of us wanted to live in the dorm, and now, you’re 28 and I am 29, and we’re still roommates.” I gave him my best ‘So, there’ look, and walked into my room to finish getting dressed.
Our older brother, Kyle, is a single dad. His son, Tucker, is four. Kyle’s wife died of breast cancer last year, and we’ve all been pitching in to help. Halloween is a week away, and Kyle asked us if we would go with them trick or treating, and Murphy volunteered to take Tucker shopping for a Halloween costume.
Kyle is firefighter and is on shift today, so our parents are bringing Tucker over. Murphy is an EMT – he went to college to be a physical therapist but discovered a real passion for working with emergencies. I am a trauma surgeon fellow at our hospital – in my final year of the fellowship. Our dad is the sheriff of our county – about five years from retiring. Mom is the school superintendent – about eight years from retirement.
So, we’re a busy little family, but Tucker – we all will stop for Tucker.
Tucker is hearing impaired due to a birth defect in the Eustachian tube. Actually, it is genetic. My dad and I both are hearing impaired. Tucker’s is a little more severe, and enrolled in the school for the hearing impaired. We all learned sign language for him, though he speaks and can hear us somewhat.
We call it The Downing Family Secret Language.
Kyle and Tucker live about three blocks from the apartment complex that Kyle and I live in. Our parents live about five miles into the county on the family’s ranch. So, we’re a pretty close family, I guess.
Anyway, enough of that. Today is about Tucker, and Trick or Treating and his costume. Halloween is in seven days.
This will be the first time that I have ever gone trick or treating with a child. Murphy was a year younger than me, so we were trick or treating at the same time. Kyle is about five years older than me, so he took us once or twice, but our dad or mom was always in the car waiting.
And I have to say, I am really excited. My nephew is my best buddy. We ride horses together, take walks, and love dogs. In fact, he is the reason I got my French Bulldog, Roscoe, who I notice as I sit on the bed, and tie my shoes, is snoring away in his bed by the window in my room. “Roscoe.”
He pops his head up and looks at me with sleepy eyes. “Just making sure you were alive, go back to sleep.” Roscoe stands up, shakes and turns around in his bed, and flops down. In a few minutes, I hear him snoring.
As I am putting in my hearing aid, I hear the front door of the apartment slam open, and a loud voice hollers, “WILMA, I’M HOME!” Roscoe jumps up, and runs to my bedroom door, waiting to get out.
Tucker has arrived. I open my door, and Roscoe runs out, barking. I can hear Tucker talking to Roscoe, and Murphy said, “Kid, you got a loudmouth, you know that?” My dad’s deep voice responds, “He is a Downing, what can you say...”
I walk out, putting my cell phone in my back pocket, “What’s shaking, Fred?” I smile as Tucker is on his knees on the floor playing with Roscoe. When he hears me, Tucker jumps up and runs to me with his arms open wide. “Wilma!”
Let me explain. I have red hair -well, auburn. My nephew has dark hair. I introduced him to reruns of our favorite animated series, The Flintstones when he was two. It is our thing. You know Wilma is the wife and Fred is the husband in the show.
I lean down and grab him up for a tight hug. “Dude, what have you got on?” I sniff. “Did you get into Papa’s aftershave?”
Tucker laughed. “He put it on me so I could catch me a babe.”
My dad was sitting on our couch next to Murphy. “I didn’t say, babe. I said a girl.”
“Dad … You never helped me try to catch a babe,” Murphy said, feigning jealousy.
Tucker ran over to Murphy, and put his hands on Murph’s knees, “He didn’t because he knew there was no help for you.”
Murphy laughed, and grabbed Tucker up, and started tickling him. I grabbed my purse from the bar and found my keys. My dad asked, “Where are you guys going to take this rugrat?”
“Walmart.” “Target.” “Whataburger.” Murphy, Tucker, and I answered him at the same time. I will let you figure out which one said what.
Daddy shook his head and stood up. He reached into his wallet and handed me a fifty-dollar bill. “Our contribution to the day.”
Tucker’s eyes got wide when he saw the money and started giggling. He was sitting in Murphy’s lap. Murphy asked him, “Why are you giggling?”
“Papa just gave Liv fifty dollars, do you know how many Matchbox cars that’ll buy?” Tucker put his hands on either side of Murphy’s face. Tucker collects them.
Daddy shook his head, “Three today. That’s all. You already have a box full at the house.”
I mouthed behind my dad’s head, “Ten.” Tucker laughed. Daddy said, “I saw that, Liv.” I shrugged. “Do you have eyes in the back of your head?”
Daddy walked to the door, and pointed at the three of us, “Behave. I have eyes out there everywhere.”
“Bye Papa,” Tucker said crawling down from Murphy’s lap.
I asked Tucker, “Do you have an idea of what you want to be?”
He nodded. “A UPS man.” You’d think he’d want to be a fireman or a doctor or a paramedic or a policeman … no, not my nephew.
“Why a UPS man?” Murphy asked, looking up at Tucker who was standing at the end of the couch next to me.
“UPS men make people happy. They bring happys to everyone.” He loves to see the UPS man pulling up and leaving packages.
Murphy stood, put his phone in his pocket, and his wallet in the other pocket. “Well, let’s hit the road. I’m hungry. Can we stop for breakfast first?”
I shrugged, “It’s fine with me. But ask Fred, this is his trip.”
Tucker was holding the door open. “Can we go to Starbucks and get a bagel?” Yes, he was most certainly my nephew – coffee and a bagel.
Murphy and I looked at each and smiled. “Kid, you are my favorite, you know that. Let’s hit it.” Murphy said.
After scarfing down bagels, coffee, and milk for Tucker, we went on a hunt for a UPS costume in Tucker’s size. My mom had already done some research and found that the costume store near their house had some.
While we were searching through the store, Murphy and Tucker were making jokes about different costumes. Tucker was thinking that Murphy should dress up as a girl for Halloween. “A girl? Why a girl?”
“You spend more time in front of the mirror than most girls I know of,” Tucker said peeking through some of the costume racks.
I asked Tucker. “How many girls do you know?”
He stopped. “Well, only you and Nana.”
Murphy laughed, “I get the point.” I shot Murphy a dirty look.
We walked a little further back in the store and that’s when Murphy said, “Found it. Come here, dude.”
It was a genuine UPS man’s costume with accessories. Tucker clapped. He was so excited, he couldn’t talk, so he signed, “Yes, yes, that’s it.” Murphy held it up and looked at the price tag. “Whoa. Pops knew what he was talking about.” He showed me the price tag.
Tucker looked at us, and said, “Is it too much money?” His deep brown eyes were worried.
Murphy shook his head. I said, “Nope. We got you. Let’s get this, and look, it even has a candy bucket in the shape of UPS packages, a fake mustache, and a clipboard. Dude, we need to find you a UPS truck now.”
Tucker smiled. “They have one at Walmart in the Matchbox car section.”
“Are you serious?” Murphy asked. That’s when he noticed the twinkle in Tucker’s eyes. “Are you fibbing?”
Tucker shrugged, “We’ll have to go see to find out.”
I laughed as we walked toward the cash register. “That’s your nephew.”
Murphy grabbed Tucker up, gave him a zerbert on his cheek. “You’re a mess.”
When he put Tucker down, Tucker asked, “What are you guys going to wear? Aren’t you going to dress up too?”
I looked at Murphy, and back at Tucker. Tucker was going to have his future girlfriends wrapped around his little fingers with his eyes and dimples. Sighing, I said, “I haven’t thought about it.”
Murphy was thumbing through the adult costume rack, and he stopped. He pulled out a firefighter’s costume. “I know what I am going to be – Kyle.”
Tucker clapped, “Daddy will think that’s funny.”
“Are you serious?” I asked.
Murphy said, “Why not? This is our first time taking Tucker trick or treating, and well, why not? Let’s have some fun with it.”
I handed Tucker his costume, “Hold this.” I walked over to the women’s rack and started flipping through. Murphy and Tucker sat on the edge of a display and watched me.
“Ha! I found it.” I pulled out a Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz costume that had a basket with a stuffed dog in it.
Murphy and Tucker laughed. “You love that movie,” Tucker said. Most people probably would find the story of our shopping day so far boring. We're just two adults taking a kid shopping ... spending the day with our nephew. There is no drama, no conflict, no murder, no romance ... just everyday life stuff.
But that's OK. I had enough drama in my job and saw enough conflict in the emergencies we took care of. A slow day like this was something I looked forward too.
“And you can put Roscoe in the basket instead of that fake Toto.” Murphy stood up.
I looked in the costume bag. “It has the ruby slippers. Whoohoo. I’m in it.”
Tucker handed me his costume. “You’re a nerd, but I love you, Wilma.”
“You’re too cheeky for a four-year-old.” I tweaked his nose. Murphy took the costumes from me, and headed to the register.
After the cashier totaled them, I reached in my purse to get money, and Murphy shook his head. “I’ve got these. We’ll use that at Walmart and for lunch.”
I asked him, “Are you sure?”
Murphy looked at Tucker who was mesmerized at the display of Halloween accessories by the counter. “It’s for the kid.”
I squeezed Murphy’s shoulder and walked over to where Tucker was peeking at the stuff. “Hey, let’s go to the car while Murphy pays.”
It felt good to be with him. His little hand squeezed mine hard. We were careful crossing to the parking lot. “Liv, I’m glad you’re my aunt.”
Oh, Lord. I can feel the tears. “I’m glad you’re my nephew.”
“You, Murphy, and Daddy are my best friends, you know that, right?” Tucker asked as we reached Murphy’s Escalade. I opened the door and lifted Tucker in so he could buckle in his car seat.
I nodded, “Yes, baby. I know that.” I kissed his forehead after buckling him in. Hanging out with him on Halloween was going to be great. Hanging out with him any day was great.
Tucker stretched and sat quietly while we waited for Murphy. I sat in the front passenger side and looked out the window.
“Hey bud, do you want to Walmart, or to the toy store in the mall?” I asked.
Tucker said, “That’s a hard one. The mall. We don’t go there very often. Daddy gets sad. Mommy used to work at the bookstore in the mall, remember?”
I had forgotten. My heart hurt at the memory of my sister-in-law, and the thought of Tucker without a mom.
“We can just go to Walmart if that’s what you want,” I said.
Tucker responded, “No, let’s go to the mall. If it gets too sad, we can leave.”
Murphy opened the door behind the driver’s side and hung the costumes up. “Buddy, are you excited? Costumes.”
Tucker laughed. “Yes. Thank you, Murphy.”
When Murphy got in the driver’s side, he turned to me, and back to Tucker, “Where to next?”
Tucker said, “I want to go to the mall. But if it gets too sad, thinking about Mommy, we can leave, right? Besides, they have a Chic-Fil-A there.”
Murphy looked at me questioning. I mouthed, “The bookstore, remember?”
My brother nodded. “Sure, bud. The mall it is. But first, your dad called while I was waiting. He wants us to stop by the firehouse, is that cool?”
Tucker said, “YAY! Yes.”
“Most certainly. I love firehouses.” I said, grinning.
Tucker said, “You just want to see the firefighters in their uniforms.”
Murphy grimaced. “Kid, you know way too much … eeew.”
And off we went on our next part of our journey. The visit to the firehouse was a dud. The crew was out on a call, so we went on over to the mall. The toy store was full of all sorts of new stuff, and Tucker found some Matchbox cars he didn’t have, and he was right – there was a UPS Matchbox truck.
As we were leaving the toy store, Tucker stopped. “I want to go to the bookstore.”
He was holding my hand, and his grip was tight but relaxed. Murphy was standing on his other side. He asked Tucker, “Are you sure?”
“Yes. It’s time. Time to be brave. Plus, I know Liv wants to look for a book.” Tucker smiled, nodding.
We walked across to the bookstore. I don’t think I had been in this one since his mom died. There are two more bookstores in town. “Bud, we don’t have to go in.” I leaned down and whispered.
He shook his head. “I have too.”
Murphy and I exchanged glances. Murphy reached down and picked Tucker up. “Come on, let’s go look for a new book for you while Liv cases out the new releases.” I watched as Tucker relaxed in Murphy’s arms.
Sometimes my little brother was my hero. Grief is not something any of us can get over easy. Can you imagine how hard it is for a kid Tucker’s age?
I found one of Katherine Center’s newest books and grabbed it. I walked to the children’s section. I heard giggling and snorting. I saw Murphy and Tucker sitting on the floor, and Murphy was reading a book to Tucker. When I approached, I noticed the cover. ‘Fernadad the Bull.’ It was one of Tucker’s favorite stories. Next to them on the floor was ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.’
Murphy stopped, “And we’ll finish this when we get back to the apartment.”
“Did you find something, Liv?” Tucker asked standing up, picking up the Charlie Brown book. He peeked at my book. “Is that by that lady you like to read?”
Tucker could sound out a few simple words. “Yup, it’s her newest one. You guys, ready? I’m hungry.” I took the book from Tucker, and Murphy handed me the other one. He had a magazine in the other – my brother has this thing for horses. He reads all the horse magazines he can find. “Give it.” I said.
“I can get it.” Murphy said.
I shook my head. “You got the costumes, and we’ll use Papa’s money for lunch and gas.” I took the magazine from his hand.
Tucker went on ahead of us.
Murphy said, “You know, taking him trick or treating is going to be cool as snot. I look forward to doing stuff with him.”
I nodded, “Yup. We’ll be doing a lot of firsts with him.”
And we would handle a lot more Halloweens, birthdays, holidays, first days of school, doctor visits, hair cuts, school stuff, football games, and yes, even his first dates, his proms, and his graduation.
That’s what families do.