“Well you’ve got to admit, the girl has sparkle.” Mama thought as she backed down the driveway.
Sparkle was Mama’s word for when someone seemed to shine with pride and happiness and she was right. Anyone who knew Clementine would agree that she has never looked as good as she looks today. Both Mama and Clementine looked beautiful. That’s because today is an extra special day.
The two ladies turned onto Walnut Street and headed west. As they passed the library, Mama realized that it had been years since she had taken Clementine there.
“Actually,” She thought after double-checking the math. “It’s been decades” Mama felt a bit guilty, but also knew that just because she had known Clementine for the past forty years, did not mean they were always friends.
Even on the day they met for the very first time, Mama made it no secret that she wanted nothing to do with Clementine.
“But honey,” Her father pleaded, “she was born the same year as you” He was tying to convince Mama to look past the obvious, but the obvious was just too big to miss.
That’s because Clementine had the biggest rear end Mama had ever seen. Not only was it ridiculously large, it was also quite possibly, the smelliest rear end in all of Walnut County.
If Clementine was born the same year as Mama. that meant that she had just turned nineteen. For a young lady like Mama, nineteen was a perfectly respectable age, but there was nothing respectable about being nineteen years old when you are a farm truck that smelled like wet goat and gasoline.
This truck was Mama’s birthday gift, and her father was very proud to have painted it special just for her. He had remembered how his daughter had loved her bright orange rain boots when she was little and unfortunately assumed that orange was still her favorite color.
With the brightest orange paint he could find and a brush, He painted the old farm truck from bumper to bumper. Unfortunately for Mama; her father had never been very good at painting. Unfortunately for her father; Mama had never been very good at hiding how she felt.
“I can’t drive this” Mama said in a panic. “It looks like a short school bus.”
Her mother smiled and said “But Honey that’s a good thing. School busses are very safe and you know how we like it when our baby is safe.”
“You don’t understand.” Mama said, and she was right. Her parents did not understand. “The only thing worse than your first day at a new school was showing up to that new school in a bright orange short bus.”
After three hours of arguing, two hours of begging, and one full day of what her mother had called “The Silent Treatment,” Mama climbed into the truck. Thirty seconds after that, she knew her social life was over.
Mama had discovered that every time the truck bounced, the driver’s side seat would “toot”. Normally, a “toot” like this would have made Mama giggle, but she was not giggling that day. The way she saw it, her parents were forcing her into the world’s only farting four-wheel drive, Mama was not happy, not happy at all.
But that was forty years ago and as we all know, bad feelings and bright orange paint fade with time. Today, Mama loves that old truck. She calls her Clementine and considers her part of the family. The two girls are connected to each other and it is only right that they be together on this extra special day.
It was one year ago today that both Mama and Clementine lost the only thing they had in common.
One year ago today Papa passed away.
Mama knew that papa had dreamt of a day like today, when his two girls could go for a long drive together. She only wished Papa could be with them. She wished he could see Clementine shinning in the sun.
When Papa passed away last year, Clementine was still covered in rust and in no condition for a drive. Of course, neither was Mama. It had been a very hard time for Mama, and she was sure nothing good would ever happen to her again, but Mama was wrong.
Just one week after she lost Papa, something very good happened to Mama, Something very good indeed.
It started with a knock about half way up the screen door. That knock was quickly followed by small giggles. When Mama came to unlatch the door her three grandchildren were waiting for her. Ronny, Samantha, and Jack were lined up and smiling. They were ready for their salt-water taffy.
This was part of a long standing family tradition. The first thing anyone did at Papa’s house was find Mama and give her a big hug and kiss. If Mama was happy with the quality of your hug and kiss, you would get to pick out a piece of salt water taffy from the basket by the door.
“Your never too old for taffy or kisses” Mama said to her two middle aged sons. They were the last two in line to give their hugs, kisses, and of course get their taffies.
Things had finally calmed down since the commotion of Papa’s death, and Mama was happy to have her children home. They had gathered to help Mama sort through the back shed and the detached garage.
Papa’s parents had grown up during the times when nothing was wasted and Papa had grown up with that same rule. When he and Mama got married, they continued to save together. They saved anything they thought might be useful in the future.
Their sons however, thought Mama and Papa had saved too much. They considered all of that stuff to be junk. Anytime one of them was sent to the shed or garage, they would come back complaining about the pack rats.
No one was complaining today though. Today was about helping Mama. Everyone had their work boots on and was standing in the driveway ready to get to work.
Mama pushed the two buttons that swung up the two garage doors, and everyone was stunned. In one side of the garage was the old farm truck. It was covered in rust, missing all of it’s windows, and leaning a bit to the left. In the other side of the garage was the most amazingly huge pile of junk any of them had ever seen.
There were snow skis and tennis racquets all made of wood. There was a canoe filled with snow tires and buckets that had been filled with boxes that had been filled with bolts. There was a washing machine that was the same color as guacamole, and a big bag of kitty litter even though the entire family was allergic to cats.
There were boxes stacked to the ceiling and junk from wall to wall. The garage looked like a museum, a workshop, and a landfill all squeezed up into one.
Standing in front of it all, waving a jolly hello was a life size light up Santa Clause. He was smiling, big, and happy and he was obviously unaware of the impending avalanche behind him.
Someone said “Daylights Burning Boys.” Just like Papa used to say, and everyone started in.
The first thing to do was to haul the old farm truck off to the junkyard, but they had to get it out of the garage first. Almost as a joke, one of the men climbed into the truck and pumped the gas. When he turned the key the most amazing thing happened.
The truck started right up. It sounded good and strong and it made everyone laugh and smile with surprise. Even Santa Clause was smiling.
The truck was put into gear and pulled out into the sunlight. It may have sounded like a dream, but it looked like a nightmare. Every window was missing. The body was rusted so badly you could see through it in places, and the passenger side fender was missing.
It was obvious that Papa had done an excellent job restoring what was under the hood and between the wheels. He had just run out of time before he could fix the way the truck looked. It would not be that hard to finish the truck if they all chipped in.
After diving into and under the truck a list was made. It was a list of everything there was left to do on the truck. It was a long list but not an impossible one. Papa had done most of the hard work himself.
As the adults huddled over the list, someone said “It sure would be nice to do this for Mama”
“Lets do it” another voice agreed.
There was a vote and a decision was made. They called it “the Sunday plan.” The family would gather at Papa’s house every Sunday to work on the old truck. They would do it for Mama.
Ronny, who was the oldest of the grandchildren, was the only person who was not happy about the Sunday plan. Ronny was stuck between too old, and too young. He was old enough to help with big projects, but his parents thought he was too young to be trusted with anything important. He wanted to help restore the old truck, but knew he would never be asked to join in. He and his little cousins, Samantha and Jack, would be stuck at Papa’s house every Sunday with nothing to do.
Ronny was upset about the Sunday plan for another reason too. He was upset because Sundays used to be Ronny’s favorite day of the week.
On Sundays, Ronny would ride his bike from his house to Papa’s house to play “AND THEN”. That was Papa and Ronny’s favorite game. They would play it for hours and hours while Papa worked on the old truck.
Papa always started the game by asking Ronny a question. It would be something like “What did you learn in school this week?” but it was a trick.
Just as Ronny would start to answer the question, Papa would interrupt him.
Papa would say “AND THEN” in a loud and dramatic voice, and then say something like “your teacher turned into a bull frog and hopped up onto the overhead projector”
The only rule to the game was that each “AND THEN” had to be even sillier than the one before.
Ronny and Papa would tell each other stories about dragons, or space men, or little farm animals with big city jobs. The stories were always very silly and never about anything real.
Now, Papa was gone, and silliness was gone too. Ronny had realized that his Sundays were ruined. He missed Papa, and he was going to have to find a new favorite day of the week.
Ronny wandered away from the garage and into the back yard. The only thing he could think to do was sit on the back porch and wait for the day to be over. This was something he found himself doing a lot lately. For Ronny, the more days that were over, the better.
Ronny was tired of being a kid, and had spent the last couple of months waiting for a growth spurt that, in his opinion, was already 2 years overdue. His height didn’t matter that much here, where the only other kids were his little cousins. But at Walnut Elementary, He was a foot shorter that every other boy in his class.
Samantha, whose favorite day of the week was Thursday, was thrilled about the Sunday plan. So was Jack, whose favorite day of the week was Saturday. This was not just because of Mama’s salt-water taffy either. Samantha and Jack both looked up to Ronny. He was the only big kid they knew and spending Sundays at Papa’s house meant spending Sundays with Ronny.
This Sunday however, Ronny just wanted to be alone. He was sitting on the edge of the back porch kicking at the dandelions when Mama saw him. She was looking through the kitchen window. She saw Samantha and Jack kicking dandelions too. They always wanted to be doing whatever Ronny was doing.
She knew something was wrong, but also knew better than to go out and ask what it was. Instead she did what she had done for years. She put a pot of water on the stove.
Mama had a special recipe for situations like this. The first thing she needed was her special dollar store mugs. They were bright blue and each had a name on it. There was a Papa mug, a Mama mug, a Ronald mug, a Samantha mug, and a Jack mug. Mama had painted the names on with white puffy paint.
The five blue mugs hung on five hooks. Papa and Ronny had installed the hooks a few years ago. They were under the cupboard by the sink, just where Mama wanted them. Those five mugs were special. They were only to be used for “Mama-chocolate”
Other than the mugs and the water on the stove, Mama needed to gather 3 spoons, some instant hot chocolate mix, and a whole lot of marshmallows. The marshmallows were very important. You had to have a very large bag of very small marshmallows, and the marshmallows had to be frozen.
Once the water started to whistle, Samantha and Jack came running. They were already in their chairs when Ronny finally came through the door. He had his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the floor, but he still managed to give Mama a quick smile as he sat in his chair. Mama smiled back. She knew that no one could resist a hot mug of “Mama-chocolate”
Mama poured three mugs half full of hot water and added an ice cube to two of them. She stirred in the hot chocolate mix and grabbed the big bag of frozen marshmallows. The magic of “Mama-chocolate” was in the marshmallows.
First Mama would ask you how many marshmallows you wanted. Then she would repeat the number back to you. She wanted to be sure she was right, but Mama was never right. Mama would always “accidentally” double the number of marshmallows you asked for.
Ronny said “Five marshmallows please.” and got ten.
Samantha asked “May I please have seven?” She got fourteen.
Jack smiled extra big and said “Twenty.” but Mama just looked back at him and raised one eyebrow.
Jack soon realized he was not going to get any marshmallows if he did not change his request.
He smiled big again and said “Twenty please.” Mama obliged and filled his mug to the very top.
Mama filled the “Mama Mug” with tea and joined the children at the table. She looked around and said “Well Sundays in this house are supposed to be special.” Samantha and Jack looked up from their mugs. They each had bright eyes and a Mama-chocolate mustache.
Ronny did not look up at Mama. He was busy picking at the “A” the “L” and the “D” on his mug. He thought Ronald was a kids name and had spent the last few trips to Papa’s house picking at the letters.
He wanted the mug to say Ron, but he wanted to make it look as though the dishwasher was doing the damage. He did not know that Mama was extra carful with those mugs, and washed them by hand.
“We keep our Sundays reserved” Mama continued, pretending not to notice Ronny’s picking. “We call them Fundays at this house, but it doesn’t look like you three are having any fun at all”
Samantha and Jack looked at Ronny who finally shrugged his shoulders and said “We’re Bored”
“Well, Mama replied, “we don’t keep the fun out were the neighbors can see it. We keep it hidden”
“Where do you keep it Mama?” Jack asked.
“Yeah Mama” Samantha added, “Can you tell us if we whisper?”
Mama smiled “We don’t have to whisper” she said “Fun is all over the place. You just can’t see it unless you are looking for it.”
She lifted her head, looked out the back window and said “In fact, I can see it right now” The two younger children turned to see what Mama was looking at, but Ronny did not. He knew that there was nothing there.
“Do you know what I see when I look at that folding chair and am looking for fun,” Mama asked.
Samantha and Jacks eyes got big with wonder.
Mama said “I see the mighty thrown of Back Porchland”
Samantha and Jack’s jaws dropped but Ronny’s eyes just rolled back to his Co-co.
Mama saw Ronny’s reaction and puffed herself up. She proclaimed, “Go forth my knights and defend my thrown. It is being attacked by the rebel grasshoppers and their dragonfly army”.
Samantha and Jack abandoned their Mama-Chocolate, hopped down from the table, and ran for the screen door. They shouted “Charge” as it slammed behind them.
Ronny got up too. But he was dragging his feet.
“Those two need your help Ronny” Mama said as she put her hands on his shoulders.
“I know Papa taught you how to use your imagination,” She added “but he is not going to be here to teach them.”
Ronny looked up at Mama. She said “Papa used to tell me that you had the best imagination of anyone he had ever met. He told me once that you turned a cardboard box into an airplane and then flew that plane to the moon.” Then she asked “Is that True?”
Ronny nodded and looked away. “Samantha and Jack don’t know how to think like that” Mama said, “ You have to show them how.”
Then Mama asked Ronny “Do you remember what Papa used to call it when you would think so hard your tongue would stick out?”
“Yeah” Ronny said, avoiding Mama’s eyes
“Well” Mama said “Go show those two how to think like that. Go show them how to look at things with their Imagination Eyes”
Ronny smiled big and looked up at Mama. He didn’t know she knew about his Imagination Eyes. He liked that she did.
Ronny started for the screen door but then he stopped “Mama?” He said.
“Next time you make Mama-Chocolate” Ronny paused “I don’t need any marshmallows. I think I like it just like Papa liked it. Straight up”
“OK Ronny” Mama Said “Straight up it is. Now go forth and remove your cousins from the thrown of the high and mighty Mama before she decides to throw them into the moat”
Ronny smiled at Mama’s joke and turned to look out the window. Sure enough, Samantha and Jack were both squeezed into the folding chair. They were arguing over who was going to be king of Back Porchland.
Ronny rolled his eyes and shouted “Silly Knaves.” He smiled back at Mama and then ran to the recue. As the screen door slammed behind him, Mama gathered the half empty mugs from the table.
As she washed the mugs in the kitchen sink, Mama watched through the kitchen window. Her two boys and their wives were in the driveway. They were huddled around a big box marked ‘Clementine’s Parts”
Her 3 grandchildren were on the path to the back shed. They were huddled around a loose paving stone. They had flipped it over and were collecting Roly-Poly bugs. They were going to use the bugs as spies in the battle for Back Porchland.
As Mama hung the blue mugs onto their hooks to dry, she saw the unused Papa mug hanging in it’s spot. Then she looked past the mug and saw her entire family. They were playing together in the sunshine. Mama Smiled softly. She knew that Sundays were about to become her new favorite day of the week, and that was something very good indeed.
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