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Sunday Dreams


Bob Hyman

Sunday mornings were always hectic for me. The alarm was set for five-thirty, but I tried to wake up early so the clanging bells wouldn't wake my three younger brothers. We all shared the same bedroom. Actually, it wasn't really a bedroom; it was the finished attic loft space above our story-and-a half bungalow.

The real bedrooms were downstairs. There was the original bedroom, where Grandma Bailey stayed. And then there was the new bedroom that Dad recently added to the rear of the house, that only he and Mom were allowed to enter. Grandma's room was off limits too, except when Mom would take us in to see her.

Grandma was really Mom's grandmother, but we all called her Grandma just like she did. I hated to go in there because the room always smelled like old people. Grandma never spoke to us - not directly anyway - but sometimes she would talk to people that weren't there. I always felt uneasy in her presence; her blank stare seemed to look right through me. But Dad thought highly of her and insisted that we treat her with the utmost respect. We did, of course; we just held our breath when we were around her.

Every now and then, at the most unexpected times, I would hear Grandma softly singing to herself. Usually it would be the forlorn "Oh Danny Boy." I think it was Dad's favorite song.  Sometimes she would sing other tunes as well; melodies that sounded foreign, yet strangely familiar.

Dad always joked about my mixed blood ancestry. "Half Arab, half Scots-Irish..." he would say to me, shaking his head. "You'll never get along with anyone!" Then he would laugh and rub my hair. His reassuring grin always let me know that being a half-and-half was okay.

I dressed quickly and tiptoed down the stairway. No matter how quiet I tried to be, Dad would always be sitting at the kitchen table by the time I got downstairs. Sometimes I wondered if he ever slept ... maybe he just sat there all night. He would say the same thing every Sunday morning, "Better get moving, son. You've got customers out there waiting. And be careful around your Uncle's new car."

I grabbed my coonskin cap and fringed jacket off the peg at the top of the basement stairs and hurried down to the garage. After walking the bicycle out of the garage - being extra careful not to touch the new Studebaker - I pedaled off to the corner market to pick up the brown parcel of newspapers. Whenever I complained about our faithful old Chrysler sedan being left outside while Uncle Skip's new coupe got the premium garage space, Dad would remind me that it was only temporary until his brother got out of the Army and back to the States. "Someday your brother will need a favor; then you'll understand," he would tell me.

This year I was Davy Crockett as I made my rounds. Last year my idol had been Roy Rogers. Every paper was now aimed at bears or Indians or Mexicans since all the cattle rustlers and bank robbers had met their fates earlier.

Dad was always teasing me about my mythical heroes, but at least I knew they were real people. "Better than some of those characters he likes," I thought to myself. "Maybe I should tell him that." I imagined a showdown between my guys and his: Roy facing down Red Skelton, one on one, while Davy swung his rifle like a baseball bat taking out Milton Berle and Sid Ceasar in one fell swoop. "Then again," I reasoned, "Some things are better left unsaid."

All thoughts of heroes and villains quickly vanished as I realized that I was approaching the end of my route. If I made it back early enough, I could probably catch a quick nap before Mom called us all down to breakfast. First breakfast, and then - after Sunday School - a visit to both sets of Grandparents. Oh, how I looked forward to those leisurely Sunday afternoons.

And maybe, just maybe - if we were really good - Dad would take us all out for ice cream cones. My youngest brother Danny would start the chant, and then one by one, we would all join in, like a series of Burma Shave signs: "I scream ... you scream ... we all scream ... for ice cream." At first he would pretend to be mad, but then a smile would slowly creep across his face. Dad could never resist us when we teamed up on him.

I had just drifted off to sleep when Mom's voice beckoned me from the foot of the stairs. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I felt like a stranger in my own bedroom. Who are the men in those strange photographs on the wall? They look like my Uncles, but they're not. They almost look like me and my brothers, not as kids, but as grownups. How can this be? Am I dreaming?

I realize that this isn't my bedroom, at least not anymore. Now it belongs to whoever is visiting. Maybe it was mine once, a long time ago. Back when Grandma lived downstairs and sang softly to the night.

No, it's not a dream. And the voice downstairs ... yes, it's Mom. And the cruel truth jumps out at me: she's down there all alone. "Dear God," I pray, "Just one more time ... please.  Just one more time ... let him be sitting there at the table when I go downstairs ... just one more time ... please."

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