The Writers Voice
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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
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
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
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
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
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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