“Where’s Debbie?” I asked my sister Vera Lynn as she pulled the heavy, black cast iron skillet out of the oven and placed it on top of the stove.
“She’s spending the night at a friend’s house I think.” my oldest sister replied. She had moved over to the refrigerator and was now pulling out all sorts of ingredients for our supper.
“La la ra ra dah dah blug.” Was the response my youngest sister gave me and then she grabbed my ear, squealed in delight and scooted away from me as fast as her 4 year old legs could carry her.
“Skip, keep Suzy away from the stove.” Ordered my sis.
“I’m trying but she’s pretty fast.”
“Just keep her away from the stove. We don’t want her to burn herself. Why don’t you take her in the living room and play a game or something?”
“Ok.” I said as I bent down and grabbed my youngest sister’s legs as she was trying to crawl under the kitchen table. She squealed in delight and laughter. Her hands smacked the linoleum tiled floor making a “FWAPING” sound that resonated in the kitchen and then she grabbed onto the table leg with a death grip. Vera Lynn laughed as she watched us play a game of human tug-o-war. I was forced to release my grip on her tiny, kicking, legs in an attempt to unclamp her arms. Once I’d succeeded she would attach her petite frame to one of the chairs.
In the end, I won the battle. Sort of, two of our kitchen chairs ended up in the living room as a result of me dragging her across the floor and her not letting go of the chair. After arriving in the living room she giggled, squealed and ran back into the kitchen, threw herself across the floor and latched back onto another chair and waited for me to come drag her and the chair back into the living room.
Suzy and I played in the living room until it was time to eat. We built a fort out of couch cushions, and blankets. We slayed dragons, she rescued me from an evil witch; I rescued her from an evil warlock. We pretended to ride motorcycles. She played with her Barbie dolls and I got my G.I. Joe out and blew up her house and killed Ken. She didn’t like that. But we laughed when he miraculously came back to life and stole Joe’s Jeep. We were right in the middle of playing Lego’s when we heard the two most important words all day:
We jumped up and dashed our way through the obstacle course of toys in the living room and into the kitchen. We battled to be first by pulling, pushing and trying to trip one another in good fun. We ended up on our hands and knees crawling into the kitchen. Vera Lynn stood next to the table with a skillet of Goulash in her hands laughing down at us.
“You two need to go wash up first. Then bring the chairs back in here so you can eat.” She clucked at us.
We obeyed. What else could we do?
On our more civilized march from the bathroom we stopped and drug the kitchen chairs into the kitchen. As I looked into the living room from the doorway of the kitchen I saw our magical castle/fort had crumbled like so many castles and forts had over the eons due to lack of mortar, effort, time and neglect. But in this case it was our imagination that had been stripped away. Walls once sturdy enough to hold back dragons and hordes of goblins were now once again cushions for butts. Roofs that had once been made of copper and wood that held back the fire of dragons breathe was now once again an old, tattered, red plaid blanket and a handmade multi-colored afghan.
I shrugged my shoulders and walked away without realizing the impact of the image I’d just witnessed would have on me in future years.
The three of us sat down at the table, said Grace, and dug in to one of my most cherished meals of my childhood. Homemade goulash, bread with plain butter and ice cold milk, a veritable feast fit for a God, or as a last meal for a death row inmate.
During the course of the meal we chatted about our weekend, the upcoming school week and our summer plans. I informed my sisters of the camping trip me and my buddies were planning and she wished us good luck. She spoke of her jobs, her boyfriend(s) and all of her plans she had with her friends. After the meal, she did the dishes and Suzy and I cleaned up the living room. Then, Vera Lynn made sure Suzy had a bath, and that my homework was finished and we watched some television.
When it got late, I went to my room, read for a while and fell asleep. Dreams of slaying dragons on my motorcycle in the Grand Canyon haunted me.