from: Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake
by: Cynthia Rylant
illustrated by Arthur Howard
My first best friend was my next door neighbor, Mr. Spisak. He helped me catch butterflies, showed me pictures in the clouds and whacked a garter snake that terrified me. Mrs. Spisak gave me cookies.
Mrs. Osika was a hairdresser who worked out of her house, katty-corner from our house. When my mom and I had worn each other out with our washing/brushing/braiding ordeal, Mrs. Osika cut off my butt-length braid and permed what was left. I wanted to hide my head in a paper bag. A story for another time.
Our neighbors across the street were an older couple who may or may not have had their own (probably grown) children who lived in another town, or lived close by. I don’t remember children, grown or otherwise, just some vague answers to my pointed questions.
My parents awarded this special couple with the titles “Aunt” and “Uncle.” In those days children did not address adults by their first names. Aunt Daisy’s real name was not Daisy. It was Agnes. Her English had a little touch of the Old Country around the edges. Uncle Frank loved her very much and called her Daisy. It made both of them smile. Me, too.
Aunt Daisy and Uncle Frank invited us to see their Christmas tree every year. Imagine! A tree right in their living room! With lights and balls and delicate ornaments I looked at with my eyes, not my hands! I had never seen a Christmas tree.
A toy train went round and round around the base. The track sat on a poofy white snowy blanket. The train tooted and chugged. It didn’t puff smoke. When I was tired of watching the little train, Uncle Frank put me on his lap and let me eat chocolates. My parents weren’t really the lap kind of parents. They also enforced a one-chocolate rule. I felt extra special.
We kids drank root-beer, I think. The grown-ups sipped something in small glasses.
Music played, but we didn’t sing. We just kept each other company. We sat in each other’s love and kindness in a warm house full of wonderful people who showed me how to care for others.
This year I will light the candles in my menorah surrounded by my husband, my grandchildren, my grown daughters and my sons-in-law. Life is good. Yes, life is very good.