I was coming down with a terrible cold. The timing of it was awful. Tim’s mother was very sick, and I did not dare to carry my cold and fever into a nursing home. Tim was there so entertaining William was squarely on my shoulders.
William was bored. I was trying to keep him away from television and computer. In the never ending quest to keep his clever little mind busy, I remembered a little box in the corner of the attic. I was sure that he’d never seen an episcopio projector. Armed with his grandfather’s spotlight, we went up one flight of stairs and then another flight of stairs and then opened the doors to the spine tingling darkness of the attic. That little box sat quietly waiting right where I’d seen it when we hauled out Christmas decorations.
Oh, William was excited as we came back out to the dim stairwell. Waving his light around to get a better look at the episcopio box, he caught sight of a bespectacled bunny figure with a top hat and striped crutch on the side of a dusty box at the top of a book case. “What’s that?” he breathed, clutching his box under one arm, and the spotlight in the other.
Some years back, Tim and I were at an estate sale. I found a game that I played often as a child. My own grandparents had sent the game home with us. It had been my mother’s. Two generations of happy childhood memories could not be wrong, so Tim and I bought that Uncle Wiggily with the intentions of playing it with William when he was old enough.
Once home, I opened the game and began to question my memories. It was in perfect ‘like new’ condition but I was surprised to see that it was actually a very simple game that involved moving Uncle Wiggily on the board along the twisty turny 151 space journey to Dr. Possum’s office to get some salve for his rheumatism. There was a Pipsisewah and a Skeezicks and other dangers that might cause the player to lose a turn. The red cards could take you backwards or send you to sites on the board that had grave consequences.
The cards that directed how many hops a player got to move his Uncle Wiggily were awkwardly metered poems: ‘Excuse me, this is just your chance. Help your bunny three hops on his dance’ or ‘Just think! Five nice big hops you get, to help your Uncle Wiggily out of the wet’ or ‘Each time you pick this card up so your bunny gets five hops you know.’
This? This was the game that captivated two generations of children? The happy memories sure didn’t mesh with the reality of what was in front of me. I felt sure that our William would never be a fan. Shoot. I could not remember what it was that had captivated me all those years ago. I had tucked it up on the top of a book case on the top floor of a house and never gave it another thought.
Yet, five years later, here I was standing on the third floor landing with a little boy and a spot light aimed at the Uncle Wiggily game. He was as excited to play that game as I remembered being 50 years ago.
And so we played.
Skeezicks, Pipsisewah, Skillery Scallery Alligator, Aunt Lettie the goat lady, Jumpo Kinkytail, Jerushia and so many other long forgotten characters saw the light of day once again, breathed back to new life by a little boy who loved that old game. We played it over and over again that night, moving our detailed Uncle Wiggly pieces around the board.
Tim finally arrived home with no encouraging news to report. I took my sore throat, aching bones, and runny nose to bed and Tim took over the last few minutes of entertaining William as they waited for Brianna to pick him up after work.
I don’t even know what time it was when Tim came quietly to bed. I don’t know how many times he asked me if I was awake before I actually was awake. “Anna called. Mother died,” he said into the darkness. “I’m sorry,” I answered back. There was nothing more to be said, really. We laid next to each other, holding hands until we both fell asleep.
My husband and I spent two days at a funeral home surrounded by people with their own thoughts and memories about the woman lying still in front of us. Her grandchildren ranged from 37 to 7, and one of the youngest ones sat with very red cheeks and teary eyes. He and I talked for a moment about heaven and memories and seeing her again. Brady left the room quickly to have a cry where no one could see him and his mother wisely let him go.
I watched him go and I thought about his memories, about how each of us there had memories of our own.
One of mine: Tim and I sat on either side of her at the nursing home and she talked of the day that she and her sister Anna had been dropped off to pick strawberries. “The berries were so big and huge that we filled our baskets very quickly.” Her fingers moved busily as if those berries were still waiting to be picked. “I never saw such huge berries,” she mused, sounding amazed even all these years later.
Because the berry picking was done so quickly, Ellen and Anna both had no choice but to wait, laughing together, eating berries and waiting for their parents to return and pick them up. Her old eyes were alight with the sun of a 70 year old summer day.
Suddenly she looked at us and folded her hands on the table. She said, “I’m ready to go home now.”
We did not know what to say. She was confused. She was very obviously confused. We told her that she was home, and she looked about her in a bewildered sort of way. There was nothing to do but leave her there.
I think of that moment, now, after the fact. She may have been confused that day, but when her big day finally came, her faith guaranteed that she WAS ready to go home.
Now that she has gone, it is the sum of those assorted memories tucked away in the hearts of her children and grandchildren and even great grandchildren that will guarantee that she will not wind up a dim and dusty memory forgotten on the top shelf on a third floor stairwell.
She is in a good place now, and I picture her face alight with the sun of an eternal summer day as she is reunited with three sisters and two brothers. It is silly, I know, but I hope that there are strawberries too, the biggest she’s ever seen.