November: Wherein Mrs. Grant and Mrs. Davis launch their Civil War of Heat, Apartment 5 has a rodent infestation, Apartment 6 needs a plumbing repair, and Blue Jay is invited to read with the iconic poet, Gary Snyder
November in Milwaukee is a time to bring out the winter coats and crank up the heat. Lake Michigan keeps her humans air conditioned in the summer with her lake breezes, but once winter sets in, her cold, damp lake air chills to the bone. On one such bone-chilling afternoon, Blue Jay received a phone call from Peter Sterns, a friend from his writing class—a fellow poet who shared his sensibilities. “I have news, Jay! News too big for the phone! Come meet me over here at the Tux.” Bundling up the Hatchling in his bright turquoise snowsuit and plopping him into his back carrier, Blue Jay and the Hatchling promptly set forth, undaunted by the blustery wind. The bar smelled of cigarette smoke and stale beer, the music was blaring, but the tables near the window were perfect for watching shoppers pass by.
This small shopping area tucked among staid apartments and duplexes served the needs of an eclectic mix of students, up-and-coming professionals, and older people who had discovered the area a good forty or more years before. The closer one got to the lake, the more impressive the turn-of-the-century houses became, their Old World influence apparent in the Victorian turrets and gingerbread trim and the even older yellow brick Italianate homes with their carved stone lintels and brick quoins stationed at the corners like rigid bodyguards. Heading in the opposite direction, away from the lake and toward the Milwaukee River, the single-family residences were smaller, Arts-and-Crafts-style bungalows interspersed with frame duplexes and the occasional brick apartment building.
No matter which side of the divide the East Siders came from, everyone felt comfortable at The Tuxedo Bar on Downer. The usual afternoon bartender, Eddie Orvino, carried around his rolled-up manuscript of original song lyrics in his hip pocket, ready to share them at the slightest hint of eagerness from a patron. He nodded a greeting as Blue Jay entered. Eddie’s appearance was—well, unique…. Blue Jay wasn’t one to notice hair styles, but in this case he always secretly marveled at Eddie’s famed jet-black pompadour. It looked stiff as a board, every hair as intact as if it were made of wire bristles. Once a drinking buddy had dared Jay to touch it to see if it was real, but he declined, not wanting Eddie to think he was making a pass.
Blue Jay scanned the room looking for Peter. Corner tables seemed to be reserved for serious writers; there was usually someone oblivious to the world filling a yellow legal pad with some creative endeavor. Nobody gave you the bum’s rush at the Tux, or even insisted that you buy a drink. On Thursday evenings, out of courtesy the blasting music was lowered and a group of poets took over and held impromptu readings to an appreciative crowd of students and locals. Blue Jay often counted himself among them.
“Jay, my man!” a voice called from over by the pool table. Peter was the enthusiastic type, ready to fall into a rumbling laugh over the slightest peculiarity of human nature. He was a fellow poet, given over to recreating the archaic sonnet form with slant rhyme and dazzling imprecision. He often had the Tux crowd wowed into puzzled silence when he read. Jay always felt that Peter’s poems were made to be deciphered slowly on paper, so as to catch the subtleties. However, Peter’s booming voice gave the words an undercurrent of percussion that made up for a lack of understanding, and everyone loved his readings.
“What’s your hot news? I’ve just walked five blocks wearing a baby on my back for you.”
“I just heard it from Morgan Gibson! I wanted to let you in on the ground floor. Gary Snyder and Galway Kinnell are reading in Milwaukee, right here at UWM.”
“What? By us?” Blue Jay sometimes showed signs of the widespread Midwestern Inferiority Complex, an ailment afflicting many who had received the societal message that one had to go to either the East or West Coast to be considered the Genuine Product. It was sort of okay to be from the Midwest, like Bob Dylan who had to change his name from Zimmerman and move to New York to get noticed; but to remain in the Midwest was almost to seal your literary or artistic doom. Gary Snyder was a man of the world, in Blue Jay’s opinion. He had lived in Japan as a Buddhist monk—and in India and Indonesia, had worked on the docks in California, sailed on an oil tanker in the Pacific. Blue Jay knew several of his poems by heart. He couldn’t help himself: “Wildness. It is perennially within us, dormant as a hard-shelled seed, awaiting the fire or flood that awakes it again.”
“Enough already, Jay.” Peter winced. “Yeah. Us. Here. He’s coming for a Poetry Weekend, sponsored by our very own UWM English Department. He’s going to read first and then we’ll have cameo appearances by some of us local yokels. Wanna read?”
Blue Jay hesitated, “I think so. I don’t know if I have anything good enough.
“Sure you do. Why don’t you read your Penitent Generals Walking on Tin Cans? ”
“Maybe I’ll write something special for the occasion. Kinnell’s cool, but…Gary Snyder! My type of poet! Far out!” Jay’s voice trailed off as he contemplated meeting one of his favorite poets eye-to-eye. This idea would take some time getting used to. Snyder!
“You’ve got two weeks. He’s coming middle of November. 14th, I think.”
“Enough time for several masterpieces. Let’s talk more in depth on Thursday with the other poets. But now I’d better go. At this point, I think I’d better pick up a frozen pizza for our supper to appease the Kitchen Goddess. Thanks for the news to end all news!”
By the time Blue Jay and The Hatchling got back, Lily was waiting. “You could have at least left a note,” she said. “I was worried. Not to mention, Lenore left a deposit in the doorway that I had to clean up.”
“Oops! Sorry! You worry too much,” he replied. “Look! Frozen pizza with sausage and mushrooms!”
They almost launched into one of their classic arguments that sprang up from this type of perceived misdeed, but when Blue Jay told her about Gary Snyder’s imminent visit, any possible slight was temporarily stored away (to be brought out later if necessary to fuel some future disagreement).
Jay and Lily rarely had arguments. Lily had learned at a young age to hide her emotions. Rather than express disagreement, she tended to withdraw, although increasingly she felt provoked enough to speak out. Jay, on the other hand, learned much earlier in the relationship when to back off or distract. Theirs was a peculiar partnership, a balance based on fairness and fondness.
This proved to be true two evenings after the Snyder/Kinnell announcement when Larry and Lenny came down for a visit. These visits were usually pleasant events involving lots of building news. This time, however, they offered Lily and Jay their 18-inch television set, still in good working order. They were replacing it with a state-of-the-art 27-inch set. Jay and Lily exchanged glances. “Thanks.” Jay was about to decline, but he saw the look on Lily’s face. “We have to think about it.” The well-intentioned offer provoked a heated dispute well into the night.
Although television sets were common in most homes, Jay questioned a lifestyle that had developed featuring evenings huddled around the television set. A great development in the Upper Peninsula of his teen years had been the advent of TV trays—so people could actually eat supper watching television programs on the three available channels. When walking at night, he was appalled by houses darkened except for the blue-white flash and glow of the television screen. Their rooftop antennas perched like gigantic metal whooping cranes with nowhere to land, except when a sleet storm or some gale winds knocked them over. And sooner or later, it always happened, he thought.
“Absolutely not!” was Jay’s initial response after the tenants had departed.
“Absolutely Yes!” responded Lily.
“We don’t need it. I don’t want it. We can catch enough news in the Union if we really need to see the bloodbath, and we have our radio. That’s enough. And do we really want that kind of influence on Little Jay? Our son, the TV Zombie!”
“Well, actually, maybe not that extreme, but all things in moderation,” Lily countered. “Not all television is bad. I caught a little bit of news about a new educational program in the student union yesterday. It’s special for kids. Little kids. Called Sesame Street. It teaches them the alphabet with singing puppets.”
Jay hesitated. “But what is the psychological effect of television viewing on the mind of a child? You’re the sosh major. You should know that. The bad outweighs the good, in my opinion. I say no!”
“Well, I have some say here, too. Actually, 50%. That’s our bargain, remember? It’s simply puppets and music! How can that be so bad? And I would like a television. I’d like to watch the news, too. We watched the moon landing last summer. Did that warp you? This war is on screen, on the news. Don’t you wanna know what’s going on? Not around Little Jay, of course, but maybe catch the 10 o’clock news after he’s asleep. What’s wrong with that? You watch the news at UWM. This is the era of immediacy through the television screen. I don’t want to be left out.”
Jay scowled, as only he could, with his lower lip hardening into a straight line.
“Jay, let’s get it on the basis of my wanting news programming, my call on this. Fair is fair. And we can watch this new Sesame Street program together a few times and decide later. After all, he’s only going on five months old, anyway. Plenty of time to think it through.”
“I already sing him the ABC song. He doesn’t need a puppet to teach him that,” was Jay’s last word.
In the end, a reluctant compromise was reached and the television was granted a spot in a corner of the living room the next afternoon.
One thing for sure about November weather in Wisconsin is its unpredictability. One day it’s early winter, with flurries and looming cumulus cloudbanks. The next day there’s a gentle reprieve, as if Indian Summer is struggling to stay. The heavens miraculously beam with eye-hurt bright blue and otherwise-stalwart citizens are tempted to steal away from jobs and schools to soak up one last bit of balm before winter truly settles in. On such a day, Mrs. Grant and Mrs. Davis launched their Civil War. There was a definite chill in the air and Lily realized that even wearing her heavy sweater, she was shivering. Just then the telephone rang. It was Mrs. Grant: “What’s the story on the heat? It’s as cold as a barn!” “Hi, Gramma Grant.” (By now they were on familiar terms.) “I know. I’m freezing, too, even though it’s nice and sunny. I’ll turn on the heat. Stand by for steam.” A quick peek at the boiler’s water gauge assured her that everything was ready. She turned up the thermostat and settled down with a sociology text, the Hatchling crawling around on the floor with Lenore and his plastic stacking donuts. Twenty minutes later, they were surrounded by cozy warmth, the radiators pleasantly whispering like so many rustling reeds. “Do you know what they’re saying, Baby Jay? They’re saying, ‘King Midas has donkey’s ears!’” Lily often reverted to mythological allusions when she was in a mellow mood. She thought it gave a little grandeur to their daily duties; besides, it made her laugh.
Just then the phone rang. It was Mrs. Davis: “What are you trying to do? Kill us all? Turn that heat off immediately!”
Lily was beginning to regret that they had chosen to have their phone placed in the kitchen, directly outside the nursery. The ringing always was harsh and insistent. “Well, some of the tenants were cold and wanted to warm up. I won’t leave it on all day or anything. We’ll just take the chill off.”
“By rights I should report you to Mr. Dreschler for squandering building funds. Fuel oil is expensive. This is why we keep getting our rents raised.”
“It’ll be taken care of,” Lily said, biting her tongue to keep from saying something equally sassy.
Although Lily didn’t know it at the time, this was only the first skirmish in a long winter’s war. As she hung up the receiver, she marched into the hall and turned down the thermostat, all the while singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The Hatchling set down his plastic donut and stared. The peculiar pitch of her singing must have struck a nerve with Lenore who lifted her head and began to moan.
As November 14, the day of the great Snyder reading drew closer, spirits rose among the English majors on campus. Professors Barbara and Morgan Gibson encouraged all their students to attend, even those who were taking their courses for an “easy three credits.” The momentum grew, becoming a real campus event as SDS and Poets for Peace, along with assorted Yippies and Panthers, both Black and White, took up the cause. “It is the age of poetry!” Jay mused. “Poetry can be power. Something good is coming out of the mess. Maybe…”
Besides the activists, there was the mass of regular students who agreed in principle with much of the protests, but who were not inclined to actively participate in boisterous shows of opposition. Many held part-time jobs and their educations were on the line. For others, it was necessary to keep a good academic record so they could evade the draft.
Then on November 12, word of the My Lai Massacre began to spread on campus. Students convened in the union and stared in silence as the news unfolded. The slaughter had happened the previous March, but the huge cover-up finally had broken. The horrors of My Lai flared anew in the group consciousness. More details hit the news. Captain Ernest Medina had told the troops to destroy everything in that “Pinkville” that was “walking, crawling, or growing.” The next morning Charlie Company C had moved relentlessly through the village, murdering men, women, children, and infants. Many victims were gang-raped and mutilated. Lieutenant William Calley, Jr., platoon leader, would now stand before a jury and be held accountable.
Lily and Jay, along with others, felt devastated. The frustration and anger on campus rose to intolerable levels. “Today felt like a time bomb waiting to explode,” observed Jay over a shared lunch before Lily ran off to her classes. “Innocent villagers just like us, going about their lives. Women and children. Killed. Now we find out. Everybody is wound up tight as a drum. I ran into this dude I met a couple months ago, Krazy Wayne, he calls himself. He’s not a student, but he hangs out on campus with the Vietnam Vets Against the War. He’s saying he understands what went on. People go crazy over there. You live in fear. You can’t tell your friend from an enemy ready to reach out for your hand with a grenade.”
“I’d hate to be in ROTC right now,” Lily observed. “Bolton Hall is going to be a little tumultuous this afternoon.”
“Go ahead. Go to class. Just know when to duck and cover,” Jay advised. “Smoke bombs or tear gas, stay close to the floor, and don’t panic.”
At that point, the Hatchling banged on his high chair and threw his spoon on the floor. Lenore got up from her special doggie rug and trotted over in search of a snack, causing the Hatchling to bang on his tray again, letting out a deep chuckle.
“Look who wants attention,” Lily smiled. She stooped to pick up the spoon and stuck it into his hand, clasping his fingers around it. “Yum-yum! Carrots!” As she guided the spoon to his mouth she saw a glint of white. “Jay! Look! He has a tooth poking through! His third one! A little fang on the top!” At least for a few moments, mundane wonder of the third tooth blunted the dreadful news from Vietnam.
Distracted by the horrible news of My Lai coming at the same time as the imminent visit of the great poets Gary Snyder and Galway Kinnell, Blue Jay put aside his ambitious verse epic, The Tragedie of Joanie Fist, to create a work that would speak from his heart. At that moment, the epic seemed too ethereal, more an intellectual exercise than writing from the gut. He often ran his poems past Lily, but her comments weren’t much help because she seemed to be a very uncritical audience. “Of course I love your work, because I love you,” she’d say.
During November, Jay wrote at least a dozen poems, but none of them seemed right. He decided he needed to confer with his friend Peter in a meeting at the Tux that evening. Peter had decided to go for a religious deferment from the draft, taking a non-denominational Church of God correspondence class to enhance his clerical credibility. That night Peter appeared in a monk’s robe.
“Ah, Brother Peter it is now, I guess. Can I read something to you? I need your honest, unbiased response.”
“Well, sure. I only look this way for the narcs. Beauty is only skin deep.” Jay took a deep breath and began:
Dove Day is Over:
Peace! Oh, Peace!
I’m calling you!
Arrive noisily now
like a greedy robin
Welcome as spring
Digging for glowing treasure in the grass—
A peace worm!
(Too many souls have gone to grievous anonymity
Leaving their dear ones here,
To deal with empty beds and hollow songs;
Reach up to the sweet peach tree of life,
Pluck a piece of peace.)
A peace peach!
Peace! Oh, Peace!
I’m calling you!
Arrive roaring like a marching lion,
No more drafting or dodging;
No more ruthless offensives
In thatch-roofed villages and college campuses;
Use your angry voice
Mane and hackles bristling,
Roaring and glistening.
Down bloodied paths.
The angry voice thunders true.
Or, if you choose:
Arrive miraculously, bouncing like a zealous puppy,
Yipping, drooling, wagging
Bounding into the arms of happy-faced children
A Peace Pooch!
Peace! Here, Peace!
“Right on, Bro, I’d have to say it’s heartfelt.” Peter nodded his approval. “I think you might go with that one. But I still like The Penitent Generals.”
Jay laughed. “I’m still working on the end. I’m not sure.”
Eddie the evening bartender came over. “I couldn’t help but hear you. The Penitent Genitals! Awesome. That sounds hot! Why don’t you come by Thursday and read that poem here, just as a warm-up, of course.”
Blue Jay beamed. “Well, that’s a poem I still need to work on. Sounds stimulating. I just might, unless I come up with something better between now and then.”
“Bless you, my son,” Brother Peter chirped, lifting his glass.
~ * * * * * ~
On the day of the double reading, Gary Snyder read at 2:30, followed by the members of the Poets for Peace, and eventually followed by the evening reading of Galway Kinnell. The UWM poets would have two opportunities to read, following the bards. Snyder’s reading went well, but Jay was a little too edgy about his imminent part in the afternoon to give it his full attention. Peter came in late and found a seat beside him. Their group filled the entire front row. Brother Peter read first—a moving “Blessings to the Draft Card Burners of Amerika.” After he read, he pulled out a cigarette lighter and a scrap of paper and burned his draft card in effigy. The crowd broke out in whistles and claps.
Jay looked over the audience until he caught the sight of Lily in her red beret with Little Jay on her lap playing with his mother’s love beads. Lily had discreetly chosen a seat near the exit in case the toddler decided to throw ruckus and they had to make a quick getaway. “My son’s first poetry reading,” Jay beamed. “It’s a little crazy here.”
Frank Baranski was the next reader. “Brother Peter is a hard act to follow, and I didn’t bring my poem Ode to my Draft Card along.” He looked out over the audience. “Well, this will have to do.” He hesitated, took a deep breath, and began chanting his “Black Man on the Bridge” poem. His soft, urgent, persistent voice cut through the crowd and they listened in hushed silence, then broke into spontaneous applause.
“Frank is a master already,” Blue Jay murmured to Peter seated on his left. “Quiet power ready to erupt. Dude has control.”
Blue Jay was the third Poet for Peace reader. He looked out at the audience in the auditorium and found Lily, smiling at him reassuringly, with the Hatchling bright-eyed on her lap. He took a breath began: “I dedicate this poem to my son, and to all the other children who have been born in this time of war. May they find a peaceful world one day. May our words and actions help create this world.” He paused, then began: “No Dove. Dove day is over….”
Following the successful reading, Blue Jay’s writing workshop members had the opportunity to meet with Gary Snyder. They gathered around a battered table in the English Department office, listening intently as Snyder shared tales of times he spent with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Snyder proved to be a good communicator–open faced, serene, with a thatch of hair that fell over his right eye. He spoke about the importance of nature, the importance of devoting time to going inward into one’s soul, even in times that demanded outward response. In a way, Jay thought, he reminded him of pictures he had seen of another great American poet, Carl Sandburg. The very presence of this poet strengthened his resolve. “I will stand in this tradition,” he told himself.
Jay conjured up a favorite grove of pine trees by Lake Superior where he had retreated with his poetry notebook when he was in high school. “This is what I am meant to do. I realize that poetry does not exist in a vacuum, that words have impact and import, that this deeply ruptured world is the grist of true poetry.”
As he looked about him, Jay felt relieved to have this temporary retreat into a cozy room of trust and good fellowship. The Poets for Peace breathed deeply and laughed at sly puns and corny jokes.
The group planned to meet at 5:00 for a communal supper at the nearby organic restaurant, Fertile Dirt, then attend the much-anticipated evening poetry reading with Galway Kinnell. Jay knew he had apartment and family obligations before the evening’s grand finale, so he bade farewell and took a contemplative walk back to the English Basement.
Promptly, as if on cue, at 4:30 the telephone rang. It was Mel in Apartment 6 to report that caretaker assistance was needed there immediately for a plumbing emergency.
~ * * * * * ~
“So, what’s wrong with your pipes?” Blue Jay couldn’t keep the edge off his voice.
“Well, the water in the sink won’t drain out.”
He sighed, glancing down at his tie-dyed shirt and new blue jeans. “I’m just ready to leave for an important meeting, but I’ll be right up to check on it first.” He set the receiver down with a thunk, visions of lost poetic experiences floating behind his eyes.
“Lily!” he called. “Guess what?”
“I heard,” she replied. “Let’s all go up and take a look. I’ll put the Hatchling in his carrier.” She laughed. “Both of us know enough about plumbing to fix a clog if it’s caused by a hairball. Let’s hope.”
They clomped up the rear fire escape as the hands on the clock continued to circle.
When they surveyed the situation, it didn’t take long to discover that this was not your ordinary plumbing problem. The kitchen had a strange acrid, paraffin odor clinging to it. On the table were at least a dozen half-pint milk cartons holding wicks embedded in wax. “Candle making?” Lily queried. Mel shrugged. He looked tired, a bit irked, too. “Well, sort of. It wasn’t me, though. Craig and Jan thought they could sell them at the Holiday Craft Market at the Union next week.” “Does this relate to the clog?” Blue Jay jumped into the conversation. He turned on the water, and the sink showed no sign of emptying. “Don’t ask me. I’m only the bearer of bad news, Dude,” Mel shot back. “I just wanted to wash enough dishes to have supper.” He gestured at the drainboard stacked with several days’ meal remains. Lily stuck her finger down the drain. It hit solid wax. “A snake won’t work for this and neither will the usual drain opener,” she said. “Did they really think they could dump hot wax down into the sewer?” Mel gave a sheepish ogle. “Well, maybe….” “Bargain with us on this,” Lily said, looking first at Blue Jay and then at Mel. “You can wash a few plates for yourself in the bathroom tonight. Tomorrow we’ll come up and take care of this. We put it off for tomorrow and we won’t report it to Mr. Dreschler.” Blue Jay nodded. “We’ll have to remove the pipe and heat it, I guess, to get the wax out. It’ll be quite a job. I’ll have to get a friend over who has some wrenches.” “Agreed.” Blue Jay hastily grabbed his poetry notebook, kissed Lily and The Hatchling goodbye, and took off on foot for campus. The plan was for Lily to put the Hatchling to bed and Linda from Apartment 5 had agreed to come down and babysit. It was the first time they were leaving their son without one of them in all his five months. “But he’ll never know! He’ll be asleep!” Blue Jay reasoned. “Of course, you shouldn’t have to miss this, Lily. Snyder and the Poets for Peace is a once-in-a-lifetime event.” All went almost as planned. The toddler fell asleep, the plumbing event was deferred, and Lily found her place next to Blue Jay at the poetry reading. The poet of the night was Gallway Kinnell. Englemann Auditorium was again packed. Lily looked around at the adoring audience, surprised to see people of all ages. “Who said, ‘Never trust anybody over 30?’ That would be about half the crowd.” “The ageless beauty of the spoken word….” Jay countered.
Several of their friends expressed their anticipation, speaking to their neighbors in hushed tones, bedecked in India-print skirts and beads and braids. Lily had changed into her prized Guatemalan serape, which she wore over a black turtleneck sweater. It was easy to feel beautiful tonight. She sat back as the melodious voice of the poet filled the auditorium. Blue Jay sat upright, leaning forward, as if taking a visual that would last forever. “Eeeennnnnnnnd the waaaaar.”
Poem followed poem, mingling nature and protest. Halfway through the night, several people began chanting and dancing around the outer aisles. Apparently sensing the mood of the crowd, Kinnell began extemporizing a long, atonal, anti-war dirge. Jay and Lily exchanged glances, both sensing that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and they were there. They held hands and got up to join the dancers.
The only downside of the night, if it could be called that, was that Kinnell ran long and the Milwaukee Poets for Peace were not given an opportunity to read for the evening crowd; they had to discreetly tuck away their humble offerings, perhaps to be read at a later date over at the Tux. “Who knows?” Jay consoled himself. “I just might write that Penitent Genitals poem and dedicate it to Eddie the Bartender in exchange for a free beer.”
The following week led up to Thanksgiving. Everyone seemed weary, ready for a break. It dawned on Lily that they might want a typical feast this year, and that she would have to get a roaster pan. She had never made a turkey dinner, but thought it couldn’t be too hard if one had the proper equipment. Time for a trip to the St. Vinnie Thrift Shop; so the Saturday before the break, she and little Jay boarded Bus 22 and headed west. Blue Jay begged off, seeing this as a perfect block of time to resume work on his play. Lily loved the bumpy bus ride into the heart of the city, with its storefronts and laundromats and mom-and-pop restaurants. There were inevitably boys on bikes and people with dogs and babies hustling about. Today there was a nip in the air, so the relaxed feel of summer was replaced with a sense of urgency.
The bus stopped on North Avenue, a block away from the St. Vincent, the hulking Cream City brick building that housed three floors of treasure. She hoisted the child still in his back carrier, from the adjacent bus seat unto her back—a much-practiced move. The St. Vincent once had been a soft, pale yellow, but over nearly half a century had aged to a grimy gray. “Look at the treasure house, Hatchling Babe! I think we will have to find you a surprise here, too.” She noticed that he was growing out of his sleepers and thought that they might add that to their shopping list.
A black, speckled enamel roasting pan was located for only a dollar, a bargain to be sure. Lily smiled, picturing it nestling a small turkey, perfectly browned, with stuffing oozing out. She had never made stuffing before, but didn’t think it would be overly hard to follow the directions on the bag of cubed bread she already had bought.
Moving on, she was tempted by some china-painted porcelain teacups from another century priced at only twenty-five cents each. She picked out four of them. As for the sleepers, there was nothing that looked right; although she found some striped t-shirts in 10-month size, so the Hatchling could grow into them by Spring. Then, near the front door as they were ready to leave, a treasure! A stroller! Lily pounced! It was a plaid wonder, with a little surrey-fringed top and an adjustable seat. The five-dollar price seemed a bargain, but pushed Lily’s finances to the upper limit, leaving her just enough cash for the bus trip home. “This is too good to pass up!” she told Little Jay. I don’t always wanna wear you on my back. Wouldn’t you like a nice stroller ride sometimes?” Even if he could have comprehended, he would not have replied; for he was curled up in his carrier, sound asleep.
Thanksgiving was to be a quiet affair, and turned out as anticipated, with a stuffed turkey roasting in its pan, sweet potatoes, and green beans. Although the plates were mismatched, the porcelain teacups gave a festive air. For dessert Jay surprised them with a pumpkin pie from the nearby Sentry. The sky was filled with a few flurries, but not enough to start them shoveling. They planned to do building maintenance while the turkey baked, and then take a walk with Little Jay in his new stroller and Lenore on her leash; then spend the evening with various school assignments. Neighboring caretakers Ernie and Klara Warner left a plate of ginger cookies at their door. “We should be the ones sending over cookies to them,” Lily remarked. “If they hadn’t gone out on a limb for us over the boiler license issue, we wouldn’t be living here….”
“…in the very lap of luxury,” Jay added.
For an instant, the image of her mother pulling a batch of chocolate chip cookies from the oven flashed across Lily’s thoughts. “Long ago and far away, but I hope everything is going okay with her.”
“Maybe one of these days I’ll get a cookbook at the Renaissance Book Shop or St. Vinnie’s and try to bake something for them. Maybe chocolate chip cookies.”
“Okay by me,” Jay laughed. “I could be the cookie tester. Make sure they aren’t poisoned. You can’t give the whole batch away.”
Action in the building was subdued, with most of the younger tenants home for the long weekend. Mrs. Davis entertained some Christian Science church ladies; Larry and Lennie were nowhere to be seen, probably sharing an elegant catered feast somewhere; Lily had invited Mrs. Grant to join them in the basement for the meal. She graciously declined, but took the offer of having a plate brought up to her. For the time being, the civil war between Grant and Lee was in truce mode; although Lily observed that Mrs. Grant was wearing both a sweater and a jacket.
Deep into the evening, baby asleep, dog walked, dishes done, water level in the boiler checked, Lily and Blue Jay snuggled side by side on the wicker couch watching the ten o’clock news. His arm went around Lily as he pulled her closer. She let her head drop onto his shoulder. “In spite of the mess the world is in, we had an okay day here in Tannenbaum Arms,” she said.
“Better than okay. Almost perfect,” he mumbled, holding her in a deep embrace.
~ * * * * * ~