“Hi there Little One,” Adam smiled at the beautiful green, ruby throated hummingbird as he opened the basket. The belfry was filled with the happy sounds of the little bird in the makeshift cage. That Sunday morning broke like any other day, except for the chirping of the little hummer.
“Looks like you’re dressed in Christmas colors. As least one of us is celebrating.” He prepared the water-nectar as usual and placed the little saucer in B.B. Brumble’s basket-purse turned birdcage.
Adam watched the bird celebrate the morning. But, instead of joining in the jubilee, suddenly he became overwhelmed. He felt so empty he couldn’t breathe. The bird was brightly adorned in a beautiful suit and Adam had nothing but two pair of jeans, one too short and one okay, and three shirts. Well, he had found another flannel shirt in the box of items donated to the poor. You couldn’t get much poorer than Adam. At least, he could not see how. His Sunday had started with promise until reality and truth found him. Strangely, he could feel his anger turn on the hummer. He didn’t know why.
Dark, foreboding shadows crept up through the cracks in the floor. Their stench sucked the air out of the room. “The bird is mocking you, Boy. Why is he so happy?”
Adam wanted to turn away but what the shadows said was true. He turned on his little companion and took his anger out on the hummer. “If I could take that Christmas sweater off you, I would,” Adam started to grumble at the tiny bird. The hummer retreated to a corner of the basket.
Adam could see that the little bird had recoiled and he felt worse. The more he saw the Christmas spirit around him, the more the joy left his heart. The hummer’s green and red feathers did not help Adam’s twisted celebration of the season. Everywhere he looked in recent days, happy faces only reminded him of how alone he was, how unhappy he was. The little bird was far too festive for his liking and a new bitterness began to grow.
“How do you stay safe out there in the world, all blaring green and red and flitting about?” Adam slammed the lid down. “I don’t have to look at you.”
He started to leave the bell tower, when he heard a chirp again. His stomach churned and he thought of his own hunger. He would have to wait to eat until after church services when platters of cookies would be laid out. He thought of their holiday shapes and bright, happy icing. He struggled with his jumbled feelings. But he knew the shadows were near and had to go.
“Get out of my home,” he commanded the shadows.
“Maybe I’m not feeling hunger at all. Maybe this emptiness is guilt.” Adam opened the basket-cage and attempted to smile at the bird.
As he watched, the little fellow sucked up the nectar in his usual haste, but seemed to be slow in other motions. The hummer made no attempt to fly away.
“Did you forget how to fly?” The thought that the bird might be sick or suffering in any way while under his care, tugged at his heart. With the shadows gone, he could feel again. He reached out his finger for the bird to ride on and lifted the tiny fellow from the cage. He slowly raised and lowered his hand, waved it to and fro and gave the little guy a ride. The movement fluttered the bird’s feathers a little, as he gradually moved around. Adam’s heart soared like the hummer.
“I know what I’ll do today. I’ll leave the lid off. If you want to fly around the room, you can. Maybe you’ll feel better if you get some exercise. Little fellow, you can’t be injured. You just have to be able to fly. We’re both stuck up here. This place is more like a prison than a belfry. If you’re sick, I wouldn’t be able to take it.” Adam’s own arms began to ache as he thought about flying with broken wings. He wondered if his own feathers had gotten clipped the minute he moved into the belfry.
“By the way,” Adam added as he pointed to his blanket, “that is my bed. Fly anywhere you want to, except over my space. You could drop little gifts around for me to clean up. I have no way to wash a blanket.” He watched the little bird peer over the edge of his finger, then beat his wings in rapid flutter. The hummer took to the air and flew around Adam’s head, then returned to the basket and the food. Adam laughed as he hurried down the ladder before anyone came into the church.
“Good morning Mrs. Brubaker.” Adam forced a smile as his English teacher entered the narthex just as he came around the corner. He carried his coat across his arm and hung it in the cloak room as Mrs. Brubaker did hers. He noticed that Mrs. Brubaker’s coat was covered with snow. He brushed off all the fresh white powder from the shoulders so that his dry coat that hung beside her’s did not give away the secret that Adam had not come from the outside.
“Adam Shoemaker, it is good to see you here. We have a gloriously bodacious day, don’t we?” Mrs. Brubaker always used the full depth of her vocabulary, acquired from years of reading every night before going to bed, or so she told her classes. “I tell you, read, read, read,” she would say.
“Yes Ma’am, bodacious. However, the ubiquitous little man in red is beginning to tire me.” Adam’s words had an edge of sarcasm unfitting the season as he exercised his own knowledge of words.
Amanda Brubaker eyed the boy with a narrow gaze. “You are much too smart to have such a pessimistic attitude, Mr. Schumacher,” she whispered. “I knew your father.”
There was the inference Adam had dreaded. Adam was finally linked to the deserter with the foreign name. He was as big a failure as his father.
Pops had worked late out in the fields most of the time while Adam was growing up. Then, he was in the Army for nearly three years and never came home. As far as Adam was concerned, Pops had been absent from his life for a long time.
The great World War had tarnished the name of Schumacher beyond anything Adam believed he could polish. You are known by your name, Gramps used to say. And, Adam’s name was Schumacher not Shoemaker.
“There’s more to me than that name,” Adam scoffed.
“Adam, no. I didn’t mean . . . Your father was one of my best students. He―”
“Hi Adam,” Fritzy buzzed. “Oh, I’m sorry Mrs. Brubaker. Did I interrupt?”
“Well, yes, Frederica, you did. But, that is all right. Mr. Shoemaker and I will talk again another time.” She smiled and patted Adam on the shoulder. “There is joy in the Season if you accept the Spirit of Christmas as a gift, Adam.”
That will be my only gift, he angrily reminded himself. And I have nothing for Moms.
“Adam, do you want to sit with Daddy and Mother, Jim and me?” Fritzy started to pull Adam in the direction of the sanctuary.
“I don’t know if I can. I’m supposed to crank up the dividing wall after church. Mr. Gunderman isn’t feeling well.”
“That’s okay. We usually sit on that side of the sanctuary anyway.” Fritzy linked her arm in his as she led him into the sanctuary.
Adam smiled. He was amazed that Fritzy didn’t seem to be afraid for everyone to see them together. Their friendship was real. It wasn’t just another lie.
In the sanctuary, Christmas tree-green, red and gold were everywhere, in the garland swags that draped across the front of the balcony to the ten-foot Christmas tree adorned with fancy bulbs and white chrismons of many shapes.
As they sat down, Adam studied the manger in the Christmas scene up front. The crude crib was obviously empty except for the straw. Some of the pieces had been pulled from the bedding and draped artfully down the side of the crude cradle.
Frederica saw Adam look over the entire scene. “The carving will be there on Christmas Eve,” she whispered just as the service began. “The Christ Child hasn’t come yet so the manger is empty.”
Adam smiled faintly as the songs of Christmas began. Memories of Christmases past flooded his mind, images he had blocked out a long time ago. He wanted to be happy but he thought happiness had passed him by.
“Joy to the world,” the congregation sang and Adam wondered what world they were singing about. He joined in, only because Fritzy would expect him to, not because he felt much joy that morning. If he could just shake the sad, down feelings, maybe he could experience a little joy. He wasn’t a child. He was a man, yet he felt like crying. Only women and small children cry. Men with powers from Shaddi definitely do not.
“Good Christmas Sunday morn,” Pastor Silverman began. “And it came to pass in those days,” he read from scripture.
Adam swallowed a yawn. A gaping mouth would not impress Fritzy at all. He would seem to be bored with the pastor’s message. He liked Silverman. It was just—well, no one understood. How could they? He didn’t understand his mixed up family himself.
Everyone in the church that morning would go home to a hot meal of roast, potatoes and carrots, the usual Sunday meal in Middletown. The women could put dinner in the oven before the family left for church. Adam’s meal would not be hot. He would dine on crackers and the macaroni he had found in the kitchen cabinets. Yesterday, four cans of soup showed up on the kitchen counter. There was a note attached, “For the needy.” Adam assumed they were to go in the box of food intended for those who had nothing. He believed more and more that the needy included him.
“A hymn that is often sung during the Christmas holidays is Good King Wenceslas,” Pastor Silverman said. “The hymn was important for two reasons. First, the words spoke of the goodness of a leader king. This lyrical poem was one of the first references to a benevolent monarch.”
Adam resisted the need to laugh out loud. A benevolent king? He could not believe the two words went together. In 1945 the world had been torn apart by leaders who were so vile, so corrupt of soul, that the entire globe had erupted in flames and families were ripped apart and cast into the void of nothingness, not here and not there either.
“Point two,” Silverman continued, “the amazing words, written by John Mason Neale nearly a hundred years ago, tell of the way through difficult times, a way to stay warm in a world grown cold, a way to survive through the stormy blasts of our lives. We are to walk in the footsteps of the Master.”
Like that will do any good, Adam mocked silently. My world has grown cold and God is not walking through it with me.
Adam heard the pastor’s words. He understood their meaning. But, he couldn’t see how the words applied to him. Life was not that easy. Besides, all that love isn’t for me, not anymore. Love never came home. But, there was a part of Adam that wished the sermon were true. He thought of the little hummer and he felt just as caged as the bird had been. Then he thought of the green feathered wings as they lifted the little bird off his fingers and he wondered if he would ever take flight again.
There in the church pew, Adam closed his eyes and went into his imagination, to the spot that was comfortable, Granny O’Hara’s little woods at the back of her property. He could smell the damp leaves that had fallen to the ground and feel the twigs that slapped his legs gently as he walked by. The breeze was warm and brushed his face with tiny kisses on the wind. Suddenly, Mr. O’Shaughnessy bounced into the lane from beneath the green hill and motioned for him to follow. This time, he did.
Adam leaped into the vision in front of him and felt a freedom he had not experienced in years, probably since he had last visited Granny. The warmth of the air and the breeze on his face felt so real it seemed like he could lay out across the wind and fly around the glen that ran through the scene. He was finally free.
“Adam?” Fritzy shook his arm gently. “Did you fall asleep? The service is over.”
“Of course I’m not asleep, Fritzy. I was still thinking about what Pastor said,” Adam smoodged.
Adam jumped up and opened the narrow closet that housed the crank to the door. It was a little hard to turn. He understood why Mr. G. had asked him to raise the massive wooden door that was designed like a roll-top desk. With the door fully raised, his next thought was food.
“What will you do for dinner today, Adam?” Mrs. Breman questioned as she made her way toward the cookie and punch table following the service.
“Yes, will your uncle have a hot meal for you today?”
“He wasn’t able to get home yesterday. He travels, you know.”
“You’re all alone today?” Fritzy interrupted. “But, this is Christmas Sunday.”
“Well, you are not alone today if you don’t want to be, Adam. Frederica’s grandparents are coming for dinner and I’m setting a place for you too,” Mrs. Breman stated.
“I wouldn’t want to―”
“I wasn’t asking, Adam. I was stating a fact. I would not be able to look your dear mother in the eye if I allowed you to eat alone on Christmas Sunday. Besides, Frederica’s sister, Sarah Jane, is in a friend’s wedding today and won’t be here. You will balance out the table. It’s settled.” Mrs. Breman took a cookie from the plate and smiled. “Help yourself Adam. The cookies are here for all of us to enjoy.”
“Yes Ma’am,” Adam smiled. He was waiting for an opportunity to have a few, or more, cookies.
“Take some more with you. It’s alright,” she assured him as she pulled her gloves from her pocket, then turned to Reverend Silverman.
“Pastor, the sermon was wonderful,” she offered. Then, she finished gloving her hands as she walked along. “Adam, you can ride with us if you want to. Coach Breman can take you home later, after the Philharmonic on the radio this afternoon on CBS.”
“A radio concert?” Adam had not heard a radio for so long, even the Philharmonic would sound good to him.
The plan for the day was all settled. Adam piled in the back of the Breman’s station wagon just like a member of the family. But, Adam knew he wasn’t.
It was Christmas Sunday and dinner at Fritzy’s house. Her home was beginning to feel familiar to Adam. The large comfortable home felt safe and welcoming. The house looked beautiful, with an ornate Christmas tree in the front window and lit candles flickered around the room. Adam was drawn to the diningroom table by the most amazing aroma. There was a mixture of browned roast, homemade dinner rolls, and assorted pies.
Adam had just finished the last bite of Christmas Sunday dinner when Coach asked, “Would you like more pot roast?” He passed the meat platter to Adam.
“No thank you, Sir.” The boy resisted the temptation to eat everything he could possibly fit onto Mrs. Breman’s fine china plate.
“Well, I know you’ll have more potatoes and bread and butter,” Fritzy smiled. “You
seemed to enjoy them a lot.”
“Just a little, thank you.” He placed two large pieces of potato on his plate, smashed them with his fork and spooned a little broth over the top. He could not believe how wonderful every
“I am so glad you could come, Young Man,” Fritzy’s grandmother smiled. “I’m always pleased to meet my grandchildren’s friends.”
“Yes, Ma’am. I’m pleased to meet you as well.”
“I understand you had a good night on the basketball court,” Grandpa Stafford smiled.
Adam’s face lit up into a grin. “Yes, Sir. It was a good night.”
“He did a great job. And, the game was his first . . . ever.” Coach Breman’s smile revealed an acceptance Adam had only dreamed of.
“I’m sure the luck was in the shoes,” Jim Breman joined in with big-brother style joking.
“Thank you for out growing them,” Adam smiled as he wiped his lips on Mrs. Breman’s fancy linen napkin with the letter “B” hand embroidered in the corner. He was careful to leave as small a smudge as possible on the linen.
“Enough of basketball, you guys. Adam and I get the game table in living room. We’re going to play dominos while you all listen to the Philharmonic. Or, while some of you sleep, Grandpa.”
“Here now, I’ll have you know I just rest my eyes.”
“Right Grandpa and you only make the strange snoring sound to keep us guessing,” Jim teased.
“I am simply part of the percussion section of the orchestra,” Grandpa Stafford boasted.
“Okay,” Coach agreed. “However you want it.”
“If you decide to turn that game into Texas 42, Fritzy, just let me know. I’ll be the third of the four needed.” Mr. Stafford stood and stretched out his stiff legs before he walked. Then he took his official spot in the overstuffed chair beside the radio.
Adam entered the livingroom quietly. Hushed tones seemed appropriate in the warm surroundings. At the end of the room was a white fireplace with flickering logs beneath a spacious mantel. Five stockings hung from decorative hooks and white beams spanned the ceiling the full length of the room. There was a thick oval carpet that covered most of the hardwood floors and white sheer curtains graced the huge bay window, draped low and gathered in at the edges. A widow seat provided one space at the small game table and a small antique Windsor chair flanked the other side.
Fritzy turned the domino box upside down and shuffled the white ivory tiles. Mr. Breman adjusted the radio to the CBS station and the concert began. Grandpa Stafford fell asleep before the orchestra completed their first movement in sonata form. Mrs. Breman had her knitting in her lap and the needles flew, almost in rhythm to the music. Grandma Stafford pulled the stereopticon and slides from one of the white cabinets that flanked the fireplace and settled herself on the sofa for a quiet afternoon of picture viewing.
“I’m going to go up and get some reading done for class,” Jim smiled as he looked around the comfortable room. “Nice meeting you Adam.”
“You too,” Adam added as Fritzy played the first tile. He breathed in all the family time he could possibly inhale. He felt like the hummer as he sucked in all the nectar he could hold. If a picture could be perfect, he was living inside the frame.
After the philharmonic finished the concert, he and Fritzy went out to the kitchen to
make taffy. Fritzy put the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan, added the butter, salt, corn syrup and water and mixed all the ingredients together.
“Bring to a boil . . .” she talked mostly to herself. To Adam she added, “You can stir in the butter.”
“How long do I stir?” Adam took the wooden spoon and began slowly.
“We’ll drop a little bit from the spoon in a few minutes to see if the syrup will form a hard thread. Then, we will, or rather you will, stir in the vanilla and pour the mixture into Mom’s square Pyrex dish. When the taffy is cool enough, we’ll pull it until the color isn’t shinny anymore and the texture becomes stiff. Then we’ll cut the candy into pieces and wrap them in waxed paper.”
“How about now?” Adam raised the spoon out of the mixture and tested the consistency for the hard thread. “Looks ready to me.”
A few minutes later, Fritzy suggested, “While the taffy cools, we could find some tree pictures for our Biology project. The assignment will be due by the middle of January.”
“How do you know when the tree project will be due?” Adam asked, then glanced back into the livingroom at Coach Breman. “Oh, I get it. Inside information.”
“Mother has collected Better Homes and Gardens magazines for years. They’re up in the attic. She said we could cut out all the pictures of trees we wanted to.”
The attic stairs were behind a door that went up from the second floor hallway. The steps led to the completely surfaced third story, a treasure land of old trunks and spinning wheels. From the moment Adam set foot on the attic floor memories flooded his mind that he had completely forgotten.
The picture in his mind wasn’t the attic on the farm. The memory was of the room off Granny’s upper loft above the cabin in New York. The red door with the wrought iron latch was off the sleeping loft in the rafter eaves. The two summers Adam had spent with Moms in upstate New York were full of mystery and unanswered questions.
“Granny, who or what are the black forms that move around in the attic? They scare me but seem to want me to be their friend too.” Adam had asked the last time.
“Adam, I told you never to look at them. How do you know they want to befriend you?” Adam could feel that Granny was alarmed and he didn’t know why.
“They talk to me—well, not with sounds. I heard them in my head,” Adam had explained.
“Oh Adam no,” Granny O’Hara screamed. “You let them in?”
“Who? Adam, you let who in?” Moms had heard the shout. Adam knew that Moms had grown up in the valley and knew all about the old beliefs there.
“The shadows—Bridget. Adam has spoken to the darkness.” Tears ran down Granny’s fear gripped face and Adam didn’t understand.
“Mother,” Moms had yelled, “I warned you. Will said if you fill the boy with those Gypsy lies, we have to come home and we cannot come back—ever.”
“Bridget O’Hara you know they are not lies,” Granny had argued.
“That argument is over before the fight gets started. Will was adamant.” Moms packed their clothes, got a ride to town, and Adam and his mother were out of the valley on the next train home.
“What did you do on a rainy day, Adam?” Fritzy asked.
Adam was jarred back into Middletown, almost against his will. He always wished he could have found out what Granny and Moms were so frightened of. He was amazed that he had forgotten about the valley and the shadows and some of the secrets of the New England farm. “I haven’t thought about that for a long time.”
“A long time—Adam, you’re not old enough for anything to be a long time past.”
“It feels like a very long time ago,” Adam’s voice drifted off as he pulled an old rug back from a wooden cobbler’s bench there in the dusty attic. “Gramps had one of these. I remember seeing the bench up in our attic.”
“An old cobbler’s bench? Did he teach you how to make shoes?”
“Yes . . .” Adam’s memory wandered into the space above his parents’ bedroom. “You had to pull down some steps to get up through the attic entrance. The old bench had a drawer with several lasts that had square toes. You know, that’s where our name came from— Shoemaker. There is even a barrel full of small wooden pegs that they used to hold the shoes together.”
“That’s amazing Adam.”
“That was one thing I did on a rainy day. I had forgotten. Funny, when we try to forget something bad in our lives, we forget everything about that time. I do remember that Gramps would give me a piece of leather and I would use the lasts to sew moccasins to use as house slippers. I made some for Moms and Pops as well as my grandparents.”
“What a great way to spend a day.”
“I also went out in the barn where Grandma had an old potter’s wheel. Why did I forget about all that? I would spend hours throwing pots and then Pops would help me fire them in
“Do you still have any of the pottery left?” Fritzy paused from her task of leafing through magazines for tree pictures. “That sounds like a lot of fun.”
“Fun? Yes,” Adam said as he picked up a magazine and earmarked several pages. “You know the great thing about throwing pots? If you make a mistake, no one ever has to see the messed up vase or bowl. You can just start again. That’s not like life, right? You make a mistake and everyone sees it.”
“Who cares who’s watching, Adam?”
“I do.” Adam slammed a book closed and stared at the floor.
“Well, I don’t care who looks at me and what I’m doing. I try to do my best and if I make a mistake, it is just that, a mistake. If I were going to deliberately do something wrong, I would make a grand falderal of it all. I would do my very best at that too. So see, the flub is still not a mistake. It’s a deliberate act.” Fritzy kept talking and seemed to ignore Adam’s anger, or she was just a good diplomat.
“I hadn’t thought about flaws and mistakes like that.” Adam watched as Fritzy tore the pictures from the magazines. “Your mother won’t care if we just tear them out?”
“Of course not. Mother said she had been saving them for such an assignment as this. She just didn’t know what pictures would be needed or what they’d be used for.” Fritzy tore several more pages from the book. “Where did you say the pottery is?”
“I didn’t. How could I have forgotten about those pots? It feels like I’ve been walking in a dreamworld. I can’t remember where I’ve been and have no idea where I’m going.” Adam focused on his homework and clipped a few more tree pictures. “Pops took the pots to the Capitol and sold them in an arts and crafts store there. They sold for a lot. I got ten dollars for some of them.” He looked over at Fritzy like he had not seen her before. “Why didn’t I know that Fritzy? Why didn’t I remember? Pops set up a savings account for me at a bank. I can’t remember which bank. I think it was at the Capitol so I wouldn’t be tempted to withdraw money on a whim like I might if the cash were here in town.”
“That is wonderful Adam. You’re an artist, a real artist. You’ve earned money from your craft.” She bubbled over with enthusiasm. “Just think, I know a famous artist.”
“Well, I don’t know about the famous part. Not famous enough to even remember any of it until you and this place and this great day, reminded me.”
“Well, I am impressed,” she insisted.
“You don’t have to be. My art isn’t memorable enough for me to remember it, let alone someone else.”
They both laughed and joined in the joy of the day. After two small piles of tree pictures were stacked side by side, Fritzy announced, “Let’s go see if the taffy is ready to pull.”
Down in the kitchen, they washed and buttered their hands, then collected the taffy from the dish. They pulled and played with the sweet candy until the sticky goo lost its sheen and was stiff enough to hold its shape. Then they cut and wrapped each piece of taffy in waxed paper.
“This has been the best day of my life, or at least for the portion of my life I remember, considering my recent memory lapses.” They both laughed as Adam put on his jacket.
“Let Daddy drive you home, Adam. He said he would be happy to.”
“No, that’s all right. It isn’t a long walk and the cold air will clean up some of my thinking. But, I do appreciate it. I am thankful for the whole day, Fritzy.” Adam pulled his hat over his ears and started to leave when Fritzy ran and grabbed up some taffy and stuffed them into his jacket pockets.
“Here Adam,” Mrs. Breman called out. She came back with something wrapped in more waxed paper. “It’s a nice roast beef sandwich and I believe I saw you put some catsup on your meat at dinner.”
“Yes, Ma’am, catsup of course.”
“A staple of life isn’t it?” she joked as she handed over what would be Adam’s Sunday evening supper.
He said his good byes, walked along the snowy streets and looked back once at the house to see if the magic was still there. It was. Fritzy stood in the bay window and waved. To Adam, the scene looked like a Christmas card, a perfect picture of family and home. There were no shadow people or green crystal dust in the whole house.
Once back at the church on Cranberry Street, Adam went up to the tower-room and found the belfry cold and empty. There was no warm fire, no laughing family, only a little hummingbird to chirp and twitter, “Hey, look at me.”
Could the night have seemed even darker? Could the silence have been any louder? Ice droplets slipped down the window pane like frozen tears. There were no tears left in Adam.