A Near Catastrophe
Adam settled Moms in the little apartment and he could breathe again. He could be a real fifteen-year-old and enjoy a party for the first time since before the war.
That evening, the door to the bathroom in the little cottage opened and a young man in a brown suit, white shirt, striped tie and brown leather shoes stepped out. His grin exposed his feelings of relief and joy.
Moms raised the reclining chair she was enjoying to its full, upright position. “Adam, look at you. You look great!”
“Thanks Moms,” he smiled as he straightened his tie. “Are you sure you’re going to be alright if I’m gone this evening?”
“I don’t need to be tucked in, you know,” she chuckled.
“Promise you won’t wait up for me. I would feel really guilty if you lost a minute of sleep.”
“Adam, what I do is not your fault. What Pops does, or doesn’t do, is not your fault. You are fifteen, and you deserve a night out just like the other kids at school. Don’t begrudge me the privilege, and I do mean the privilege, of waiting up for my son.” Moms smiled and opened her arms for a proper goodbye hug and kiss, just like normal people, in normal times would do.
“I love you Moms,” Adam said as he leaned over and kissed his mother on the cheek.
“How are you going to get over to the Stafford house?”
“I didn’t want to put her out, but I’m going to let Mrs. G. drive me over. Fritzy and I have a ride from there.”
“That’s right,” Moms remembered. “Arletta said she was so excited about being able to participate in the evening’s fun. She can’t go to the party. She said she needs to stay with Alfred. But, she’ll take you over and be able to drop off her shower gift for Sarah Jane while she’s there. The whole town is excited about the parties—the kids at the high school and the parents at Alma Stafford’s house.”
Adam said goodbye, left the cottage and walked up the sidewalk to the kitchen door where Mrs. Gunderman stood peeling potatoes for their dinner. “Come on in, Adam,” she said as she gestured for him to open the door and enter. “My hands are busy,” she laughed.
“Is that Adam?” Alfred called from his chair by the front room window.
“It’s me, Mr. G.” he responded.
“Come in here so I can see you,” he playfully commanded.
As the boy walked from the kitchen into the living room the small smile on Alfred’s face spread into a full grin. “Say, you clean up real good, don’t ya?”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Mrs. Gunderman,” Alfred called toward the kitchen, “this boy is as ready as a man can get. Dinner will wait. You’d best run him over before Fritzy Breman calls and wonders if we’ve kidnapped her date.”
“That could happen,” Arletta chuckled. “Adam, if you’ll pick up that package for me there on the chair, I’ll get my coat.”
“It’s a coffee pot, don’t ya know,” Alfred added. “The misses loves her Maxwell House.”
“Yes Sir,” Adam agreed as he retrieved the wrapped present from the chair.
As they road over to the New Year’s Eve party and Shower, Adam had something he had to say. “Mrs. G., I cannot thank you enough for your generous charity to our family.”
“Charity? Adam, this is not charity. Don’t you know the sign of a good friendship is when you think you’re getting more out of the relationship than the other person? I’m as happy you and your mom are living there as you are, maybe more.”
Adam thought about the truth of friendships as they drove the remaining few blocks to the party house. Once they got there, they were immediately greeted by more smiling faces.
• • •
“Adam, I’m glad you’re here. Come on in. Good to see you too, Arletta. Would you like some eggnog?” Mr. Stafford shook Adam’s hand and nearly pulled him into the house. It was Monday evening and the New Year’s Eve party at the school would start soon.
“Yes, thank you Willard,” Mrs. Gunderman said. “I’ll find Alma and then help myself.”
“I don’t think so, thank you,” Adam smiled shyly. “We’d best be going.”
“You look like a fine gentleman, my Boy,” Willard said.
“Thanks, Sir.” Adam stepped into the room flooded with color and light.
The Breman family was all at the Stafford home for their New Year’s Eve party. This year, it was also a wedding shower for Fritzy’s sister, Sarah Jane. It seemed like the entire membership of the Cranberry Street Church, and many others from all over town, were there. At least the adults were. The high schoolers came long enough to meet their friends and then head off to the school Gym for their party. Mr. Breman was one of the chaperones and Mrs. Breman would join him after Sarah’s shower.
The Stafford home was hung with white crepe paper bells and gold and blue bows. They were woven in and out of the Christmas decorations. Adam wasn’t much interested in wedding colors, but he had to admit, the house looked nice.
Adam’s total focus turned to the round, claw-footed table that had been moved in from the library. The Staffords invited guests to place any shower gifts on that round oak table in the middle of the room. There was already a huge pile of presents wrapped in white, blue and gold paper. The whole thing sat on a round floral area carpet with a fringed edge that was placed over the Persian rug.
Adam wasn’t fooled for a minute. He knew the table straddled the eighteen inch hole in the floor he and Mr. Stafford had cut a few days before. Adam remembered every detail. He knew that Mr. Stafford had braced the floor with two-by-eight inch lumber that partnered with those floor joists that had to be cut in order to get out the last rat. He knew it was safe but he still worried. Mrs. Stafford would have been horrified if someone fell through the floor at her fancy party.
As he stood there that evening, he gave a little sniff test and smiled. As he stared at the table, Fritzy came over.
“Don’t worry,” she soothed. “It looks great. It seems like Grandma planned for the table to be in the middle of the room all along.”
“Do the sprawling claw feet spread out enough to cover the entire hole? I would die if the table and everything on it fell through and landed on a giant spider web below—or worse yet, a rat’s nest.”
“Spiders?” Fritzy shuddered.
“Don’t worry,” Adam teased. “Bet I knocked down enough spider webs to knit a sweater with the threads.”
“Adam, stop!” she demanded. “I’ll be seeing spiders riding on the backs of large rats in my dreams for a month.”
“Adam,” Mr. Stafford interrupted, “it looks fine doesn’t it. And, thank goodness, it smells good too.”
“Yes, Sir. It looks and smells great.” Adam studied the table a minute longer. “Sir, is the table usually crooked or is there something else going on?
“Crooked, my Boy, no.” Mr. Stafford turned and stared at the table, buried under a mountain of gifts.
“Do you think—? No, it couldn’t happen.”
Suddenly the table slipped a little more and leaned slightly farther toward Adam. He and Mr. S. were transfixed by the scene before them.
“Do you think it will collapse?” the boy whispered. He knew what that could mean.
“No—it wouldn’t dare. My dear wife wouldn’t allow it.”
Adam squatted down next to the table foot and studied the problem. “Mr. Stafford,” he whispered and motioned for the older man to meet him near the floor. “It looks like the glass ball in this claw foot is cracking.”
Another pair of eyes joined them as they investigated the bottom of the table leg. “Wow,” Charlie Baker’s little brother got down on his hands and knees and gasped. “If that heavy table falls, the whole thing could crash through the floor.” His eyes sparkled, “It would land in a heap in the basement.”
“Crawl space,” Adam corrected, “trust me, I know.”
“Mrs. Stafford may never forgive me, Adam, if that whole thing collapsed after all.” Mr. S. shook his head in disbelief.
“What on earth—” Mrs. Stafford gasped as she approached the center of the room. Then, she drew her white lace handkerchief up to her face. “Well, this just cannot happen.”
The two rat-hunters looked at each other and back at Mrs. S.
She turned and, with a wave of her fancy handkerchief, she rallied all those in the house to come to her side. “My friends, we have an impending catastrophe in our midst. My momma’s beautiful oak table is losing its grip. I’m afraid some of Sarah Jane’s lovely gifts will be damaged if our table collapses.”
She was a gracious lady who had no problem admitting that the ancestral table might fall apart before her eyes. But, she did not want anyone to know about the large rats’ nest that had been below the carpet. That would have been disgraceful.
“If all of you will help move the gifts to the dining room table, we will serve our desserts from the sideboard.” She nodded at her husband and Adam with a silent cue.
“We’ll pass them along and you all can place them on the other table,” Mr. S. smiled.
The idea of having people line up and pass the presents along from person to person sounded cleaver but Adam knew the truth. Fritzy’s grandparents did not want a lot of people around the table at one time. They feared it would add too much weight to the floor beneath the table.
He was amazed by the game the people made out of a possibly embarrassing situation. Like the bucket brigade of an old fire company, friends and family lined up and passed each gift, hand over hand, and gently laid them on the other table.
“Observe, my Boy. Our women can accomplish anything with a smile and a wave of their lace.”
“So I see,” Adam watched and then allowed a broad smile to take over his face as he realized a truth. A person can’t be shamed or embarrassed if they choose not to accept the shame.
“Charlie and Barbara are here to pick you two up.” Mr. Breman called to them from the front door. “You two want to come in?”
“No thank you, Coach. Barb is waiting in the car.”
Fritzy got her coat and joined Adam near the door.
“You both go ahead, Fritzy,” her father said. “I’ll help finish up with the presents, then I’ll be right over. Mom will follow later.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Adam joined in.
“No, Adam, I think we all owe you a big thank you. It is wonderful to have you around. We can depend on you. And now, the Gundermans can depend on you and your mom, too. It is a wonderful after-Christmas blessing, don’t you think?” Coach Breman assured him.
“Yes, Sir, a very big blessing,” he agreed and in his head, he thanked Shaddy.