TITLE: February's Christmas
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Grandpa thought Benny wouldn’t be asleep: today of all days. But, it was early for the little boy. Grandpa bent over the pile of bed covers. The room was dark. He leaned on the bedpost and roused little Ben.
"Rise 'n shine, Benny. He'll be comin' up soon an' we don't want to miss 'm now do we?" His words were not much above a whisper. A little head peeked out of the pile of covers. "I don't wanna miss 'm Gramps."
"Well, then, get up now. I'll be in the kitchen rousing some breakfast for you.”
Grandpa left the boy to dress himself. Benny sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes. Grandpa was the only one to call him Benny. He liked that. He pulled the top of his pajamas off and threw them down next to the bed and jumped down onto the cold hardwood floor. He ran to the bathroom and washed his hand and face. He dried himself as he walked back to the room. His tossed the towel on his pajama top, starting a pile on the floor, and got dressed.
Grandpa was in the kitchen cracking some eggs into a skillet full of bacon grease. The bacon was now warming in the old Wedgewood oven. He poured some coffee for himself and some orange juice for little Benny. They had some time, Grandpa thought, a little breakfast would be good. Besides, they would not miss him at least until the sun had risen.
Grandpa loved to have Benny over in February. It was a personal Christmas celebration for Grandpa and little Benny. Benny marched straight to his orange juice on the table. He wore one of his brother’s old flannel fishing shirts tucked into his jeans.
"Don't you drink it all, there, or you wont have any for the eggs and bacon." Grandpa stirred the eggs and added the little pile of extra chopped bacon set aside to help the eggs get a better scramble. Benny scooted himself up onto a chair at the table. The smell of the bacon and eggs, the buzz of the old refrigerator and the drip in the sink all made Benny smile. Only at Grandpa's could he hear see or smell these things. Mom and Dad's kitchen was too clean.
Grandpa turned off the gas burner and fixed the plates. He stooped over and with a hotpad lifted the bacon out of the warming drawer. He put some bacon and half of the eggs on each of the old two china plates: put one in front of Benny and one by his own coffee mug. Grandma used to use these plates when company came. The gold edged had now faded. Grandpa used them only for Benny, now.
He sat down and pulled a flask of Old Bushmill out of his overalls and poured some into his coffee mug. Everyday before he went outside he did this. This always helped Grandpa move around better before sunrise.
"Gramps," he said, "I wonder how many other kids have a grandpa like you to visit? I hope a lot. Roger, he's only seven, says he's got a grandpa, in Ma-ry-land and has only seen him once, forever. Maybe Roger can come next time and wait for him with us."
"I don't know, Benny. He’s only seven. Do you think he'd be up to it?" Grandpa asked.
"Sure." Benny said.
"How old are you now, Benny?" Grandpa knew.
"I'm eight years old." Benny said through a mouthful of eggs. They both laughed.
"You sure were hungry, Benny."
"It was good. You make the best eggs in the whole world, Gramps." Benny drank the last drop of his orange juice. "Thanks, Gramps."
Grandpa had taken the dishes, balancing his mug so as to not spill it. He stopped halfway to the sink with his armload.
"Well, you're quite welcome, Benny. Maybe we'll get you to learn how to make the eggs yourself next time. Your mom would just... well." He went on to the sink. "For that thank you, sir, you can have some more orange juice."
Grandpa put the dishes in the sink and sipped his mug of coffee. "The sun's almost out, we'd better get out there pretty quick, wouldn't you say?"
After a quick finish of his juice, Benny ran to his bedroom. He returned in a moment strutting in to the kitchen with his new coat he got from his big sister for Christmas.
Grandpa looked out the window. He began to see the low roll of the fields behind the house and the trees that lined the property. At night, the horizon had been only a faded line between two blue-grey mattes stitched together by the forms of the trees. Now Grandpa could see the fields turning beige under the pale sky.
"What happens again, Gramps," Benny asked, "when he comes out of his hole?"
Grandpa took his cup of ripe coffee and wiping the sink said, "Well, if he comes out of his hole and sees his shadow, he's scared of his shadow, you know, he'll run right back down the hole and not come out again for six weeks. That'll mean we'll have six more weeks of winter." Grandpa stopped wiping. "If he comes out of his hole and doesn't see his shadow, well, he wont be scared and run back down, he'll start looking for food, and we'll have a short winter. Grandpa breathed to rest and looked out the window.
Benny raised his arms wide and ran in a small circle under the doorway. Grandpa laughed.
"I hope we're not going to miss him, Gramps."
"Naw, if you can look the sun ain't even up yet." Grandpa filled his mug with more coffee and Bushmill as Benny ran into the front room to look out the low living room window.
"What do you see, Benny?"
"I don't know, Gramps."
Grandpa looked to make sure that the Thermos was close by and the Bushmill wasn't too far away.
Benny came back into the hall and zoomed into the kitchen. Grandpa squatted down and did up Benny's coat zipper. His knees cracked going down and standing. Benny had gotten to the age when he could almost do it by himself.
"There you go," Grandpa said, as his old hands reached and held Benny's little fingers. "What are we going to call him this year, Benny?"
Benny flushed with that fresh excitement only a eight year old seems to manifest--straight from the imagination.
"Oh gee, Gramps, I don't know. How about...Fuzzy Bear."
"Fuzzy Bear!? That don't sound like a name for a ground hog."
"I like it." Benny said proudly. running around Gramps like a plane in a steep turn.
"Well, then, Fuzzy Bear it is, and you're crazy."
Benny reached up and tugged at Grandpa's sleeve. "Let's hurry, Gramps."
"Now, give me a second let me get my Thermos." Grandpa checked his Thermos, and tucked it under his arm. As Benny grabbed his sleeve, Grandpa grabbed his mug with his free hand. He let Benny drag him to the back porch.
On the porch were two chairs: one small one for Benny and one old big one for himself. Benny shook as soon as he stepped outside. Grandpa was used to the chill. He straddled the chair and slowly backed down into it. Grandpa sat down and placed his thermos next to the chair, on the side away from Benny. Benny plopped down quickly into his chair. They began to wait.
"Now, Benny, you got to be real quiet-like or we'll never see.him. Its like when we go fishing, you don't want to make any noise by the stream or the fish'll get spooked and poof-- there goes the whole morning."
Benny sat still. He stared out at the end of the backyard, along the treeline. Neither of them moved. The only sound was their breathing: Grandpa's was slow and steady, Benny's was quick and short with a couple of sniffles.
"When is he going to come up, Gramps?" Benny whispered without moving.
"It shouldn't be long now.” Grandpa whispered back, moving slowly to pour a mug.
"Don't make any noise Gramps, or Fuzzy Bear won’t show."
Grandpa snorted, and they both smiled.
Grandpa sipped at his nug. He looked at the weather. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. He wondered if Fuzzy Bear would be scared of his shadow.
The pale sky began to brighten into what was going to be a fine morning.
"Which one of those piles of dirt is he going to come out of?"
"I don't know, but keep a sharp eye out we don't want to miss him."
Grandpa leaned forward and paid attention to the treeline. These morning moments were fresh and with Benny, Grandpa always felt better. Grandpa smiled.
"Look out there, do you see anything?"
"Not yet, Gramps. Hey, yea. Gramps, something is coming up."
"There he is, look at him."
"It's Fuzzy Bear for sure." Benny froze in his chair.
"well I'll be a... Here he comes right out of his hole. See him, Benny?"
Yea, Gramps, yea. Wow."
Grandpa acted quickly. The sun was out and the ground hog would have to be scared of his shadow. Grandpa pulled the small Polaroid he stashed just for this occasion. Benny stared at the little animal. Grandpa looked through the viewfinder. The ground hog was a foot or two from his hole.
"Does he see his shadow, Gramps?" Benny was motionless, staring at the rodent.
"I think so... there, Benny." Grandpa pushed the button on the camera. Click, bzzzzzzzzztt. The picture slid out.
Benny kept looking at the ground hog. "Look, Gramps, he saw his shadow and he's going back dawn into his hole. How'd you know to take a picture before he went back down?" Benny was flustered but excited.
Grandpa's eyes twinkled over the big smile hidden by the coffee mug.
"Well, I just figured it. I think he was on his hind legs looking right at us."
"Gramps, you're the greatest." Benny reached over to hug Grandpa, spilling a bit of coffee on them both.
Benny'll never know.
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