I don’t know if I like this family.
I’m punished in my bedroom after a real bad scolding for spilling Mom’s clothes in a bucket of bleach by accident and covering up the evidence in the trash can. She was plenty mad with her scrunched up lips and gimlet eyes. She shouted like a crazy lady who hasn’t had chocolate in a few days, waving the evidence in my face and stomped past Mimi.
Mimi came in my room, carrying a photo album under her armpit until she plopped on the bed beside me and flipped open the first page.
“What’s that?“ I asked, pointing to the album on her lap.
I call my grandmother “Mimi“ because she claimed it makes her feel younger than the ol’ Grandma stuff. I leaned on her shoulder, the heat of her body warming mine. She said it was the Helner family album- the pictures spanned nearly a century. Whoa, that’s a hundred years! I just learned that word in class the other day, I kid ya not.
“Here, this is my great-grandpa, Peter Helner and his son, Nicholas. They emigrated from Germany in the early 1890’s to Minnesota. Peter did not want to be drafted so he fled.”
The man, in the picture, was in a stiff suit as he sat on a straight-backed chair while the son stood next to his shoulder, both somber-faced. Very jolly-looking, not.
“What’s a draft, Mimi?”
Mimi’s thin finger softly rubbed the corner of the page. She paused for a minute.
“That’s when the government commands you to join the military. You don’t have any choice but to obey.”
“Why didn’t he want to join? Didn’t his parents yell at him?”
Mimi chuckled. I peered closer to my Henler great-whatever how many greats grandpa. He didn’t look like the type to laugh and pick me up and then toss me over his arm like Pa-Pa Samuel.
“Peter already had several brothers who joined. He was the youngest. His father died a while ago before he left Germany. Then, he sailed on a ship to Ellis Island. ” Mimi pantomimed a ship sailing with a wave of her hand in the air.
She clapped and then flipped through the pages- commenting on a relative here and another relative there, until she stopped at a picture of a girl in a cherry print pinafore and dark ribbons on her curly pigtails.
“Heh heh. Can you guess who that is, Petey?”
I shrugged, the girl looked silly in the picture. She was sticking her tongue out! She seemed to be daring me to do something about it. If I could, I’d pull her pigtails. Just to see if she’d croak and squeal- like a girl.
“Dunno. Why’s she making that face? Mom would of licked me if I did that!”
Mimi tapped her index finger on her chin. Her eyes twinkled. I scrunched my eyebrows and wrinkled my nose as I tried to figure out who that girl was. I couldn’t come up with a name. She sighed. Patted my tousled blond hair.
“ Ach!” She guffed. “You silly boy. That’s me right there!”
What? That was Mimi? Boy, I wouldn’t have figured that out. Not for the whole wide world! She looked way different in the picture.
“I was a lil’ hellion. Grandma Heloise had a fit when I made that face. Heh heh. Here‘s a picture of her and I on the next page. ”
“Mimi, I bet you got spanked a lot. A lot.”
“That’s true, I was a very mischievous girl back then. But you see… I grew out of that. And so you will grow out of that too. I’m sure you would be a perfect gentleman like Grand-uncle Nicholas. He used to be a wild scamp. Grandma Heloise told me stories about how naughty he was. ”
“Mom thinks I’m a screw up.”
One eyebrow went up. Her lips pursed.
“That’s not true. You’re just a boy but your mother is right- you do need to learn to be careful when you play in the house. The reason I showed you the pictures is that we all are like that once.”
“So… I’m okay?”
She rolled her eyes and grinned. “Of course! You‘re Petey Helner. God made you special as you are.”
I hugged Mimi tight and she stuck her tongue out at me. We started guffawing loudly. Gee, I come from a family of scamps, hellions, and weird kids- who’d thunk it.
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