“Should’ve used birth control,” my grandma muttered to her husband, my grandfather, out of the side of her mouth. This comment was in reaction to the scene they witnessed as they walked up our steps. I was six years old, playing with a bullfrog. My brother Garith, ten, was tossing whirly-gigs from the roof of our house. My sister, eleven, had her hair pulled back, wearing a leotard and practicing her spins on the lawn. And my oldest brother, thirteen years old, had three raccoons on leashes and feeding them vanilla ice-cream.
I skipped over to show them my bullfrog, “Look, Grandma!” I squealed; “I caught him in the swamp.”
“Mercy,” Grandma uttered with her chin turned down. She turned her head in disgust. My grandma pulled corners of her mouth down like she smelled something awful.
I stood back. I couldn’t believe that my grandma didn’t like Henry. I gazed upon his ample mouth and hooded eyes. The frog looked perfectly nifty to me. I kissed him on his head. I gazed lovingly upon his long webbed feet. I hoped grandmother hadn’t hurt his feelings.
“Your cousins sit quietly and watch TV,” my grandmother scolded me. “Why can’t you children be more like them?”
My grandparents had come for Wednesday night cards with my parents. Grandma wore a blue-flowered dress, a silver brooch, and smelled of talcum powder. Her hair was white.
Grandma wore skin-colored make-up and rouge powder. She dapped it on with a puff. I never wanted to kiss her because she looked parched like her face might crack at any minute. My grandfather wore an ill-fitting brown suit, a brown felt fedora hat, and a string tie with its ends covered in metal. Grandfather smelled stale, “You’re supposed to be a young lady,” Grandma admonished.
I kissed Henry on his head again; “I am,” I answered. I went over and dipped his toes in the water bucket I kept nearby. I held Henry with one hand so I could wet the other one and then switched hands. “Henry,” I said, to take his mind off my grandmother’s hurtful reaction; “I love you.” I wasn’t sure if he heard me because he didn’t have ears, just circles on the sides of his head.
One of my brother’s whirly-gigs landed on my grandmother’s head as they continued up our walkway. Grandma didn’t realize it, and it got lost in her cottony hair. My brother, Garith was spinning hand-made objects from the roof as he counted their rotations, “I’m trying to figure out how whether having more propellers,” he explained without being asked, “Would make them spin around more.”
I tossed one of the whirly-gigs back up to him. I missed and then tried again. “You might have to put Henry down,” he instructed.
“And your cousins go to church every Sunday,” my grandmother continued.
My sister, Diane, was on the lawn to the left, practicing her owns twirls as my mother had just signed her up for ballet lessons. She wore a black leotard and had her hair pulled back. Fed-up with her lack of dancing ability, she turned her frustration towards me. “It’s not fair!” she exclaimed; “You play with toads and frogs, and I’m the one who gets warts!”
“That’s because you’re a witch,” retorted my oldest brother, Keith. He was furthest to my left, feeding his raccoons. He’d been raising the raccoons since they were babies as their mother had been killed.
“Mom!” Diane yelled.
“And they each know the rosary,” my grandmother added.
I lost my balance throwing the whirly-gigs up to Garith and knocked over the water bucket. Then, my grip on Henry loosened. He leaped and landed on my grandmother.
“AAAAAAA!” she screamed; “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“GET THAT, GET THAT THING, GET THAT THING! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”
“Do you mean Henry?”
My grandfather leaped back. Henry was on my grandmother’s chest, on her blue-flowered dress, right next to her silver brooch. Grandmother wanted to push Henry off, but at the same time the thought of touching him reviled her.
“OF COURSE I MEAN HENRY!!! GET HIM OFF!”
I grabbed my frog. Luckily, there was some water on the sidewalk to moisten his feet. He liked to keep a little bit wet.
My sister momentarily forgot about her inability to spin, and my brother’s raccoons looked up from eating their ice-cream and stared at us.
“You were a big help!” my grandmother lashed out at my grandfather.
“What?” he asked.
“What?” she mimicked; “You know what! You could’ve helped me, you know!”
“That frog is big; It could’ve killed me!”
“No, it could…”
“Yes, It could’ve! You saw the way it leaped at me! It was attacking!”
“But Cyndi….” She reached over and knocked his hat off his head. Then Grandma grabbed the hat and hit Grandfather with it.
“Mother!” my mother, suddenly appearing in the doorway, screamed at my grandmother; “What are you doing?”
“Oh, my God,” my grandmother stumbled; “These kids….”
My mother got up close to her and whispered, “I would’ve thought you’d be a better example for your grandchildren.
“What?” grandmother gasped; “These children? These unruly heathens?”
“Are you calling my children heathens?” my mother asked; “From what I see, they were all playing nicely…”
“Oh, yeah, with crazy animals and…”
“Not beating each other up,” continued my mother; “Like you and Daddy. I’d appreciate it if you acted respectfully when you’re around my children!”
“It started when…”
My mother looked at my grandmother’s head’ “What’s that?” she asked.
“What?” Grandmother asked.
“You shouldn’t have hit me,” my grandfather said, gaining courage.
“That thing in your hair.” Mother reached over and pulled the whirly-gig out of my grandmother’s hair. Diane came over to see.
“It’s one of Garith’s twirly-things!”
“I won’t stand for being punched,” Grandfather continued.
“Oh, a whirly-gig…”
“Diane, tell Keith to put the raccoons in their pen,” my mother instructed; “I’m afraid if they see people fighting, that they’ll follow suit and start biting.”
“Okay,” she obeyed.
“Grandma,” I said. “hey…”
“Diane!” my mother yelled; “Will you do as I asked you?”
“Keith, put the raccoons back in their pen!”
“Just do as I asked!”
“Grandma,” I said; “I just talked to Henry and…”
“Oh, my God,” exclaimed my grandmother.
“Did you hear him croak just then?” I asked. Henry croaked again.
“Oh! Do you know what that means, Grandma?”
“Oh, my God! Please have mercy…”
“Oh, what does it mean?” she asked, disgusted.
“It means he loves you.”