In the dusk of the evening, in Norfolk Virginia. A place of blue skies and warm fragrant summer evening. Melvin sat in the middle of his parents backyard. He was all of seven almost eight years of age. He was still living the age of discovery; that part of childhood where things you learn are made into permanent memories. The memories that have sound, smell and movement. The memories that remind you happiness is not found in a dollar bill. It was in fact one of those beautiful evenings in the middle of a city. A city that was full of townships, each with a name and a rhythm birth from the residences who lived there.
The evening was just the perfect time of day to Melvin. His Father was finally home, all the females were inside. They feared the biting of mosquitoes and the gnats which hovered in clouds which were invisible in the dim light. The coloring of the ground had turned deep purple and navy blue, and the sky the blue of the velveteen comforter, Melvin rolled around in the dew kissedgrass. This was summer, the crickets played violins, and the birds played percussion in the high bushes and trees. The branches of nearby trees conducted this summer’s night symphony with each sway as the wind pushed back and forth. From the house through the lighted windows poured the sound of his sisters. Whose arguments could be heard as if a wave of fabric rode the wind on that evening’s symphony.
His father sat in his white-washed wooden bench. It’s high back spread across the seat like a white Popsicle fan. It was big enough for three adults or five squirming children. His father, Robert, was smoking a sweet smelling pipe with it’s snake like smoke escaping the lips of its practiced smoker, and he, like his son was mesmerized by God’s beauteous creation, the sky and it’s dazzling lights. Here in the evening, they found peace and harmony and a little joy, away from the madness and responsibility that was the world.
Melvin held three glass jelly jars between his knobby knees. You see, Melvin was an explorer and collector from the time his mother allowed him to play in the backyard. In these jars he had at one time or another made ant farms, tadpole pools, terrariums, grown miniature trees, collected June bugs and lightning bugs. But he’s never collected the atmosphere and feeling of a cool summer night. His jars were empty now, for it was a ritual with him to release everything he had captured in August. He believed in giving his trophies a chance to prepare for the winter. Melvin had always sensed the invisible, and he could tell his father could too.
They both breathed deeply the moment their feet touch the soil. Melvin in fact pulled off socks and shoes to feel the cool gritty earth, as he wiggled his toes in and out of the loam-like soil where the grass had been worn away by the feet of children in his family. Than he’d run through the cool grasses, feeling every blade his foot pressed upon. After having touch the earth with this greeting, he’d go find his jelly jars. He’d always look around to make sure his sisters didn’t see where he’d hidden them.
A couple of summer back, he’d left them under the porch. Those clumsy girls had broken one jar. While pulling them out of their hiding places. And emptied the other two so they could play house filling them with dirt and water. The mud wasn’t too bad they’d caught three fat warms which wiggled to the top of the dirt as it turned into mud. Oh yeah, they cut their fingers, which he got punished for. Since then, he hid his jars high up in the open knot of the wild cherry tree which stood in the center of their backyard a good twenty feet from their kitchen door. There he would keep a watch on his containers from the kitchen window. It was a good hiding place, besides the girls never looked up when searching for his prizes. They thought all treasures were buried, or tuck away into caves.
This evening he released a couple of frogs he’d grown from tadpoles, a wasp he had grown from a paper nest, and twenty lightening bugs those he’d only kept for a day because they were easily killed. Sensing the magic of the evening he wanted to capture a new kind of thing.Today he would find out, he thought to himself; if the untouchable would produce anything that he could touch. Produce something simply by sitting snuggly in an old cherry tree. This time he decided when he put the jars in his knot hole of the wild cherry tree for the winter, instead of leaving them empty; he’d fill them with the things he loved about the summer evening and wrap them in some magical covering to see what would happen.
One by one he would fill them with the dew of the evening shaken from the bushes; and the wind which he captured his father’s smoke, and the wisp of air that carried it. The last thing was hard, he had to capture the light of the stars and the sounds of his family. He wrapped each jar in the long blades of grass that grew around the cherry tree, and covered each lid with the soft fuzzy leaves of the fig tree; and the flowers of the four o clock’s which grew in his mother’s garden. Before placing the last jar in his hiding place, he opened it and held it up to the sky. And without looking he replaced it’s lid screwing it down tight. He than hurriedly, covered it with the long grass, the fuzzy fig leaves and the flowers from his mother’s four o clock bush, and placed it along side the others. He looked around and found and old piece of an army blanket, that had been torn-up by the neighbor’s dog; this he used as a blanket into the opening of the tree, so the jars could not be seen by anyone.
It wasn’t long after Melvin had finished his task, that his father rose from the bench, tapped his now extinguished pipe on the back of his heel, and called him. In Melvin’s eyes his father appeared as a shadow figure, then like a friendly giant as he stood on the stairs of the back porch, beckoning him with the wave of his hand. Calling his name. Melvin became sad and allowed his shoulders to drop forward. Sad because their wonderland was to be left behind and coming into the house at the end of August meant the end of summer. No longer would his father and he sit in the cool of the evening, outside on their favorite spots, not for another year. Melvin had felt the cool temperatures dropping on them as the evening drew on and knew.
It was time for bed. His Father knew this because sounds no longer drained from the windows, and there was only one dim light left on in the house. The kitchen light, the one that shone to guide them back to the world, into the house and behind the security of a locked back door. Before his Dad cut off the light in their kitchen, Melvin took one more look at the old cherry tree and thought of the possibilities. Of the magic that just might happen this time over the long fall and winter months ahead.
*** Next Morning ***
Melvin didn’t need the sun or even a roost kakatooing at the sky to awaken him. Every morning he’d hear the clank of a metal coffee pot and the sound of water filling its insides with a rush, he’d hear the splashing of a bath and the flushing of the commode, the popping of toast from the toaster followed by the warm oily thick almost chocolate smell of coffee as it sat in a cup waiting to be quickly sipped. He heard the news via the local radio station. Soon the clunking sound of footsteps made by big feet as they ran up the stairs followed by murmurings from his parents room; the smacking sounds of kissing, and than the big clunking feet sound would travel down the stairs. A few seconds would pass, the front door would open, then slam shut. The clunking footsteps would somehow be lost in the out of doors. At this time he knew he could get up and make noise.
First his eyes would pop open, his toes would wiggle and he would jump up. His mission every workday morning was to get to the half slice of buttered and jellied toast his father left and the few drops of sweet milky coffee his father left in his cup. This morning everything went as usual with two exceptions the radio was blaring and the front door never slammed shut. Melvin felt the suction of the door as it opened several times, but there was never the final slam it was almost a physical manifestation of uncertainty. This morning did not bring the shining sun. Instead it brought a rolling deep thunder, pelting rain and epic lighting strikes.
Melvin could feel the pull of a draft as wind seeped around his window frame, it pulled on the fine hairs of his arms giving him goosebumps with each pull.That air drove him out of his room in the winter, it was the reason he crept into his parents bedroom in the cold winter mornings.
This mornings activities was a little too much for his usual lazy summer awakening. He popped out of bed and went to see what had made the world so different this morning. It was just an early morning rain storm, so what. His father would not be going to work today just because it was raining, how odd? What Melvin didn’t know was no one would be going to work today.
Upon questioning his father he heard that a northeaster had slipped up on them, it had formed somewhere off the Virginia coastline, and was traveling like a buzz saw along the Atlantic seaboard. The radio blared with the sound of a man shouting in a panic. Melvin’s eyes opened wide. This was special. This was exciting. This was magic. Melvin’s suddenly felt thirsty and hungry at the same time. He filled a glass with cool water from the tap and grabbed one of his father’s butter slices of toast, without asking. His father didn’t notice, he was thinking, thinking deeply. This was serious, his father most serious expression was a permanent mask this morning.
As, Melvin munched away, his father outlined the plan for that morning’s activities. Just as his father finished, an air sucking roll of thunder occurred right over their house. It was so loud, the family ducked down, their heads touching the table or bending their knees to the smallest possible tuck. Melvin’s Mother and sisters were shaking. Even seconds after the sound had disappear, it was as if they could still hear it. Their eyes were wide with fear of the unknown. Seeing this, Melvin’s father gathered them all in his big arms. Melvin thought chicken livered girls are so afraid of everything.
Their father guided the women into the basement. This was the kids playroom, it was brightly colored, and furnished with soft overly used furniture, including a table covered with puzzles, books and toys. Melvin and his dad made three bag lunches and included, cups, a cold water bottle, a bottle of milk, and a thermos of hot coffee.
They placed all of this into a box which they carried down to the girls, and placed in a corner by the sofa. After a final reassurance, Melvin and his father return to the kitchen. His father outlined their plans for safe guarding their home. Melvin was ecstatic. After his father finished talking and was pouring himself a cup of coffee. Melvin jumped up from the table, pushing the window curtains aside he looked to see what was hit by the lightning flash. It was the cherry tree, his faithful tree. As Melvin looked a second roll of thunder, and a second flash of lighting hit the tree. The flash was so bright it took away all other shades of color. The tree split at its upper branches, spitting out a giant ball of lightening through a hole in the trunk. Melvin thought the ball was headed straight to the house. Instead the lightening ball bounced around and up; the tree finally shooting skyward. The tree’s branch fell and just missed the house. Falling instead on his father’s lawn bench. The sheets of rain that now fell were unbelievable, the water just kept coming and coming. The wind whipped and groaned as it was pulled along, like the sails of a great schooner. The sky was the color of a purple black shroud, almost a deep midnight blue.
Melvin was frightened. The house made groaning sounds with each whip of wind, while the rain beat against every available inch of the house. The storm wailed on for hours and than about noon someone cut off the switch. First the thunder and lightening stopped then the rain, and the wind became a sweet breeze.
The sun now shone like a super flashlight. It happened just as Melvin’s father had told him it would. Melvin’s father pulled on his jacket and headed to the door. Melvin pulled his jacket on too. At first his father put a hand up to stop him, but then he thought better of it. But before he was allowed out of the door, his father warned him to stay close and not to wander off. The storm wasn’t over yet. They pulled on their waders and pushed their pants deep down into their boots.
They were starting off on their first adventure, two men against the elements. Melvin’s eyes lite up as he walked through the kitchen door into his favorite world. The air was musty and hot, water was heavy in the atmosphere, and made their clothes heavy; causing them to sweat as if it was over one hundred degrees. Melvin began peeling off his clothes but his father stopped him and told him either he stayed covered or went back in the house. Melvin nodded and ran down the back porch stairs.
His first stop was to inspect what was left of his tree. The blanket was still in place everything looked great. But the jars would have to wait. He and his father had work to do, and their full attention would be needed as they pulled away the dangerous splintered debris that had collected around their home. The first job was Melvin’s cherry tree limbs. They stacked the limbs and what was left of the bench along the back of the property, where the yard dipped down into a swampy low land. After tossing the last limb on the pile, they saw one more branch. His father kicked at it. So it would roll among the others. Instead of rolling it began to coil. A cotton mouth, a water moccasin, jumped out at them from the muddy water and struck out with its white mouth wide and it fangs extended. His father’s waders protected his feet and legs. After the failed strike, reared his foot back and gave the animal a mighty kick which sent it flying among the debris.
The wind began to whip again, and a few drops of rain began to fall. It was time to return inside, they had done well. The yard was back in shape. The house was no longer in danger from flying debris and they hadn’t even a splinter to show for their hard work.
Melvin asked if he could look at the cherry tree one more time before they went inside. His father nodded. And permission was given for a quick look.
But he warned. “I’ll walk slowly and we will have to enter the back door at the same time. So run and be quick about it”. Melvin ran with all his might. He jumped up to see the scorch marks and smell the burnt wood.
He pulled out the army blanket shard and carefully wrapped his hidden treasures inside. He’d unveil them in his bedroom. He was excited know what had happened to them. He looked up and saw his father’s foot slowly touch the first step. Tucking his prize under his jacket he moved forward. As he started his run toward the back porch, the long wet grass, that grew around the cherry tree, caught the buckle of his waders. Before he knew it he was staring down at the root of the old cherry tree. And then sleep came.
The rain and wind were back up to full fury, the setting sun was now hidden by blue black skies.
Melvin!!!!, Melvin!!!”, his father called out into the gale. Where the heck did that rabbit go?, his father wondered as he wiped his forehead, and shielded his eyes. The weather was so bad, that visibility was only a few feet.
“Huh, what?”, Melvin muttered as he became alert.
Through the wind he could hear someone calling his name. The cold rain splashed his face as he turned over on his back.
Melvin raised his arm but his father could not see him, through the sheets of rain,and mist. The black cherry tree had become invisible in the terrible storm. With the porch light shining in his father’s eyes he could not see anything but the path beaconed by it’s beam. So his father began retracing their steps back around the house, back to the low ground in the far backyard, and forward toward the house. Melvin was wet, cold, and a little groggy, but now he could sit up. He tugged at his booted foot losing it to the long grasses and weeds which held its buckle tight. With one great tug his foot was freed, but not his boot. Taking his time, he untangled his boot one long blade of grass at a time. And it felt like it was taking forever.
“Melvin!!!!, Melvin”, he heard his name on the wind.
With one more great tug his boot was freed. His momentum caused him to fall to the side knocking away the soaking wet wool army blanket shard, which took the fig leaves, four o’clock petals and grass wrapping with it. Meanwhile his jars rolled from beneath his car coat on to the wet grass. Melvin stopped working at his boot to reach for his jars when something new caught his attention. Something had moved he caught sight of it from the corner of his eye. Never mind, he thought, it’s just the rain.
As he looked back to see where his jars had rolled. The jars, his jars. Were they broken? Did the lightning melt them down?
As he reached for them, he thought, why do they feel like their humming?
“Meelllvinn!!! Boy I’m going to get you!!!.”
He heard his father’s threat but his attention was consumed by the magic jars. Each had materialized a special filling. The peanut butter, mayonnaise and jelly jars now contained wonderment. The peanut butter jar had a small rainstorm ragging in it with lightning and everything. The mayonnaise jar contained a tornado like wind that spun around in circle in a funnel shape. And the jelly jar contained a ball of light the size if a badminton ball.
“Wow”, Melvin thought to himself as he attempted to gather them up.
His intention was to attempt another run for the porch, he knew he was in trouble, but it was worth it. His foot sunk into a warm squishy puddle, and he remembered he was absent a boot. As he began to reach for it he heard his father’s voice, angrier than the slapping rain, meaner than the wind which pulled the hood of his dark green car coat billowed and pulled at his neck.
“You little Stinker where are you!!!!!” Yelled his father.
His father’s voice was getting nearer and he could not wait to show him. He held the jar with the ball of light high so maybe his father could see him through the sheets of rain. And though his father may have seen the light, Melvin also saw something. A white oval close to the ground, flashing four pointed fangs. It was the cotton mouth. Some how it had followed him there to the cherry tree. It had found him, and had the memory of the black boot, that had kicked him backwards into the swamp, where he’d twisted his tail breaking off its tip. From somewhere a light had shown him that boot and the person who was attached to it. In a stream’s tidal flood, which flowed down the path, he slithered hurriedly toward Melvin’s uncovered foot. The child saw his S-like movement in the water, Melvin looked for a weapon, a rock, a stick anything, but there was nothing. Nothing but the jars, and their magical contents.
Melvin decided to use their power, maybe there was a protective magic there.The cotton mouth seemed to move in slow motion and super speed, all at the same time. Melvin pulled back his foot but the slippery ground caused him to slid forward, right into the path of the opened mouth snake; but it missed. Instead the snake attacked the rubber toe of loose boot, sticking its fangs deep into the soft rubber. It’s eyes had been closed as it set off on the attack, causing a slight misjudgment.
On the next strike he would use the ability he has for seeking out the heat that came from all furry, feathery, and soft creatures. That miss gave Melvin the opportunity to throw one of the jars at the snakes long thick, shiny body. The peanut butter jar smashed against a tree root breaking open emitting water which ran forcefully toward his attacker, bright blue glowing, filled with tiny ribbons of light infused water. The water released torrents of water, and needle lightning which struck the snake on all sides. It’s body twisted and turned as the pricking touched its sore tail root; and the flooding waters lifted him from the ground. All this was calamity for the ruthless snake was made by the magic jar. Melvin thought he had slated the awful creature. But its fangs held fast to the boot, the snake was still there and was more determined than ever to get its revenge. The miniature storm had only served to dislodge his fangs. He now could reset his attack and coil up for a faithfully true strike, thus avenging the now two wrongs done to him.
“MMMEEEELLVVIN!!!!!” His father’s voice reached his ears.
Melvin picked up the jelly jar held it high. “My Dad will see this”, he thought. “But maybe it will be even brighter if I throw it at you.”
With that thought, Melvin tossed the jar at the snake’s mouth. But the snake had learned from the peanut butter jar, and laid flat against the root that had smashed the first jar.
“There you are, come here, come here right now. Your mother is going to be so angry with us.” His father said as he walked toward his son who was sitting , his back pushed up against the tree’s trunk. Melvin could now see the shadow of his father’s form off to his right. “Dad, watch out, SNAKE!!!”
The cotton mouth was in striking distance of Melvin’s big toe. Melvin had wanted to save at least one jar to show his Dad, But, he threw the final jar because this was life or death the snake could attack his father next. As he held it up to throw, the jar slipped from his wet fingers, flying up into the air, and behind him. Its lid screwed loose, and the momentum caused the jar to arch up hitting father’s forehead before gravity pulled it back. The tiny tornado, that had been captive, escaped mid flight. It twisted and turned. It’s path went behind Melvin’s shoulder, caught in the hood of his coat, lifted him up and into his father’s outstretched hands. At the same time, his father saw the open white mouth of the snake.
“Watch out son!” He said, and lifted his boot for a second time. “Thanks, but no thanks”, he exclaimed.
His large booted foot came down on the snake’s open mouth, splitting it all the way back to its throat.
“Come on son, we’d better get back inside, before your mother knows we’ve been in the middle of the storm.”
His father swung him high on his shoulders and carried him up the back porch stairs, through the kitchen door, and turned the lock. They sneaked past the women, and tip toed upstairs. Dried themselves off, and changed their wet clothes. Melvin sported a lump on father’s forehead, and his father’s spotted the one on his forehead. In exactly the same spot, there stood an identical lump. Father cleansed their wounds, put band-aides on them. Because there was a slight elevations, he pulled out a couple of colorful handkerchiefs and tied a bandanna on Melvin’s head to hide it. And tied one on his head too.
“Mom doesn’t need to be upset by our manly trophy scars.”
The guys slipped back into the kitchen, made some hot sweet tea and buttered toast. Mother came in to join them. She had over come her fears and had been sitting in the basement doing a little knitting, when the sounds the guys made met her ears. Their light sounding conversation emboldened her to come up and join them.
“So, what have you two pirates been up to during the storm? She asked. “While everyone else was hiding underground, when the sun came out I looked for you guys in all the rooms, even underneath the bed covers. I couldn’t find either of you.” Mother said.
Just then she looked out of Melvin’s favorite kitchen window. ”Look the storm has passed. What is one your boots doing out under the tree with a twisted long black branch hanging out of it? Why that almost looks like a snake, if it didn’t have a leaf or two hanging from it.”
Melvin said, “It’s a long story Mom, have some tea and a toast, and I’ll fill you in”.