Christmas Day, 2007
Dakotah awoke to the smell of frying bacon. Almost immediately, his stomach began to rumble, and whatever cobwebs that lingered in his head dissipated quickly. He looked about. The room was painted in a pale blue, and contained a well-worn cherry bedroom suit. The dresser and chest were both covered in knickknacks and souvenirs from trips taken in the distant past. A two toned brown braided rug partially covered the hardwood floor.
Getting up out of bed, he glanced again at the dresser. On the dresser was a large, ornate mirror, with a framed color photo of his grandfather directly in front of the mirror. Dakotah first stared at the photo, and then stared at his reflection, which was directly above the photo. Although the facial features and hair were different, the shape and color of both his and his grandfathers’ eyes were exactly the same. A chill went down his spine.
At that moment his grandmother entered the room. “You up, Dak? Breakfast is ready.” Noticing that he was next to the photo, she smiled. “Every day I see you, you remind me so much of your grandfather. Not only in your eyes, but also in the way you act.” This information did not put Dakotah’s mind at ease. The fact that not only was he wearing his grandfather’s old flannel pajamas, he also bore a resemblance to him, too, gave him the willies. He decided to vacate the bedroom for the kitchen, at once!
An elaborate spread, at least for two, awaited Dakotah as he entered the dining room. Scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, biscuits, gravy, and pancakes were presented on fine china, with antique silverware. Dakotah became puzzled. “Are you expecting company? “, he asked.
“Company’s already here, Dak. You, that is! It’s been over fifteen years since I had this setting out. It was a wedding gift from my mother, and every Easter and Christmas, we’d have a big meal on this china. Having you here on Christmas morning was the perfect excuse to bring it out again!” Elizabeth was beaming, inside and out. “Normally, we’d dress up in formal attire, but since this is breakfast, and only eight AM, I’ll cut us some slack this time”, she said with a wink. “Now hurry up, and wash your hands! The food’s getting cold!”
“Yes, ma’am!”, Dakotah shouted, smiling.
A stuffed Dakotah sat at the table. He’d eaten at his grandmother’s several times before, but it was usually either sandwiches, or a hamburger. The way this meal was prepared and presented was something out of a TV show, and he was impressed. “Do you need any help?”, Dakotah asked as his Grandmother cleared the table.
“No, thank you, Dak.” , Elizabeth replied. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready to go back home? It is Christmas morning, and your mother’s probably anxious for you to get back.”
“I’m in no hurry. They are probably still asleep.”, he said. Suddenly, a thought flashed in his mind. “Wait a minute! We’re supposed to have company today!”
“Really?”, she asked, curious. “Who is it, some of Frank’s relatives?” Elizabeth suspected Dakotah’s mother wasn’t on good terms with her mother, as Dakotah never mentioned her.
“Oh, no, thank goodness! I’ve had enough of his family to last a lifetime! It’s my Aunt Louise, and Uncle Ralph, from Kentucky. His house had a fire, or something, and they’re staying up here for a couple of weeks for Christmas.”
“That’s odd.”, she said. “Doesn’t he have relatives down there?”
“I’m pretty sure he does, but I think Aunt Louise missed mom and Grandma Parker, so here they are. I don’t really remember them much. They send a family photo with their Christmas card every year. They also have a son who’s a year older than me, I think, but I never had anything to do with him, either.”
“Well, at least you’ll someone to talk to today.”, Elizabeth said with a smile. “Maybe you’ll have something in common!”
“I doubt it.”, he replied, making a grimace. Dakotah knew he was pathetic, but at least he wasn’t some backwoods redneck.
“Oh, don’t be a sourpuss.”, she chided. “You know, you don’t have to turn into a recluse every time you meet someone new.”
“Okay.” Dakotah didn’t want to drag out this conversation any longer than he had to. It was his experience that once people met him, they either ignored him, or tormented him.
“Dak, you’d better go get ready; it’s almost nine. I’ll finish up here.” Elizabeth wondered if her grandson’s reluctance to meet new people was from natural shyness, or something more. “I’ll have to get him to trust people, somehow.”, she thought to herself.
Dakotah came down the steps, showered, and even though he was wearing the same clothes as he did the previous night, his grandmother had laundered them for him.
“That’s my grandson!”, Elizabeth exclaimed. “Nice and neat and clean! Your grandfather would’ve been very proud!” She reached under her small Christmas tree, picked up a gift, and handed it to Dakotah. It was meticulously wrapped, and heavy. It felt like a book. “Merry Christmas, Dak!”
Dakotah gingerly tried to unwrap the present. “Go ahead and rip it, Dak! It’s just paper!”, she exhorted.
It was indeed a book. A Bible. “It’s a Scofield study Bible.”, she said. “It’ll help you understand the trickier bits. Your grandfather bought me one thirty years ago, and I use it almost every day. I’m still learning from it, too. Dak, thanks to the Lord, prayer, and lots of it, plus reading the Bible, has helped me survive all the trials and tribulations I’ve come across through the years. From my pregnancy with your father, to Harold’s passing, I’ve made it through with Jesus’ hand on my shoulder. If you give Him a chance, he’ll be there for you, too.”
“Thank you, Grandma.”, Dakotah said with a smile. “I need all the help I can get.” I wish I got you something for Christmas, but I have no money.”
“Dak, you spending the night, and having breakfast with me this morning, was the greatest gift you could give me.” , she said, wiping away a tear. “Now, you need to get on home.”
Dakotah reached out, and gave his grandmother a hug. “I love you, Grandma. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Dak. I love you, too.” Dakotah put on his coat, and his rubber boots, and headed out in the bright sunlight.
Five inches of snow awaited Dakotah as he stepped outside, turning the normally gritty central Michigan town into a winter wonderland. He liked all four seasons, but winter was his favorite; he spent many hours and days in his earlier youth building igloos and snowmen, throwing snowballs, and sledding down the big hill up the street. Being in the snow eased his mind, and his worries and troubles were a little farther away.
As Dakotah passed the same Nativity he saw just 12 hours previous, he remembered the despair he was in at the time, and the relative good spirits he was in now. His grandmother had lifted his spirits immensely; there were times where he wished he would just pack up his belongings and move there. He knew she’d take him in a heartbeat. However, he didn’t want to leave his mom alone, either, at least not yet. He felt Frank didn’t really care about her; Dakotah was sure that he was the only person in the world that she felt cared about her, and he wasn’t going to forsake her.
But Dakotah realized that’s exactly what he did to her last night by walking out of dinner, and he felt guilty. “How do I make it up to her?” , he said to himself. “I didn’t even get her anything for Christmas!” He knew that he couldn’t get her anything now; all the shops were closed for Christmas, and most importantly, he had no money. He could go upstairs and make a homemade Christmas card, but that seemed childish to him. “I guess I’ll figure something out when I get there.”, he thought.
Dakotah reached the block his house was on. He took a deep breath and exhaled, a cloud of steam escaping from his lips. “Well, I guess I’d better get this over with.”, he said to himself.
As he made it to the door, he smelled something cooking inside. He thought it was turkey with stuffing, but he wasn’t sure. Dakotah stepped up on the porch, gritted his teeth, and tried to turn the knob on the door. It was locked. He usually kept a keychain on him, but he realized in his haste last night, he’d left his keys upstairs. “So much for sneaking in.”, he thought. He knocked lightly on the door, and waited. There was no response, and after a minute or so, he knocked again, this time a little louder. The house was equipped with a doorbell, but it stopped working a few years ago, and Frank didn’t see fit to fix it. Still not getting a response, he banged on the door. “I’m home!”, he yelled.
Finally, there was a stirring inside, and then the sound of footsteps coming to the door. The door swung open, and his mother stood there, wearing an apron over an old pair of jeans and a t-shirt, beads of sweat covering her forehead. Dakotah managed a weak smile. “Well, look who finally decided to show up!”, his mother said loudly, a hint of irritation in her voice.
Dakotah’s eyes began to moisten. “I’m sorry, mom.” , he said softly.
Sylvia Howe’s features softened, and she began to tear up. “I’m sorry too, baby.” , she said, hugging him tightly.
“Why are you sorry, mom?”, Dakotah said, puzzled. “I’m the one who walked out.”
“It was my idea to have a Christmas Eve meal with Frank’s kids. I just wanted everyone to get along for one night.”, she replied. “Will you forgive me?”
“I’ll forgive you, if you forgive me, mom.”
“Done. Love you, mom.”
“Love you too, son. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, mom.”
“Now son, give me a hand with this meal. I need potatoes mashed, and the table set. I have a half hour to get everything finished before I have to get cleaned up and dressed. Your aunt and uncle will be here by noon, probably before that, if I know them.”
Dakotah looked around. “Where’s Frank?”
“Where else?”, his mom replied, the irritation creeping back. “In the den, playing the stupid Playstation.”
“Ah.”, he muttered. His stepfather bought himself a Sony Playstation 3 for himself for Christmas. Frank was never much help around the house, but now, his duties were nonexistent. “Dakotah needs to earn his keep.” , was his thinking on the subject.
Sylvia noticed the Bible Dakotah was carrying. “Is that your Christmas present from your grandmother? Let me see.” She inspected the Bible. “Wow, that’s really nice! Leather cover, and your name on the bottom. They even spelled your name right! Hope you get some good use out of it.”
“Me, too.”, replied Dakotah. He wasn’t expecting much from his mother for Christmas, but he was wondering. “Mom? Not to sound like a spoiled brat, but when can I open my stuff?”
“If you don’t care, I’d like to have you open your presents after my sister leaves.”, she said. “I’d like to take pictures, and I simply don’t have time now. Now get that potato masher, and get mashing.”, she said, pointing to the hand tool. “They’ll be here in a little over an hour, and I’m still a mess!”
At 11:45, the table was set, and all the food was prepped. Sylvia was dressed, but getting her hair to look the way she wanted to was frustrating her. Dakotah had changed into Sunday clothes, and brushed his hair, a rarity nowadays. Frank, however, was still on the PS3. He didn’t like his sister-in-law, or her redneck husband, for that matter, so he subconsciously decided to be a jerk, which actually was pretty normal for him.
Suddenly, there was a loud banging on the door. “That’s them! Dakotah, get the door! I’ll be there in a minute!”, yelled his mother from the bedroom.
“Got it!” , Dakotah yelled back. He opened the door to see a bear of a man, all of six feet, four inches tall. Behind him, barely seen because of the big man’s size, stood a woman that resembled his mother, only older.
“Well, lookie here! You must be Dakoter! Boy, you growed up like a weed! You still growin? Remember me? I’m your Uncle Ralph!” With that, Ralph grabbed Dakotah and gave him a huge hug, enveloping him with his girth. Dakotah could barely breathe.
“Easy honey, you’re going to break him in two!”, said the woman. “Poor thing’s skin and bones! Sweetie, you come down to Kentucky with us, and we’ll put some meat on your bones!”
Dakotah finally could get enough breath to talk. “Merry Christmas, Aunt Louise! I think I’ll stay up here, thank you. Mom still needs me.”
“Just call me Lou!”, his aunt said. “I’m not much on talking formal.” Louise saw her sister exit the bedroom. “Well, there you are! Boy, you sure spent a lot of time fixing yourself up just to look like that! Look at those bags under your eyes! I don’t know what you’ve been up to, but you better stop doing it. You look like death warmed over!”
“You’re no beauty queen yourself, Lou.”, Sylvia retorted.
“Don’t I know it, sis!”, Louise said, laughing. “I’m old too, so I’m entitled to look like crap!”
“Sugar, you’re still prettier than a field full of flowers!”, boomed Ralph. “I wouldn’t trade you for any woman in the world!”
“Yeah, you’re full of something, too, you big knucklehead.”, Louise said with a smirk. There ain’t no other woman out there stupid enough to take you in, anyway!”
Ralph turned to Dakotah. “Watch and learn, boy. Here you have two sisters that ain’t seen each other in five years, and the first thing they do is size each other up.” I seen cows do it, I seen chickens do it, and women ain’t no different.
“I’m gonna pretend you’re a chicken, and wring your neck! Don’t be telling that boy stuff, and warping his mind!”, Louise sniped at her husband.
“Aw, I was just messing with the boy a lil’ bit! I don’t think he’s taking me serious, anyway. Ain’t that right, boy?”, Ralph said with a smile.
Dakotah gave Ralph a sheepish look. “No, I don’t guess so.”, he said in a low voice.
“See? He knows I’m harmless!”, Ralph said loudly. “Boy, you all right, I don’t care what your momma says!” Dakotah gave his mother a quizzical look.
Louise took Dakotah’s hand. “Sweetie, he’s just pulling your leg.” He’s always trying to stir up trouble! Ralph, try to behave for once!”
“I’ll do my best, dear.”, Ralph said. “Hey, Syl! Where’s that worthless husband of yours?” Ralph said it loud enough that Frank could hear it anywhere in the house. Loud enough that it hurt Dakotah’s ears.
On cue, Frank entered the room, stretching his fingers. “Hello, Ralph, Louise. Good to see you again.” Dakotah was surprised at how small Frank looked next to Ralph.
“Pleasure’s all yours.”, Ralph said with a smile, knowing full well that Frank was not enjoying this. “Just kidding, ole buddy. You been doing all right?”
“Can’t complain.”, Frank replied dryly. It was now his turn to watch the clock.
Ralph kept forcing the conversation. “Well, when you going back to work? You’ve been off for quite a while.”
“I’m on permanent disability.”, Frank said in an even lower tone. Doctors said my back is shot.”
“Well, I reckon.”, Ralph said, shaking his head in false pity. “If that ever happened to me, I might as well be shot and thrown into a ditch. Man ain’t worth nothing if he ain’t useful. “
Frank bristled. “I am useful. I take care of the house, and help raise Dakotah. Sylvia rolled her eyes. “Besides, my disability check helps the economy.”
“The economy’d be a whole lot better if more folks were working, and not sittin’ on their ass drawin’ a check I paid taxes on.”, Ralph continued, trying to provoke Frank. It appeared to be working, as Frank’s face began to turn crimson. Dakotah usually hated conflict, but he was starting to enjoy this.
The sisters looked at each other, and decided to defuse the situation. “I think it’s time we eat.,”, Slyvia said. ” She looked to her husband. “The rolls are about done, and I want to get them on the table before they burn. Give me a hand, will you please, honey?”
Frank gave her an angry look. “Can’t Dakotah do it? My back’s been acting up today.”
“Dakotah needs to visit with his kinfolk for a little bit. He hasn’t seen them in years.” ,She said, firmly.
“OK”. Frank grumbled, realizing that she was getting him away from Ralph. He looked at the clock over the sink as he entered the kitchen. It read 12:05. “Crap.”, he thought. He turned to Sylvia. “I don’t know how much of his BS I’m going to take.”, he muttered.
“It’ll be OK.”, Sylvia replied, putting her arm around him. “Sis is about to put her leash on him.”
Frank visualized that sentence, and chuckled. “Shock collar works for me.” With that, he started placing rolls in a wicker serving basket.
Meanwhile, Louise was giving her husband a quiet earful. “I swear, I can’t go anywhere with you. Must you always stir the pot?”
“I didn’t say you could talk!”, Louise whispered forcefully. “For crying out loud, it’s Christmas! You will behave yourself from here on out, or Ralph Jones, you’re going to regret it! Do I make myself perfectly clear?”
“Yes, ma’am.”, Ralph replied, barely audible. Dakotah swore that Ralph shrunk a foot as his wife talked.
Sylvia and Frank entered the room. “It’s ready!”, Slyvia announced.
The spread wasn’t as elaborate as Dakotah’s grandmothers’, but Sylvia used her best dishes. Turkey, dressing, and all the fixings were on the menu today, and Dakotah was a little surprised his mother cooked this much, especially since she cooked last night.
Ralph was enthusiastic. “Woowee, Sylvia! Boy, I wish Lou could cook like this! I’d be 400 pounds for sure!”
Louise hit her husband on the arm. “Well, when get home from two weeks on the road, don’t be fussin’ when I give you a can a Spam, and tell you to have at it.”, she said strongly.
Ralph looked at his wife sheepishly. “Sorry, honey, I’se jus’ kiddin’.”
Sylvia cleared her throat. “Would anyone like to say the blessing?” Everyone looked about, but no one was volunteering. Frank made a crooked smile. “Hey, Dakotah! Why don’t you do it this time?”
Dakotah was aghast. He’d never had to say a blessing before, especially in front of people who were essentially strangers. His mind went blank. “Uhhhhh…”, he stammered.
“Come on honey, you can do it.”, encouraged his mother.
“Thank you, Lord.”, Ralph said in as low a voice as he could muster. Dakotah still heard it easily though, and a light popped in his head.
Dakotah cleared his throat. “Thank You Lord, for bringing us all here today to celebrate the birth of Your Son Jesus. Thank You for blessing us with this meal; may we uh, continue to ah, honor You as we live by your Son’s example. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”
Sylvia smiled. “Great job, honey!”
Dakotah turned to his uncle. “Thanks for helping me, Uncle-“
“Just call me Unk, ‘Coter!”, Ralph said, grinning.
“OK, Unk!” Dakotah thought for a split second.”Coter?”
“Well, what do ya want me to call ya? Dakotah sounds like a high-fallutin’ name, and I don’t do anything high-fallutin’.”
“Grandma calls me Dak.”
“Well, all righty then, Dak it is!”, said Ralph at about 100 decibels. “I like it. It’s real manly. You tell the girls at school that your name is Dak, and you’ll be fightin’ them off! Hey, you got a girlfriend?”
Dakotah’s mind went into vapor lock. “Uuuhhhh…. not at th-this time.”, he stammered.
“Hah!” More than likely he dies a virgin!”, Frank sniped. “What girl would even be caught dead with this geek, unless it was a geek girl?”
Louise stared daggers at Frank. “Not everyone is a horndog, like some people I know, Frank.”, she said forcefully. It’s rather refreshing to know that there are still nice shy boys in this world. Boys with moral standards.”
“Well, knock me over! I’da never guessed you liked shy moral boys with high standards! Why’d ya marry me then?”, Ralph said with a wink.
“Because, you, my love, are an entirely different force of nature!”, Louise said, laughing.
“Force of nature, eh? Well, I reckon I’ll show you what kinda force of nature I am, later!” Ralph was now grinning, but his face was turning a little red, as was Dakotah’s.
“The force of nature I was referring to was gas.”, Louise said bluntly. Everyone laughed; even Frank chuckled a little.
“Aunt Lou, does that mean you married Unk because he farts a lot?”, quipped Dakotah. The room became quiet, and everyone stared at Dakotah. “Oh my gosh,” Dakotah thought,”Did I say something wrong? I was only trying to say something funny, and I might’ve made them mad!”
Instead, the room exploded in laughter. “Dak, you ain’t right, but I like you anyway!”, said Ralph, wiping tears from his eyes.
“So, the truth comes out at last.”, Frank said with a smile. “Not that any of us were surprised, you know.”
“Worst kept secret in Kentucky.”, grinned Louise. Thought the EPA would come and arrest us both! Forget about us owning small birds! Pet store thought we were running a coal mine!
“And you’re still with me, after all that. That’s why I love you so.”, deadpanned Ralph.
“Anyway, I guess Dylan wanted to stay in Kentucky?”, said Sylvia, wanting to change the subject. “How’s he doing?”
“Oh, he’s fine.”, Louise replied. “He decided he’d rather stay at home with Ralph’s folks for Christmas. “
“Is he working or going to school?”, asked Frank.
“He ain’t doing much of nothin’ right now.”, Ralph said, with a bit of irritation. “Not much work around our parts. Too young yet to drive a truck, but I don’t think he’d want to do that, anyway. He started tech school this fall, but he dropped out after a month. He ain’t figured out what he wants to do with his life yet, he says. I hope he’ll figure it out soon. His mama’s got a bad habit of babying him.”
Louise gave Ralph a dirty look. “I don’t baby him.”, she said, sharply. “He’s just unsure of himself, that’s all. We’re working on him, both of us, and his grandparents. He’ll be just fine. You weren’t exactly the prize pig yourself when you were his age, honey.”
Frank decided to dig at Dakotah again. “That sounds like someone here, doesn’t it, Dakotah?” Sylvia snapped her head and stared angrily at her husband.
Ralph interrupted as Sylvia was beginning to speak. “So, Dak, what are you gonna do when you graduate high school? I bet you could go to college and get a degree!”
“I think I’d like to become a meteorologist.”, Dakotah replied with a low tone. Sylvia and Frank’s jaws dropped. They’d never heard Dakotah say he was interested in anything.
“All right! Well, ain’t that just too cool!”, boomed Ralph. “Ol’ Dak wants to be a weatherman! Well, I reckon you got the smarts to be one!”
“News to me.”, Sylvia said, frowning. “You’d think that someone would share something important like that with his mother.”
“Oh, sorry, mom. I just figured that out last night.”
“So, did your grandmother come up with this idea?”, asked Frank, irritated.
“No, I figured it out on my own.”, Dakotah said simply. “It sounds like fun, figuring out what the weather’s going to do.”
“We’ll talk about that later.”, Sylvia said, flummoxed. “Lou, when are you going to get your new house?”
At first Louise wanted to give Dakotah support for making a decision on his career, but seeing Frank’s and Sylvia’s faces, changed her mind. “Should be here sometime in early January.”
“Always wanted a doublewide, and now we’re going to get one, with a ten year warranty, and everything!”, Ralph said happily. Tilting windows, drywall, garden tub, and the works! I’ll have to figure out how to get Lou to do something instead of soaking all day in that tub!”
“Hah! You’re the one who’s going to be soaking his hemorrhoids!”, Louise shot back. It’s going to be a blessing, after being at Ralph’s mama and daddy’s place for the past three months.”
“Did they ever figure out what happened to the old trailer?”, asked Frank.
“Not really, all they came up with was that it started in the kitchen. Thank goodness no one was at home when it happened.”, replied Louise.
“Thank goodness.”, agreed Sylvia.
Ralph spied a shoebox sized present under the Christmas tree. “Hey Frank, did you get me a Christmas present? You know, if I’da known you were going to go through all the trouble, we could’ve stopped at Wal-Mart, and got you a gift card, or a can of beenie weenies, or something.”
“It’s not yours.”, Frank said, coldly. “Actually, it’s Dakotah’s.”
“Why ain’t ya opened it yet, Dak?” Ralph said, slightly puzzled.
“Oh, I was going to wait until you left.”, Dakotah replied.
“Oh, don’t wait on us!”, said Louise, with authority. “Go ahead, open it!”
Dakotah looked at his mother, who gave him an affirmative nod. He took the present, ripped open the paper, and lifted the lid to the box. Inside were brightly colored flat objects.
“What is that, Dak? Looks like movies.”, said Louise.
“TV shows, mostly. Anime, to be exact.”, replied Dakotah.
“Looks like cartoons to me!”, said Ralph, at only 80 decibels this time.
“They are. Japanese cartoons.”, replied Dakotah, feeling slightly embarrassed.
“They pretty funny?”, continued Ralph. “I like Bugs Bunny and Speedy Gonzalez!”
“No, these are more action oriented, with swords and guns and stuff.” You might like them.”, said Dakotah, uneasily. Having strangers checking out his Christmas present made him feel awkward.
“Didn’t know you could understand Japanese.”, said Louise, impressed. Did you learn it at school?
“No, the shows have English subtitles. All you have to do is read.”, said Dakotah, sheepishly.
“Is that all you got? What did your grandmas get you?”, asked Louise.
“Grandma Lennon gave me a Scofield Bible. Pretty nice, too.”, said Dakotah.
“You actually read the Bible?”, Louise said, with a bit of surprise.
“Yeah, it helps me, sometimes.”, Dakotah replied, with a bit of embarrassment. He was the center of attention, and he did not like it one bit.
Sylvia and Frank looked at each other as if an alien had abducted Dakotah, and replaced him.
“What about your Grandma Cathy? Did you get your card?”, continued Louise.
Dakotah looked at his mother and stepfather, neither of which was making eye contact with anyone. “No, I never got anything. Was I supposed to?”
Louise raised an eyebrow. “That’s odd. She sent out all of cards a week ago. Anyway, here’s a little something from us.” She handed Dakotah an envelope.
“Open it up, Dak!”, said, Ralph, back up to 90 decibels again. “Ain’t much, but it’s better than a hole in the head!”
Dakotah opened the envelope, which contained a card with Santa Claus and Rudolph waving. Inside was a $20 bill.
“Thank you!”, said a grinning Dakotah. “I wish I had something to give you back!”
“Well, just don’t use it to get into trouble, and we’ll call it even.”, said Ralph with a goofy smile.
The Christmas meal was finished, and Dakotah was helping the ladies clear the table. Ralph was in the living room watching a basketball game, while Frank had excused himself to go to the bathroom, which had access to the den.
“Hey, Dak!”, Ralph bellowed out. “That there’s women’s work! Come on in here, and watch the ball game with me!”
Louise yelled back. “Dakotah’s doing what a real gentleman’s supposed to do, unlike some people I know.”
“Do you two always carry on like this?”, Sylvia asked her sister.
I’ll have to admit, he more rambunctious that I’ve ever remembered.”, replied Louise. “I think the house burning down has bothered him more than he lets on. He’s a very independent, take-care-of-business kind of man, and having to rely on his folks, and being at the mercy of the insurance company, has worn him down.”
“Sounds rough.”, Sylvia said sympathetically.
“It has been, but we’ll make it through. I have total faith in Ralph. He’s a good man, even though he can be a total mess!” Louise turned to Dakotah “Dak, why don’t you go and keep your uncle company. You’re about the closest thing to a man he’s been around all week.”
Dakotah nodded and went into the living room. Louise then turned to her sister. “Sly, why don’t you ever talk to your mother anymore? When was the last time you two had a meaningful conversation?”
Sylvia frowned. “I guess right after Dad died. We got into it about Frank, and she told me as long as he was around, don’t bother talking to her.”
“Momma says different.”, Louise retorted. “She told us that you told her to stay out of your life, and Dakotah’s.”
“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She’s probably getting Alzheimer’s or something.”, Sylvia said nervously.
“Seemed pretty with it this past week.”, Louise replied with disgust.
“How would you know how she is from day to day? You’ve been gone the past twenty years!” Sylvia was really trying not to attract attention.
“Unlike you, I talk to her over the phone several times a week.”, Louise replied, indignant. “Whatever. So, let me ask you this. Where’s Dakotah’s money?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What money?”
“The money Momma’s been sending him every year on his birthday, and on Christmas.”
“Never got anything.”
“That’s funny, she never forgot Dylan.”, Louise felt like her sister was more of a stranger than a sister. “He got twenty dollars every birthday, and Christmas.”
“Well, like I said, she’s not as friendly with us, as she is with you.”
“Well, like I said, we saw her put the money in the card, and we ourselves put the card in the post office box, along with Dylan’s. Now, are you going to say I have Alzheimer’s, too?”
“And like I said, we never got the card. Maybe it got lost. Post office does it all the time.”
“You know, it’s really interesting that Dylan got his card two days ago, after travelling 600 miles, yet a card mailed at the same time, from the same place, can’t travel four miles in a week?”
Sylvia shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know.”
“I don’t know, either.” Louise turned to the living room. “Ralph! You about ready to go? Momma’s going to have dinner done soon.”
“Heck, I ain’t even got Sylvia’s fine cooking settled down yet!”, Ralph hollered back.
“I’m sure you’ll make room. You always do.”, Louise replied, trying to smile. Without Sylvia looking, she pointed to Dakotah, and then pointed toward the door.
“Hey, hold up!” Ralph was at 100 decibels again. “I ain’t showed Dak our new pick’em up truck! C’mon boy, and grab your coat! You ain’t gonna believe what all’s in this truck! You can even watch your Jap cartoons in it! Grab one of them discs!”
Dakotah was both excited and apprehensive. He wasn’t sure if his uncle would like anime or not. “Are you sure?”
“Heck yeah!” I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t mean it! Now git!” Dakotah ran up the stairs.
Louise turned to her sister. “Thanks for having us. Food was really good.”
“Maybe we’ll do this again, sometime?”, Sylvia asked.
“Maybe.”, replied her sister. She gave Sylvia a hug. “Love you. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas. Love you, too. Ralph, Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Syl.” Ralph took a deep breath, and yelled with all his might, “Merry Christmas, Frank! Are you stuck? If you want me to, I’ll call 911!”
From the den, Frank said, “No, I’m good. Merry Christmas!”
Dakotah came down the steps with a DVD. “I’m ready.”
“Good deal!” Ralph showed Dakotah the key fob for the truck. “See this here button? If I push it, the truck will start itself! I already did it a few minutes ago, and the truck should be getting warm inside!”
“Cool!” replied, Dakotah, impressed.
“Well, let’s go, then!”
Outside was a big black truck. It had four doors, chrome wheels and bumpers, a 6″ lift kit, offroad lights on top, and black and stainless steel step bars on the side.
“Whoa, this is cool!” Dakotah said, impressed.
“You ain’t seen nothin’! Wait’ll you get inside!” Ralph was beaming proudly. “Dak, if you would, get in the back!”
Dakotah did as he was told. “Here, gimme that DVD!”, Ralph ordered. “Reach up there, and pull down that screen!” Dakotah saw what looked like the top half of a laptop pressed against the roof. He reached and pulled, the TV screen pivoting down. Ralph turned the volume knob fully clockwise. “Watch this!”, Ralph yelled.
Suddenly, the theme song to Dragonball Z was booming through the speakers. For once, he couldn’t hear Ralph. After about thirty seconds, Ralph turned the volume down. Dakotah’s ears were ringing.
“How’dya like that?”, asked Ralph, grinning. “Boy, you need one of these systems in your bedroom! Guaranteed to drive your mother and Frank nuts!”
“No, thank you, Unk. I’d like to be able to keep hearing when I’m old.”, Dakotah said with a smile.
“Dak, can you hear me?”, asked Louise. “I was wondering, does your Grandma Lennon still live in the same house she used to?”
“Yes, she does. Why?”
“Well, I was wondering. Your grandma Cathy sold her house, and moved into a two bedroom condo when your grandpa George passed. Supposed to be cheaper living, that way.”
“No, she still has the house. I help out during the summer with mowing and other chores around the house.”
“That’s good to know that she’s able to make it work, especially with your help. You’re a fine young man, Dakotah.” Louise pointed her finger at Dakotah. “Don’t anybody tell you any different, you hear?”
“Yes, ma’am. You’re not the first to tell me that.”
“Well, I guess we’d better get going.” Louise took the DVD out, put it the case, and handed it to Dakotah. “Remember one thing, Dakotah. If you ever need a place to stay, our door is always open.”
“I’m pretty sure I won’t need it, but thank you.”
“We love you, Dakotah. You take care of yourself, and Sis, you hear?”
“Love you too. I’ll do that.” Dakotah felt odd about telling people he barely knew he loved them, but they were his relatives, after all.
Dakotah was about to exit the truck when a huge hand reached across the seat and grabbed Dakotah’s arm, freezing him.
“Dak, I almost forgot to tell you something real important!” Ralph spoke as if the stereo volume was maxed out, making Dakotah wince.
“What is it, Unk?”
“Make sure you wrap that rascal!”, Ralph said with a huge grin. Louise rolled her eyes, and covered them with her hand, shaking her head. Dakotah gave Ralph a blank stare.
Louise punched Ralph in the arm, hard. “He doesn’t know what that means, Ralph! Do you, Dak?”
“Ah, no. Never heard of that phrase before. What does it mean?”
Ralph couldn’t resist. “Well, you could ask your momma or Frank. Maybe they’ll tell you.”
Immediately, Louise hit Ralph again in the arm, harder. “Don’t listen to him, Dak! He’s just trying to cause trouble!”
“I wasn’t going to let him leave with the possibility of him actually asking them.”, Ralph said, rubbing his arm. “I was just kidding around, Dak.”
Dakotah spoke up. “I guess whatever Unk said was bad?”
“Yes.”, replied Louise. “You’re a sweet and innocent young man. Please try to stay that way.”
Ralph piped in. “Yeah, Dak, you all right.” Ralph offered his hand, and Dakotah shook it. “Take care, ‘ol buddy.”
“You too, Unk. Lou.”
With that, Dakotah exited the truck. He looked about, and noticed it was starting to snow. “Cool.”, he thought. The blast of a pair of air horns pierced the otherwise serene scene as Ralph and Louise Jones pulled out of the driveway, waving. Dakotah waved back.
Dakotah looked out of his bedroom window. It was snowing heavily now. “Maybe another six inches tonight.”, he thought.
He looked down at the DVD player. He had watched a couple of episodes of the anime his mother had got him for Christmas. “This has been a pretty good Christmas, after all.”, he thought.
There was a knock on the door. “Dakotah? Can I come in?”, asked his mother.
Dakotah opened the door, and his mother came in and sat in the chair by his desk. “Do you like your shows?”, she asked.
“Oh yeah, they’re really cool. Thank you!”
Sylvia nodded her head, and smiled. “You know, you really surprised us when you said you wanted to be a meteorologist. Why do you want to be one?”
Dakotah thought for a few seconds. Well, I like the weather, and learning about weather. Maybe I can help someone from getting stuck in a snowstorm, or something.”
“You know you have to go to college for that, don’t you?”
Dakotah looked down. “Yeah, I know.”
“Son, I’m not going to tell you can’t do it, but you’re only a C average student. I doubt you can get very many scholarships with those grades. You know we can’t afford to help you with any schooling, don’t you?”
“Yes.”, Dakotah muttered.
“About the only way you can get through college is either to work your way through, or join the military, and get the G.I. Bill.”
“I really don’t want to join the military, mom.”
“Well, maybe you can figure something out. Go get some sleep. Tomorrow we take down Christmas decorations.” Sylvia kissed Dakotah on the forehead. “Good night, son.”
“Good night, mom.” Sylvia left the room, turning the light out as she left.
Dakotah looked out the window at the falling snow. His eyes moistened. “There’s got to be a way.”, he thought.