Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi moved at the end of summer with her mother, Wilma, into a small apartment in a town that was new to them both. At first, Little Suzi didn’t want to move at all, because it meant leaving her grandparent’s house in a city where she had lived all of her seven years so far. And, worse yet, it meant leaving her granny and granddaddy behind.
“You’ll miss me too much,” Suzi told her granddaddy. “You won’t have anyone to play checkers with or watch boxing on TV. And who’ll help you dig dandelions out of the yard before you mow the grass?” And later, Suzi told her granny, “Who’ll lick the big spoon when you make chocolate icing? And who’ll watch the cookies and cakes in the oven so they don’t burn?”
Little Suzi’s mommy didn’t want her daughter to feel sad, but it couldn’t be helped. “I know you don’t want to leave Granny and Granddaddy,” Suzi’s mommy explained. “Neither do I, but we must. The old factory where I work—the one Granny and Granddaddy worked in years ago—well, it’s closing down. I was lucky to find a new job in a town near here. It’s not really very far away. We can visit Granny and Granddaddy on weekends.”
Little Suzi understood, but something else was worrying her now. “How will I get back here to my school after we move?” She liked her school and she liked her teacher at the red brick schoolhouse in the city. And she liked her little friends in her class.
“Will a bus pick me up and bring me there?” she asked her mommy.
“Oh, no, darling!” Suzi’s mommy answered. “It’s much too far away for that.”
“You mean I can’t go to school anymore?”
Little Suzi was nearly in tears at the thought of being alone all day with nothing to do and no grandparents or friends to play with (except, of course, her imaginary, invisible friend Albert).
Suzi’s mommy smiled at her daughter. “I would never move to a town with no schools! You’ll have a new school in our new town and you’ll make new friends.” Then she hugged her daughter close to her skirts and patted her hair to comfort and reassure her.
Little Suzi’s invisible friend Albert had been quiet until now, but he couldn’t hold out any longer: Well, that’s too bad. I could do without any old school. First grade was alright, but now that place takes up a lot of our play time, what with all that useless readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmatic and such.
Suzi heard what Albert said, but she decided to wait until her mommy left the room to scold him. “I like school,” Suzi told the silly boy. “Besides, you need to go to school. You don’t want to grow up ignorant, do you?!”
But Albert apparently didn’t care about growing up ignorant, because he answered her by crossing his eyes and sticking out his devilish tongue at her.
It was not very long before Little Suzi found herself living in the new town with her mommy and getting ready to start her new school. They did miss Granny and Granddaddy, but Suzi would be very busy in school, so the sunny autumn days would go by quickly. All was well—and even Albert had to admit their new garden apartment in the town was a nice place to live—but there was one big change that Suzi had not expected.
When Suzi and her mommy lived with her grandparents in the city, Suzi’s school was very near and she could walk there with Albert to keep her company. But in the new town, her school was too far away to walk from the apartment.
“You can catch the school bus, if you want,” Suzi’s mother had offered, but Albert didn’t much like that idea and said as much to his friend: What if I miss the bus because the driver can’t see me and he closes the door on my neck? Albert complained. Or what if some big kid sits on my head because he can’t see me sitting in the seat next to you!?
But before Little Suzi could try to calm him down, they both heard Suzi’s mommy say, “Or maybe you can take the taxi with me.”
Suzi and Albert turned to each other with looks of total puzzlement (in the same way dogs and strangers would look at the little girl whenever they overheard her talking to Albert).
Suzi’s mother continued. “I mean that we could ride together in a taxi, then the driver can let you off at your school and take me on to my job after.”
Now that’s more like it, Albert told Suzi. I bet we’d be the only kids on the block who ride to school in a taxi!
Just then, Little Suzi had another idea: “Why can’t you buy a car to drive us?”
Shush! Albert said, as he elbowed Suzi in her little ribs. Don’t mess this up for us.
But Suzi ignored him as her mommy explained: “I can’t afford a car right now. They’re too expensive and I don’t make that much money yet. Maybe someday.”
“Well,” Little Suzi persisted, “maybe Granny and Granddaddy can do it. They’re retired, aren’t they?”
Albert interrupted…again. What’s ‘re-tired’ mean anyway? They’re tired all the time now. How can they be more tired than they are already? But Suzi was too busy to waste time trying to make sense of Albert’s nonsense.
“Your granny and granddaddy live too far away to drive all the way here,” Suzi’s mommy answered. “I’d never get to work and you’d never get to school on time if they tried to drive all the way over here every morning. And how would we get back home afterward?” Then, Suzi’s mommy stopped and had another thought: “And don’t you go asking them to do it,” she added (thinking to herself, because they just might!).
And that was that. For the whole of that year, Little Suzi rode to school in a taxi with her mother and her invisible friend Albert.
Suzi’s mommy sat in the back seat of the taxi with Little Suzi, and Albert squeezed himself in the middle between them. Suzi sat right behind the driver, so she couldn’t really see his face except in the thin-sliced reflection of the rear view mirror.
What’s his name? Albert asked Suzi.
“Who?” Little Suzi replied, forgetting that her mommy was right there and would hear her.
“What?” Suzi’s mommy said.
“What?” Little Suzi said to her mother.
“Did you say ‘Who’?” her mother asked.
Now Suzi and her mommy were both completely befuddled, and the taxi driver made it worse.
“What’s that, ma’am?” he asked in a low, gravelly voice from the front seat.
Suzi could see him looking up into the rear view mirror from where she sat and noticed a very strange thing…he wore a black patch over one eye! She had never seen such a thing before in her young life, and it both fascinated and frightened her at the same time—especially when he rolled his good eye around to get a look at her in the mirror.
But Little Suzi’s mommy saw her daughter staring at the driver, saw her wide eyes and open mouth, and knew right away what she was thinking! So she quickly looked sideways down at her daughter sitting beside her in the back seat. It was a look the little girl knew well. It meant: Don’t you dare say a thing! And so, of course, Suzi didn’t, but there was no accounting for what Albert might say.
He’s a pirate! Albert whispered fiercely into the little girl’s ear. (It was so loud that Suzi looked quickly up at her mother to see if she had heard it, even though it couldn’t be possible.) Little Suzi could hardly argue the point with Albert because, in addition to the eye patch, the taxi driver was completely bald where his hair might have been and had a flashy gold tooth that showed beneath his bushy walrus mustache.
It was scary enough in the car mirror, but when the driver turned round in his seat and fixed them with his one good eye, Suzi wanted to jump out. He was smiling, but it didn’t help much at first!
“My name’s Morris,” he kindly told them all, but you can call me ‘Ol’ Patch’ if you want. Everybody else does.”
“Say hello to Mr. Morris, Suzi.”
Her mother’s voice snapped her out of it, and the little girl remembered her manners. But all she could manage on that morning of her very first taxi ride with a pirate was a squeaky “hi”.
And Albert remained absolutely silent for once in his imaginary young life, even though he continued to stare wide-eyed at the back of Mr. Morris’ great shiny bald head and the thin black strap that ran round it to hold the eye patch in place.
Little Suzi stayed very busy the first day of school. She was excited to make so many new friends and to learn about her new teacher. She was assigned a desk to sit in (in alpha-betty order, as Albert called it). She was assigned a coat hook of her very own with her little name printed in large lavender letters on white tape above it. And, finally, she was assigned a reading book all about girls and boys who have adventures in school, in towns, and on farms in the country.
Then came lunch time in the busy and loud school cafeteria and recess outside on monkey bars, then a restroom break and nap time, and then…oh, so many things all in a day!
By the end of the day, Suzi had forgotten all about Ol’ Patch the taxi pirate until Albert brought it up again on the way to the front of the school to be picked up.
You scared?! Albert asked his friend while she was putting away her reader in the desk and taking her little coat off the hook in her room.
“Scared?” Little Suzi replied. “Scared of what?”
Ol’ Patch, the pirate! Albert reminded her.
“No,” Suzi lied. Then she remembered that her mother wouldn’t be in the taxi with them this time. She began to feel anxious about what her mommy had said that morning before the taxi arrived: Now, Suzi, remember. The taxi will pick you up in front of the school, then me from work after.
And, of course, Albert tried to make it worse. You know what pirates do, right?, he said while punching her in the arm.
“Take your lunch money?” She only said it because she hoped it might be the worst thing a pirate might do.
Don’t tell me you forgot about Peter Pan and Captain Hook from our books at home! And what about Long John Silver? That’s what kinds of things pirates do!
Little Suzi was petrified as she waited for the yellow taxi to show up in front of her school. And when it did, she hoped and hoped Ol’ Patch wouldn’t be the driver. She couldn’t even remember if he had a hook or not, now that she thought of it. She jumped when someone put a hand on her shoulder and spoke to her from above.
“Suzi.” The girl turned and looked up into the kind face of her new teacher, Miss Fox. “Your mommy left a note with the principal this morning. Is that your taxi?”
The big yellow car was close now, and Suzi could see that the dread pirate was driving. She was too afraid to answer and too afraid to move.
Suddenly, Miss Fox called out to Ol’ Patch.
“Afternoon, Mr. Morris. Is this your little passenger?”
Hey! Albert butted in, Miss Fox knows him! She knows the pirate!
And that’s when Little Suzi realized Ol’ Patch couldn’t be a real pirate if her teacher called him ‘Mr. Morris’.
From that day forward, Suzi wasn’t afraid, and she called her new friend ‘Mr. Morris’ just as her mommy had told her. And whenever Albert talked of pirates and called him Ol’ Patch, Little Suzi would tell him to mind his manners and “hush” so she could tell Mr. Morris all about school that day on their way to pick her mommy up from work.
A patch doesn’t make a pirate
(No matter what Albert might say).
You can’t judge a book by its cover,
But it pays to be careful, all the same.