Once upon a time long, long ago—in the 1960’s—a little girl named Suzi and her mother lived with her Granny and Granddaddy in a comfortable, but small, house on the west end of town. Little Suzi had lived with her grandparents for as long as she could remember and had no reason to think she might one day live anyplace else. But one day, while Suzi was out of school for the summer, her mommy came into the kitchen where Suzi was reading at the table and announced they would be moving.
“Suzi,” the mother told her little girl, “I have something important to tell you.”
“That’s good,” Little Suzi said absentmindedly as she went on reading her new library book, Charlotte’s Web. (She was a very good reader for her age, but Suzi had to concentrate and use Granny’s dictionary to look up the words she didn’t know—hard words like “rummaging” and “spinnerets” and “salutations”!)
“We’ll be moving soon,” Suzi’s mother continued as she sat down at the table next to the girl. “We’ll be moving to a new town not too far from here.”
That got her daughter’s attention, you can bet, and Suzi put down her chapter book and sat straight up in her chair. “But why?!” she asked.
“Because I have a new job there,” her mother answered calmly.
“But why?!” the little girl cried again.
“The plant I work in here is closing,” her mother explained, “and I was lucky to find a new job near by.”
“But I don’t want to move away from Granny and Granddaddy,” Little Suzi said, “They’ll miss me too much!”
“I know, dear,” her mother said as she patted the girl’s goldie locks, “but you can stay with them on the weekends if you want. Granddaddy says he’ll come get you. He’s retired from the plant now, and he says it’s not too far for him to drive.”
With that, the girl’s imaginary friend Albert, who had been sitting quietly in a chair on the other side of her all this time, crossed his arms, and made a stinky face.
And here I was just getting used to this place! the boy said loudly. (Of course, only Little Suzi could hear him, so her mommy knew nothing of Albert’s fussing.)
And, so, after only a couple of weeks, all three had packed up and moved their belongings over the river and through the woods to a new place to live in the new town.
Soon after Little Suzi and her mother moved into their new garden apartment that summer, they made an important friend: their next-door neighbor, Miss Donna.
Miss Donna and Suzi’s mommy were about the same age and got along right away. In a week or two, Miss Donna noticed how busy Suzi’s mommy was each morning trying to get her daughter ready for school and herself for work, so the kind woman invited the little girl to have breakfast with her on Fridays (and, yes, her imaginary friend Albert, too).
“It would be no trouble,” Miss Donna told Suzi’s mother, “and Fridays are always pancake day!” Then she smiled at Little Suzi, asking her, “Do you think your friend Albert likes pancakes?”
Goshie me! Pancake day! Albert yelled and jumped up and down.
“Yes, he does!” Little Suzi answered for him. And almost every Friday morning after that, Little Suzi and Albert would jump out of bed in their jammies, put on their little house shoes, wash their little faces, and hurry across the hall to Miss Donna’s apartment for goshie-me pancakes with maple syrup (or maple syrple, as Albert called it).
“At least brush your hair before you go,” Suzi’s mommy would holler out every Friday morning from the bathroom where she was getting ready for work. “You don’t want Miss Donna seeing you looking like a scarecrow.”
Oh, yes we do! Albert answered every time as they ran out the door and across the hall.
As good as his word, Granddaddy came almost every Saturday for the rest of that first summer to pick up the little girl and her imaginary friend and drive them back over the river and through the woods to the old place for the weekend. As soon as Granddaddy arrived at their apartment (always early), he would hammer out his secret knock with one big knuckle on their front door.
Knock, knock, knockity knock, he’d knock, and Suzi would holler out “That’s Granddaddy!” as she and Albert jumped out of bed, scurried across the floor like squirrels, and ran to open the door to get a morning hug. (Yes, Albert too! Granddaddy and Albert were old friends by then, you know.)
While Suzi changed out of her pj’s and made her little bed, Granddaddy and Albert sat on the turquoise couch in the living room and watched the adventures of “Sky” King, the flying rancher, and his niece Penny on the black and white TV until Suzi got ready. Then Granddaddy would drive Little Suzi and her invisible friend to the gentlemanly barber shop where Mr. George the barber would cut Granddaddy’s wavy gray hair and trim his short black mustache. And when it was done, Granddaddy would pretend to pull Albert onto his lap and tell Mr. George to “give the boy a snip or two with the scissors to keep him looking sharp!” which always made Little Suzi laugh.
Mr. George would let the girl pick out two lolly-pops from a bowl he kept next to his clippers and tonics. “One for you and one for your little friend,” he’d wink. Then Granddaddy would give Suzi a dime—if she had behaved—so that she and Albert could ride the electric horsey that waited for them out on the sidewalk in front of the barber shop.
Afterward, they most often drove to the drive-through dairy store for two orange creamsicles to eat as a treat later in the day. (Creamsicles were Suzi’s favorite, though Albert would have preferred dreamsicles.) While there, Granddaddy would always gab awhile with the man in the white paper hat until Suzi got completely bored and they’d finally head home where Granny would be in the kitchen fixing buttery biscuits, breakfast sausage or ham, silver-dollar pancakes, and strawberries for their “brunch,” as she called it. (Breakfast and lunch together? That’s crazy talk! Albert said the first time he heard it.)
Later, if it weren’t raining—or maybe only a drizzle and a drop—Suzi helped her Granddaddy in the yard trimming bushes, washing window screens, fixing old bird houses, hoeing weeds out of the garden patch, planting tulips along the sidewalk, repainting the mailbox, or, well, any and all sorts of chores that needed doing.
Of course, Albert wasn’t much help since he couldn’t hold a hammer or a rake, but he kept Little Suzi company, even if he did get a little bossy from time to time. You’ve got too much paint on that brush, he’d say when she was painting a bird house, or You forgot to water the crape myrtles, when she was watering the flowers and plants. “Why would anyone name a bush ‘Myrtle’?” she’d ask Albert every time. “The only Myrtle I know is a turtle!” she’d say, and laugh at her own joke.
A short nap on the carport came after chores, with Suzi and Albert lying on the flowery pillows of the green metal glider. And afterward, she would ride her twenty-four-inch yellow bicycle that was a little too big for her—“She’ll grow into it,” Granddaddy said when he bought it.—down the long driveway in the afternoon to check the mail. But the yellow bike was so tall for her that the little girl had to jump off to turn it around and then walk it back up the driveway to the house, carrying the mail in the front basket.
Saturday evenings after dinner, Suzi and Albert would often sit with Granddaddy in his big leather chair in the living room, eating creamsicles and watching “live wrestling” on the TV while Granddaddy chewed on a cigar. (He never actually lit one in the house.) From time to time, Granddaddy would take the cigar out of his mouth, shake his fist at the television, and yell, “Throw him out!” whenever one of the wrestlers (who for some reason always fought in their underwear, Albert pointed out) bit an ear or gouged an eye of the other wrestler.
It was all very confusing for the little girl, so she usually ignored the silly wrestlers in their underpants and spent her time reading one of her chapter books until she fell asleep with her head resting against the stuffed arm of the chair. Later, she would wake up to find Granddaddy snoring with his chin on his chest (the unsmoked cigar still clamped between his teeth), the television still on, and Albert huddled up in the chair beside them.
And that’s the way it went all the way up to the comfortable end of summer, through the fall, and into the winter of the first year after Little Suzi and her mommy moved to a new town.
After the winter holidays from school, Suzi’s mommy had another big surprise for her little girl.
“I have a new work schedule at the plant,” she told her, “and you’ll be staying after school at a nice lady’s house for a couple of hours each day. Her name is Mrs. Williams,” she said. “She has a girl of her own in the fifth grade who will walk with you to her house after school, and she also keeps two boys your same age. Maybe you can make some new friends.”
I don’t like the sound of this! Albert worried the girl. What if she’s a witch who bakes little children in her stove? Or locks them in the basement with a troll who eats their fingers and toes?
But Little Suzi paid no attention to the boy. She knew very well that her mother would never let her stay in such a place. Besides, she had a different sort of question on her mind.
“Does that mean we won’t see Mr. Morris again?” Suzi asked her mommy in a sad voice. You see, she had grown fond of telling the taxi driver all about her day when he picked her up after school each day, and, like Miss Donna, he was interested to know what new things she had learned.
Albert was sad then too: Now we’ll never know where Ol’ Patch buried his pirate treasure! he said.
“No,” Suzi’s mother answered the little girl. “Mr. Morris will pick me up from work instead of coming to your school, then we’ll come get you at Mrs. Williams’ house.”
And so, when school started back after the winter holiday, Suzi and Albert walked the block to Mrs. Williams’ house with her daughter, Tilda, who was already ten years old, and two other boys from Suzi’s grade who were her same age.
“You can call her ‘Momma Williams’,” Tilda told Suzi the first day they walked the block from the school to her house. “That’s what Butch and David call her.”
Then Tilda opened the gate to the white picket fence that surrounded the tidy house. She led the three children inside and announced, “We’re here, Momma!,” as she would every day when she first opened the door for them.
“Quiet now,” Momma Williams told the children as they bustled inside. “I’m watching my stories,” she added from the ironing board where she stood in front of the TV. “Cookies and milk are on the kitchen table.”
Little Suzi soon learned that Momma’s stories weren’t in any book, and every day, they all had to be quiet until she finished watching As the World Turns and The Guiding Light while she ironed clothes. And afterward, she would shoo the kids out in the yard to play, unless it were “raining cats and dogs,” as she would say. (Albert was very disappointed, of course, to learn it was only a saying.)
Only once did Momma Williams miss her stories. It was a rainy day when the children had to play inside. They all sat around the table in the kitchen where Tilda brought out a big box of Crayola crayons and sheets of paper from her school notebook for them draw pictures on while she went into her own room to do her homework.
As Albert watched, Little Suzi drew a yellow sun, a blue sky, white clouds, colorful flowers, and a very large bumble bee with black and yellow stripes on its bumble butt. The boys drew one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eaters.
After a while, Albert interrupted Suzi to ask, What’s wrong with Butch?!
“He’s just picking his nose again,” the little girl answered with a disgusted look on her face.
But it looks like it hurts, Albert said, and Suzi noticed the child did have a pained look on his face. His eyes were squeezed together tight and she thought she saw a tear roll down one side of his nose. You better get Momma, Albert told her.
So Little Suzi climbed down out of her chair, grabbed the poor boy by the hand, and led him out to where Mrs. Williams was ironing and watching her story.
“There’s something wrong with Butch,” she told Momma.
“Oh, my goodness!” Momma exclaimed, putting down her iron, “What is it, son?”
Then she bent down, took the little boy’s face between her two hands, and tilted it up where she could see him better.
“What have you got in your nose?” she asked.
“A crayon,” he cried.
First, Momma sent Little Suzi to tell her daughter Tilda to fetch a pair of tweezers from the bathroom medicine cabinet, then she took poor Butch into the kitchen and sat him down in a chair.
“Take your finger out,” Mrs. Williams told the boy when Tilda brought the tweezers, “and hold your head back.” Then she explored with the tweezers until he hollered out in pain.
“What is it?” Tilda asked, but Mrs. Williams didn’t answer. Instead, she asked Butch, “Why on earth did you stick a crayon up your nose?”
“Cause it thmelled so good,” the boy answered and cried again.
Oh, brother! Albert giggled.
And that’s the way it went the rest of that year in the new town for Little Suzi and her invisible friend.
Pancakes and maple syrple,
Now that’s a special treat!
And cookies and milk after school,
We know that can’t be beat.
But my best advice to you is,
Never stick a crayon up your nose to smell it—
No matter how sweet!