— REVIEW —
Lara, Willy and Lilly Tilly have come to live in America with their Italian nanny, Lucia. The children were sent to live with their Aunt and Uncle in New England until the war [World War II] is over. On the boat over, Lucia met a young man named Carmello from Italy who was very kind to them. The two were married during the ocean crossing! (That sometimes happened with immigrants coming to a new land.) But, sadly, Carmello was really just running away from the war. He married Lucia to make it easier to get into the country. Then he ran off and left them. The 3 children and Lucia have been living in New England for 3 months as we start Chapter 7. Willy, who is our story teller, is having a hard time living in America. He still can’t speak English very well and so everyone thinks he is stupid. The only one who understands Willy is Uncle Irving, a neighbor who becomes Willy’s first real friend in his new country.
JUST when I started to feel happy in America, I heard Uncle Nikkk say that they put people in prison who run away from war. [Of course the law did not put little boys in prison! Only grown men who ran away from fighting in the war were put in prison.] After that, the only time I went outside was to go to school. Lilly and I were in the same class because I couldn’t speak English well enough to be in my real grade. There was nothing I could do about it. I had to let people think I was stupid. When I stopped going outside, everyone said I was “a wimp”. I didn’t know what a wimp was, but just the sound of it made me feel like butter dropped on the floor.
When we came home from school, I either stayed in my room or explored the house. I knew Aunt Magic was worried because I heard her talking to Uncle Irving one day. I was in the room above the kitchen. If you put your ear on the stairs going up to Aunt Magic’s room, you could hear what people were saying in the kitchen. It was just one of many scientific discoveries I made that fall when I was afraid to go outside. Aunt Magic said, “I don’t know what happened, Irving. Willy used to love to play outside and now he never leaves the house. I’ve tried everything. I don’t know what to do.”
Uncle Irving didn’t answer right away. He never answered right away. He would think just as long as he wanted to before answering. Sometimes he wouldn’t answer at all if he thought someone wasn’t really listening. He told me once that thinking was the “school” God gave to poor people. I looked at him in shock when I heard that. I tried to picture a little schoolhouse in my head. Then I said, “If thinking is the school God gave poor people, what did He give rich people?” I asked.
“He gave them thinking, too, but they have to pay for it.”
I felt a little sorry for Aunt Magic. I didn’t want her to worry. Still … it was nice to have someone worry about me, especially being so far from home and all. It wasn’t that Aunt Magic and Uncle Nikkk weren’t wonderful to us. The problem was that I didn’t “belong”. In America I was different—and I didn’t know what to do to “belong”. I didn’t even really know what it meant to belong. I just knew I wasn’t home.
The next thing I knew, someone was pounding on the kitchen ceiling. There were four loud thumps [bangs] and then it stopped. After a minute the bangs started again. To my shock, I then heard Uncle Irving say, “Willy, stop sitting there listening to your Aunt cry her heart out and get down here this minute!”
“How did you know I was listening?!” I shouted back through the floor.
“I didn’t! I just guessed and I was right. Now come down here now!” Irving was the smartest man I ever knew. He took me by the hand and we went outside. We walked a long way in silence.
Finally I said, “What are you thinking about, Uncle Irving?”
“I have a friend I want you to meet. The police are after him and he needs help.”
My heart froze. “Why?! Did he run away from the war too?” As soon as I spoke the words, my heart began to pound. Now Uncle Irving knew my secret. “Uncle Irving, please don’t tell anyone I ran away from the war. Please!” But Uncle Irving acted like he didn’t hear me.
“My friend Jake has been running a long time, Willy, trying to find somebody who needs him. You and I will take Jake to the police…”
Now I knew that Uncle Irving didn’t hear me. Just as I started to tell him again why I couldn’t let the police find me he said, “We’ll tell the police that you’re the special boy who came from Belgium to help with the war effort.”
“To help with the war effort?!”
“Of course! You didn’t think you were running away from it did you? You were sent here to help. Just tell the police that Jake is your helper and lives with you. Then they won’t be after him anymore.”
“But what can I do to help win the war?!”
“Treat life well.” [Be good to life; take care of it.]
JAKE was the most wonderful friend I had. He never left my side. We went everywhere together. No one laughed at me or called me a “wimp”. They took one look at Jake, saw how big he was and ran. When they were gone, I laughed until my sides hurt.
Now that Jake was with me, Aunt Magic sent us on all kinds of errands [a short trip to do something or get something, usually for someone else]. On Monday we got fresh eggs from the Robert’s. On Tuesday we picked up the mending [clothes that need to be repaired] and laundry [clean clothes] from Mrs. Whitehouse. She always had time to be nice. She always gave Jake and me a fresh baked cookie. All my life I never did understand how some people could be so nice— and others run around like their underwear was too tight.
On Wednesdays we went to the Rines Road House. It’s a big farm house where poor people live. I mean they didn’t have a lot of money, that’s all. But they were happy just the same. Everyone sang while they worked. Some people made brooms and chairs; others made cups and bowls. They made real butter, real cheese and real honey. They made bread and cakes and pies filled with fruit. They just didn’t make lots of money, that’s all. And so they were called “poor”.
Every Saturday Aunt Magic sent Jake and me to town. I felt like a lobster let out of the pot. Uncle Elbert showed me a picture once of a lobster in a pot. “That cage is called a lobster pot,” he explained.
“How do the lobsters get in the pots?” I asked.
“They swim in all by themselves.”
“Then why do they want to get out?”
“They find out that they will pay a really big price if they stay [that is, they will be killed and eaten]. That’s the difference between lobsters and people, Willy. When people lose their freedom, most are just content to stay in the pot.”
After that I decided I would never go near a lobster pot if I saw one.
When we went to town, we often bought matches and soap at the Rust Nickle [5¢ cents] Store. Uncle Ebenezer Rust ran [owned and worked at] the store. Aunt Magic always told me, “Don’t you let Old Ebenezer sell you anything but what I put on the list! Do you understand me, Willy Tilly?!”
The only things in the store that cost 5¢ were matches, soap and toothpicks. Everything else had a five on the end of it: 25¢ for 3 cans of tomato soup, 45¢ for 12 oranges, 75¢ for two pounds of coffee. Once I saw 10 donuts for 15¢. I couldn’t believe it. They made Jake and me feel real hungry. Uncle Ebenezer saw me looking at them and said, “Well, Willy Tilly, should I add them to your cart today?”
When Jake and I went to town, Jake pulled a cart [a small wooden wagon with wheels] to put our groceries in. We left the cart at Uncle Ebenezer’s store when we gave him the list of things Aunt Magic wanted. Jake and I would then go visit Uncle Elbert. By the time we were done visiting, our cart would be waiting for us, full of our things.
I took a long time to answer Mr. Rust that day, but finally I said. “No, thank you. I can’t buy the donuts because they aren’t on Aunt Magic’s list. She says I can’t buy anything that is not on the list. She said you got to be a big land owner selling people things they didn’t need.” Uncle Ebenezer started to laugh so hard I thought the button on his pants would pop off. “Did your Aunt Magic tell you I own a big pond too?”
“A pond too?! Wow! How many donuts did you have to sell, Uncle Ebenezer, to buy a pond?”
“Ask your Uncle Nikkk,” he said still laughing.
I don’t know what got into me that day, but when Jake and I went back to get our groceries I told Uncle Ebenezer I wanted to buy the donuts even though they weren’t on Aunt Magic’s list.
“I thought you might,” he answered. “I saved them for you. They’re in your cart.”
“Thank you very much, Uncle Ebenezer!”
I ate six donuts and Jake ate four. Everything was fine until I didn’t feel real well at dinner. I finally took the authorhood [told the truth] for eating 6 donuts. Then I really didn’t feel well. Aunt Magic told me I was grounded. It sounded serious, even though I didn’t know what grounded meant. I found out the next Saturday.
THE next Saturday, to my surprise, Uncle Nikkk already had the cart tied to Jake before I finished breakfast. It was then that Aunt Magic told me that Lara would be going to town with Jake . . . for the duration.
“For the what?!”
“For a long, long time!”
“But what about Jake? He ate four donuts. Why does he get to go?”
“Because even Old Ebenezer can’t sell a dog donuts.”
“But what about Lara? Uncle Ebenezer could sell her donuts, couldn’t he? He said he bought a whole pond selling Uncle Nikkk donuts.”
“Willy, what did you just say?!”
“Well, I’m just saying what Uncle Ebenezer said.”
“We’ll see about that! Anyway, Lara won’t eat any donuts so long as she’s sweet on that Stone boy.”
I started to laugh at the thought of Lara being in love with “a stone boy”. (The Stones lived down the road. Lara was in love with young Win. His father had a real fancy name, G.Winchester Stone. He wrote a whole encyclopedia himself.)
Aunt Magic laughed too and said, “Just you wait and see, Willy Tilly! Lara’s vanity [being in love with herself] will get the best of her. She’ll be as skinny as a pencil and die an old maid!” [old maid: a woman who never marries.]
Aunt Magic was right. Lara took so long to fix her hair that when she went outside, Jake was gone already. We couldn’t imagine where he went. We called and called and looked everywhere. I went up to the secret room and waited by the window. I saw him coming down the road about two hours later. I raced downstairs and ran out the door.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. The cart was full of all the things Aunt Magic always got in town. Jake just stood there wagging his tail and smiling at me. When we untied him we found a note from Uncle Ebenezer:
Madge [Aunt Magic], if your dog is smart enough to get your groceries so I won’t sell Willy any more donuts, then you won. Today’s groceries are on me [they’re free]! No hard feelings, O.K.? Don’t be too hard on, Willy. —E.Rust
Aunt Magic was the most shocked of all. “Who would have believed it?” she kept saying over and over again. “The day Old Ebenezer gives away groceries should be made a holy day. We’re all going to church tomorrow to praise the Lord!”
It was a whole month before I wasn’t grounded anymore and got to go to town. All that time, Jake went to town and back all by himself. We put the list and money in a little bag around his neck and two hours later he’d be back with a cart full of groceries. But he never had to tell anyone if someone gave him a cookie.