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Sometimes Daddy Needs . . .

A LITTLE HELPER

Prof. Joseph Allard got up from his easy chair, which was focused on the TV set, and started back to the kitchen to see what the trouble was. Never in five years of married life had he heard the kind of banging and rattling that Mary was producing just to turn out the Sunday dinner.

He poked his head in cautiously, just in time to see her slam a chopping board down on the metal side of the range. Bang.

"What's the matter, honey?" he asked. "You feel all right?"

Mary carried on with her work as if he weren't even there. She corralled a head of lettuce and a couple of tomatoes and started chopping before she answered.

"No," she answered. "What makes you think something's wrong? Just cause I'm trying to hurry and drop a pot or two, you think there's something wrong. I'd like to see you manage to get dinner and take care of little Betty and the baby and try to get ready for church all at the same time without making a little noise. It's easy enough to be quiet when you're sleeping in front of the television set. But even then you can't keep quiet. You've got to snore . . ."

"Okay, okay," Joe interrupted. "I'm not picking on you. I just thought maybe you'd dropped something. I thought maybe I could pick it up or do something for you. Is there something I can do to help?"

"You can get out of here," she said as she mutilated a soft tomato.

Joe got.

He went back to his easy chair, mumbling, picked up little Betty who had confiscated his seat, and then fell into it with her on his lap.

She turned her wide brown eyes onto him and studied him as he ran his hand over her silky brown hair. With her upturned little nose, her wide forehead, her ears close to her head, she was an exact miniature of Mary, he thought. In looks, that is. In temperament -- at least today -- that was something else.

"Is mudder mad?" she asked with a troubled expression so out of place that it relieved the tension that had been building in Joe. Holding back a smile, he began to lecture to her in mock seriousness.

"A mudder," he said, "is a horse that likes to run in the mud. If you're speaking of your mama, she's your mother."

The fine points of pronunciation were lost on the two and a half year old. But she enjoyed her daddy when he was like this. She felt grownup like the big girls and boys in his class at the university. When he played the role of teacher at home too, she liked to ask him questions.

"Horsies can be mudders too?" she asked incredulously. "And do they have little girls like me?"

"Horse mudders," he went on in the same vein, "have little horses and sometimes they become mudders too."

"Well, daddy," she said, "if the mudder horsies like to run in the mud, dey don't get mad like our mudder when we play in the mud, huh?"

Despite the fun of the exchange, Joe found it difficult to keep his mind on it. Something was wrong with Mary and he couldn't figure what it was. He was combing his memory trying to remember what it was he had done, or hadn't done . . . because he was certain it was something involving him that had upset her.

The little girl didn't mind his lack of attention. She carried on alone, as little girls will for awhile. But finally she stood up on his lap, cupped his face between her little hands, looked right into his eyes and demand an answer to a question.

"Daddy," she said, "daddy, do horsie mudders have special days like lady mudders do?"

He began answering:

"The only special days they have, are the days when it rains plenty and the race track gets soft and muddy, just the way they like . . ."

And then he did a mental double take.

"Days, special days, like lady mudders . . . I mean mothers . . . what do you mean?"

Holy smoke, he thought, no wonder Mary was burning the way the roast might be soon, if he didn't get busy at once. He had forgotten all about Mother's Day. No present.

Not even a card. Not even a Happy Mother's Day to you.

Joe sprang up and little Betty slid to the floor. And then, figuring that the noise in the kitchen would cover his strategic withdrawal, he tiptoed noiselessly to the front door and eased himself out, leaving little Betty open-mouthed.

He got to the neighborhood super market just before the noon-time Sunday closeup.

Fifteen minutes later he eased himself back into the house where the noise from the kitchen told him at once that the situation had not changed during his absence. Little Betty was glued to the television set watching the Sunday cartoon special.

He picked her up in his free arm -- the other was loaded with packages -- and moved to the kitchen door. He pushed it open with one foot.

"Mary," he said speculatively, and then when she looked up he went on:

"Gosh, I forgot to give you your Mother's Day present."

Mary's scowl dissolved quickly.

"Joe, you didn't have to bother . . . I wasn't really expecting anything . . . I know how forgetful you are . . . how you can't even remember your own birthday . . . and besides we've been married a long time now . . ."

And then she was hugging and kissing him.

She dug into the bigger of the two packages he carried. Out of it came a bottle of champagne, a gift which automatically turned this special day into a very special one.

And then she was examining the biggest box of chocolates she had ever received.

"Oh, this is wonderful," she said. "But, now what's in the other package. Let me open that one now."

Joe held her off.

"No," he said, "this one's for little Betty . . . for mudder's day too."

Mary's mad was completely over. Joe was the best husband and father ever, providing a mother's day gift for both his girls. But she couldn't help twitting him about it.

"Don't you think she's a little young for motherhood?"

Joe resumed his professorial air.

"Perhaps," he said. "But you know, my dears, mother's day after all should be a day for all women. For the mothers, yes, but for other women who have been denied this great blessing through no fault of their own. And for those women, also, who may someday become members of this blessed circle."

He concluded with a smile:

"But to answer your question, yes, she may be a little young for motherhood, but as a woman, this little lady is a lot older -- and wiser -- than you think."

He bent down and kissed a little face already smeared with chocolate.