Lucas, Dad’s Apron
the big change
Lucas left his third-grade classroom in a great mood, but the second he stepped through his back door, he came to a complete halt. Behind the wood block island in the center of the room, stood his dad, separating egg yolks from their whites. His performance was flawless, but it wasn’t this feat that stupefied Lucas. It was the pink-checked apron tied around Dad’s neck and belly. The man’s kinky red beard rested on the apron’s white lace front and the ruffles on the straps draped over his navy polo-shirt.
Lucas dropped his backpack on the floor with a thud. His father looked up. “Hey there, Buddy, didn’t see you show up.”
“Why are you wearing Mom’s apron?”
“This cookie recipe calls for powdered sugar, and I’m wearing my good slacks.”
How dumb he looked! But saying that would only get him in trouble for being a smart mouth. It was just one more way that life messed with him these days. He liked it a lot better when Mom was there after school.
“Take your jacket off. I baked cookies earlier, that Mom said are your favorites. And I remembered to buy chocolate milk.”
“When’s Mom coming home?”
“She’s got office hours until eight tonight.”
“Why so late?”
“She agreed to see a couple extra kids tonight.”
Lucas sighed. “It’s bad enough that she’s gone on Saturday mornings, too.” He hated Mom missing almost all his baseball games. He plopped down on a kitchen chair, picked up a ghost-shaped tan cookie from the plate in front of him, and bit down. Hmmm. Might be peanut butter, but something in it crunched. Had Dad known to use smooth peanut butter? He chewed, swallowed, and smiled.
He finished the cookie. “Thanks, I’m not that hungry. Lunch filled me up.”
Dad cocked his head to one side and gave him a crooked smile. “I know they didn’t turn out that great, but I’ll keep getting better. You’ll see.”
Lucas shrugged. “That’s okay. Do you have time for the park?” Dad had played baseball for his high school and college teams. Before Mom went back to work, he and Dad spent hours every weekend practicing. Lucas knew this was why he was one of the best players on his grade school team.
“Not this afternoon. Once I finish up here, I have to get back to the computer. I’ve got a deadline looming.”
Lucas sighed. Big on purpose.
“Sorry. We’ll both go Saturday. Promise.”
As Lucas trudged up the stairs to his room, he thought it wasn’t fair. Before Mom decided to go back to work, she and Lucas did lots of stuff together. Now that Dad quit his job, he was so wrapped up with his projects he had no time for Lucas.
He threw himself into his bed and flipped onto his back, stretched his legs out over on his Spidey quilt, and reached to the ceiling spreading his fingers wide. He thought about the afternoon a month ago when his life turned upside down and imagined webs soaring out to pull his life back together again,
The post-credit extras were running on a Spiderman movie when Dad walked into the family-room and clicked off the TV.
“I’ve got something I need to tell you.”
Maybe, Lucas thought, he’s finally going to say we can get a dog. But that wasn’t it.”
“I’ve some exciting news.” Dad then explained. “I’m leaving my job with Northwest Florals.”
“Did you get a new job?”
“Nope. I’ll be working for myself now.”
At first, Lucas had been relieved. With his mom planning to resume her medical practice he worried about coming home to an empty house. Now Dad would be there. Great! And his dad deserved a break.
Later that day, he started thinking about other stuff his mom did, like volunteer at the school library. While the whole family ate dinner that night, he asked, “Are you going to be a volunteer once you stop working, Dad?”
Dad laughed. “I’m giving up my job, but I won’t stop working. I’m going to write.”
Lucas looked up from his mashed potatoes. “You mean like books?”
“Well, that would be terrific in the long run, but for now, it’ll be freelance articles.”
“Does that pay better than selling books?”
Mom chuckled, and Dad grimaced. “Not exactly. For a while, I might not make any money. That’s why I put off this dream until your mom returned to work full time.”
“What if I get sick and can’t go to school?”
Mom’s deep blue eyes twinkled. “You’re getting old enough to do a lot of things for yourself, but don’t worry, Dad will set up an office in the spare bedroom. He’ll be here almost every day and his schedule will be flexible.”
It had sounded good when she explained it, but some things didn’t work out so well.
“When will you get home from work, Mom?” Lucas asked her.
“Well, different times, depending on the day. Many parents can only bring their children to the office in the evenings or on weekends. So, I’m going to be working on Monday and Thursdays until eight o’clock. Dr. Miller, who is the head of the practice, and I will alternate Saturday mornings with one another,” she explained.
“Won’t you be starving by eight?” he asked.
Mom laughed. He loved her laugh. It had this tinkling bell sound to it. “Don’t worry. I won’t starve. Most likely, I’ll have a good snack every afternoon to see me through.”
“One thing about Mom’s job that’s great,” Dad said, “Is she doesn’t have to travel like I did. Even if she’s home late occasionally, we’ll all be home together every night.”
proud of mom
Two weeks later, the three of them drove to Northeast Portland, to the big, red brick office building across from Providence Hospital. Lucas had been there to see his own doctor, but it felt really weird to think they were visiting his mom’s office.
“We don’t even have to take the elevator,” Mom said as they stepped into the sparkling clean lobby. “I’m right up on the second floor.”
At the top of the stairs, they walked to the end of the hall and right on the frosted glass of a solid door, his mom’s name, “Beatrice Meadows, M.D.” stood out in gold letters. His heart filled like a balloon. That’s how proud it made him. Inside, the waiting room wasn’t much bigger than his bedroom, but lots of windows made it bright, and the lady behind the desk greeted him with a big smile. Then Mom showed them her office with a desk and their framed picture already sitting just beside a green felt blotter. An enormous window looked out at 42nd Avenue, but he couldn’t hear the traffic.
“This is so cool, Mom,” he said.
She had a huge grin on her face. “Yep, it feels fantastic to me too.”
She had seemed so happy, and Dad had looked so pleased that Lucas believed things were going to work out okay.
But some things didn’t go so well.
When Mom left for work at seven the next morning, Lucas sat down at the kitchen table, still in his pajamas.
“What’s for breakfast, Dad?” he asked.
His dad stared inside the open refrigerator as though it were a foreign land. “So, what would you like to eat, son?” he asked.
This was different. Mom never asked. She simply put his breakfast on the table when he sat down. No big deal, though.
“Umm, how about Captain O’s and orange juice?” he said. It was the only thing he could think of, even though it didn’t sound that good.
“Great,” dad replied and Lucas heard the relief in his voice. He’d never thought of it before, but the only time his dad cooked was when they had friends for barbeques. His dad was totally an outside cook. Funny, he was just realizing that now.
While he was crunching through the cold cereal, wishing it were waffles, his dad sat down across the table with a cup of steaming coffee. “So, uh, what’s your day going to be like?” he asked.
“Usually Mom makes my lunch while I’m having breakfast,” Lucas mumbled.
“Oh, yeah, of course.” His dad jumped up and walked into the pantry closet beside the basement stairs. For a few minutes, he just stared at the shelves of food. After several minutes, he took down a loaf of wheat bread and put two slices on the pantry counter. Then he opened a jar of raspberry jelly and a jar of peanut butter. Lucas crunched and watched as Dad slathered huge amounts of both on the bread. When he cut the sandwich in half, peanut butter and jelly oozed out the sides. His dad slid his finger along the side, scooped up the excess and plopped it in his mouth.
“Mmm,” he murmured. His dad loved peanut butter and jelly. In fact, he considered it a treat because it wasn’t something businessmen usually ate for lunch. Lucas liked it okay. But that sandwich was going to be a mess to eat! Dad wrapped the sandwich in wax paper and scanned the kitchen with a puzzled look.
“I’ll get my lunch box,” Lucas told him. Dad put in the sandwich with a flourish of triumph, closed the box and put it on the table in front of Lucas. He wanted to ask, “That’s it?” but kept his mouth shut. Being hungry for one day wouldn’t kill him.
At lunchtime, when he opened his lunchbox, Harley, his best friend since kindergarten, stared at the lone sandwich.
“What’s going on?,” he said. “You on a diet or something?”
“Course not,” Lucas scoffed. “Mom started back to work this morning. Since Dad’s working from home now, he’s the one who made my lunch. He’s kinda new to it.”
Harley’s brown eyes got even bigger than usual. “I sure hope he gets better at packing lunches. My dad sliced up this huge apple for me. You want half?”
Lucas felt his face burn, but he happily shared the apple.
The next day at school, Lucas again opened his lunch box to a lone sandwich. “Do something about this,” Harley said. “You’re going to starve.”
“Course, I won’t,” Lucas insisted. “But I don’t think I can face a year of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every single day.”
“Maybe you should talk to you mom about it,” Harley suggested.
“I can’t do that. I don’t want to get dad in trouble.” Lucas sat and slowly chewed small bites of his sandwich to make it last longer. While he chewed, he thought. Harley waited in silence. They had been friends for a long time. Harley was used to Lucas’s long silences.
Lucas hit his forehead with his hand, which smeared jelly in his hair. “I’ve got it!” He nodded vigorously. “Mom is always saying since I’m almost ten, I should take on more responsibilities. I can make my lunch. That way, I can choose what to put in it and make sure there’s enough to eat.”
“Awesome,” Harley said. He’d known Lucas would come up with something good.
That night at dinner, Lucas announced his plan. “Mom, I’ve been thinking about what you said about me taking on more responsibilities.”
Mom put her fork down. “Did you have something in mind?”
“It just that you and Dad are taking on more work. So, I think I should help too. I’d like to start by fixing my own lunches for school.”
Now both of his parents were staring at him. He knew why. He usually resisted doing anything that could be called a chore. They looked at him and then at each other. He tried to be looked just normal, not too anxious. He was so afraid his dad, who was a pretty smart guy, would figure it out.
His mom’s smile spread across her entire face. “I’m really proud of you, Lucas. I think that’s a splendid plan. But I don’t want you to think it will be an excuse for not eating properly. You can’t just fill your lunch box with junk food.”
“Course not.” He promised. “I’ll pack a balanced lunch. Would it be okay if I put one treat in?”
“Sure, just a small one, though. Not a whole candy bar or anything like that.”
Dad stayed quiet while Lucas and his mom talked. Lucas watched his father out of the corner of his eye. Maybe Dad wondered if a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, however, big, really made a “balanced meal.”
Dad stared at Lucas thoughtfully, but only said, “Great idea, Buddy. That will be a big help for me in the morning. And speaking of balanced meals, Bea, I’ve been meaning to ask you what makes a good breakfast for our kid?”
With pride, Lucas showed Harley his lunch the next day–ham-and-cheese sandwich, mini-carrots, a bag of Fritos, a Clementine orange and two Oreos. “Good work.” Harley said.
Solving the problem of the boring lunches and breakfasts, however, led to a new unforeseen consequence that, in its own way, was even worse. It started out innocently enough.
Dad announced at supper that very evening, “Watching Lucas put together that fine lunch this morning has made me realize it’s time I learned a lot more about cooking.”
“I’ve got several cookbooks in the pantry, honey,” Mom said. “Browse through them.”
“Well, Bea, I did that today, and I’m afraid that I need something more basic. I’m going to Powell’s tomorrow to see what their cookbook section offers.”
That afternoon, when Lucas arrived in the kitchen, he found his dad at the kitchen table, deeply engrossed in a large, spiraled book. “Look at this.” He showed the title, ‘How to Cook Everything’ to Lucas.
“It’s not just recipes. It’s got everything in it for someone like me who’s staring from scratch.”
“This first section is about the equipment I need to be a good cook.” Dad got up and started opening cabinets and drawers and searching through them one after another. Lucas turned right around and headed for Harley’s house.
Over the course of the next week, Dad emptied every storage space in the kitchen. He organized every single thing in the kitchen on the counters and table. As he did this, he made lists of equipment that, according to his new book, they needed but didn’t own. The kitchen became an obstacle course. So, although Lucas was now free to make his own lunches and Dad was trying to make better, more interesting breakfasts, both tasks were infinitely harder to accomplish in the “war-zone” kitchen. Many nights, Mom had had to resort to bringing home take-out food.
By Saturday, Dad got his list together. He rearranged everything back into the cabinets and the pantry after he threw out a lot of food, he said was too old to keep. When Lucas finished his homework and came down to the kitchen that evening, Dad was helping Mom make dinner. They made spaghetti with tomato sauce and a tossed salad and Lucas’ favorite food of all time–cheesy bread. His dad had done that part and the bread was really delicious. Kitchen life settled in a new routine that felt good.
What wasn’t working, Lucas thought, was that Dad became so absorbed in learning and practicing cooking that he had hardly any time to practice baseball with Lucas. Whenever Lucas got home from school, his dad was already in the kitchen starting dinner even though it was only three-fifteen in the afternoon.
“Mom never started dinner until five o’clock,” he told his dad.
The next Wednesday Lucas got home from school to find his dad hovered over the kitchen counter peeling carrots. The sink was full of potato and onion peels and the tops of celery stalks. Neat piles of vegetables were arranged across the counter. From the stove top, a big pot filled the air with steam and the fragrance of rich broth.
Lucas winced to see the same silly pink apron tied around his dad’s waist. Maybe Mom ought to buy him a new one.
His dad glanced over his shoulder and smiled. “There are some chocolate chips in the cookie jar. Pour yourself a glass of milk?”
“Yeah, sure,” Lucas answered. As he got his snack, he added, “How about we go to the park for hitting practice before Saturday’s game.”
“I’ve still got quite a few steps left before I can get this stew in the pot.” His attention was already back on the cookbook propped beside the food. “Tomorrow might, okay?”
Lucas hunched his shoulders and stared down at his cookies. “Mom never started dinner until five o’clock,” he grumbled.
“She’s a kitchen expert. She doesn’t even use cookbooks, just does things the way her mom taught her. I’m slower because I’ve got to follow recipes. Give me a couple of weeks. I’ll get better and faster.”
He slid the frying pan onto the stove and dropped a half stick of butter into it.
Lucas nodded and nibbled on the cookie. He was ready for “better” and “faster” now. But he could wait a couple of weeks.
But a whole month after that, it still took him an entire afternoon to fix dinner. Watching how excited he got when a dish turned out well, Lucas suspected that cooking had become one of his dad’s favorite ways to spend time. Their meals were delicious and often spectacular. Dad served food that, before now, they’d only eaten in restaurants–dishes such as Mongolian Beef and egg rolls or homemade squash ravioli with pesto.
Dad almost never cooked the same meal twice.
Not that Lucas always enjoyed dinner. Some of the stuff was great, like the German potato pancakes, but some of the other recipes had spices he wasn’t used to. And he missed his favorites, like takeout pizza and Mom’s macaroni and cheese.
Whenever Lucas thought about complaining, though, he remembered the family discussion about each of them trying out new roles. He saw how happy his mom was sharing stories about her work at dinner. While keeping patient names confidential, she told them about a baby’s funny reaction to her stethoscope or how hard it could be when a toddler screamed in terror at the sight of a needle. She also enjoyed talking with them about the articles she was reading in medical journals. Lucas followed Dad’s example. He asked her lots of questions and listened. Some of it was interesting, but mostly he wanted her to feel what his dad called “upheld” in her decision.
That’s why he didn’t gripe about his father’s kitchen experiments. He tried to make him feel “supported” as well. But just once, it would have been great to have grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for dinner.
Lucas had the dirty dishes to thank that things finally changed.
The first Friday in October, Mom pushed back from the table, gathered her plate, utensils, napkin, and glass, and at the sink, she insisted that since Dad cooked, she should clean up.
“Okay, Buddy,” she said, “I’ll rinse. You clear and put the leftovers in covered containers.”
From the pantry, he said, “We’re out of those containers.”
She chuckled. “Ted, tonight’s sauerbraten was delicious, but we have to eat leftovers sometimes, or the fridge will explode.”
“I’ll try eating them for lunch,” Dad said, heading for the living room.
As she rinsed, she stacked the dirty dishes so high Lucas was afraid the pile would totter. He grabbed a couple and quickly loaded them into the dishwasher. She moved over to the stove where messy pots sat on every burner. “Your dad makes wonderful dinners, but I wish he didn’t use all the pans every single night!” She sounded tired.
“Let me wash them tonight,” he offered, half hoping she’d say no.
“Would you? Thanks a bunch.” She wiped her hands on a kitchen towel and joined Dad in the living room, where he read a magazine. Over the soft music playing, Lucas picked up their conversation.
a new crisis
“How’s that article going?” Mom asked.
“Which one is that?” His dad sounded confused.
“You know about farming in the Dakotas.”
“Oh, I won’t be writing it.”
“Hmmm,” she said, “You’re doing the Caribbean one?”
There was no reply. Lucas wiped his wet, sudsy hands on his jeans and slipped over to the doorway. Dad looked like a naughty boy caught stealing at a candy store.
His mother’s voice tightened, “Ted, are you writing at all?”
“Of course, I am. I’m doing all those assignment for my PCC courses.”
“You know what I mean.” By now Mom glared at Dad. “Features to pitch to journals?”
“It’s not that easy, Bea,” his dad answered. “I’m trying, but the pieces I think would sell just don’t grab me. I can’t get passionate about them.”
“But you worked in agriculture so long. Isn’t that a passion?”
“That might sound logical to you, but writing doesn’t work that way.”
Mom took a deep breath, blew it out, and smoothed her skirt against her knees. “But we talked about this when you first decided to take a break from work to write. Sports is an overly competitive field. You need to stick with your expertise in a field that’s not so widely covered.”
“That sounds logical to you, but superb writing isn’t only about knowledge. It’s about being fired up about your subject. Without the fire, you lose your readers.”
Lucas squatted down and leaned against the door jamb out of sight. He hated hearing his dad sound beaten down, but he felt bad his mom was so frustrated. He didn’t want to listen, but seemed glued in place.
Mom hesitated. “What other issues besides sports catch your interest?”
“Hundreds of ideas march through my brain, but none of them seem right.”
“How about…,” his mom’s tone pitched higher than usual, “asking your professor to help you find your niche?”
Dad shook his head. “I don’t want to sound like an amateur.”
Mom moved to sit beside him and put her hands on his knees. “Don’t let your pride impede launching yourself as a writer.” She sighed. “Every day at work, I ask someone a question. If I never asked questions, my patients wouldn’t get the care they deserve.”
“But that’s different. You’re already a well-respected pediatrician.”
Mom grinned, “Because I’m willing to admit that medical school didn’t teach me everything I needed to excel. Every day my patients teach me something new.”
“Let me think about that. Before I can ask for advice, I need ideas to present.”
“He might have some ideas of his own. Maybe you should lay out your whole quandary for him.”
That sounded good to Lucas. He liked it better when Miss Winterbrook assigned them an essay subject. If she let them choose their own, he spent most of his time wondering what to write about. Then he didn’t have enough time to finish the assignment.
But would Dad listen to Mom? He hoped so.
Lucas couldn’t hear anything after that. He guessed they were hugging and kissing. Yuck! He crept back upstairs. In his room, he stared at his poster of a beautiful collie standing on a hilltop. He desperately wants a dog just like that one, but Mom and Dad didn’t think he was old enough to take care of a dog. They didn’t want the responsibility to fall to them because they were too busy – or so they said. Seemed like if Dad had all that time for cooking, he could help Lucas with a dog! But now his dad was really going to get busy with writing. What would Dad decide to write about?
If it was him, he’d write about dogs. But what would he write exactly? He saw Dad’s problem. He stared a little longer at the poster and then went over to his desk. Every Friday their teacher assigned them a free topic essay. These assignments in school usually left his mind blank, but he decided this week he knew just what to write. “Why I Could Take Good Care of a Dog,” he wrote at the top of a sheet of white paper.
When Lucas came home the next day, his dad wasn’t in the kitchen for a change. He was in the family room staring at the computer. “Hi, Dad,” Lucas said hoped his dad would see he was there and realize it was snack time. But he was totally engrossed in whatever he was working on and just sort of waved at Lucas.
Guess he’d fix a snack. There weren’t any rules about what could be in his snack. He checked out their farmer-shaped cookie jar that had been his Nana Alice’s cookie jar when she was a little girl. It was really old and had little cracks in it. Lucas hoped it wouldn’t break. He loved that cookie jar. Sure enough, there was a stash of chocolate chip cookies inside. His mother still liked to bake on weekends and usually made sure the cookie jar was filled by Sunday night. He took four cookies and put them on a plate and then checked out the fridge. He was in luck. There was chocolate milk.
He didn’t want to sit in the kitchen by himself, but he couldn’t go in the family room and turn on the TV because his dad was working there. He’d see if it was warm enough to sit on the porch. Back in his jacket, he settled into a corner of their porch swing. He kept his mind off the chill watching the different kinds of dogs that people walked by their house. He saw how often the dogs looked up at their humans with true love on their face and yearned for the day that could happen for him. He tried to figure out what breeds the dogs were, but guessed most of them were mutts of some kind. He didn’t see any collies. He read once that they were expensive. Maybe his parents would relent if he asked for a shelter dog. Course that didn’t help with the issue of him not being old enough. That got him thinking about the essay he wanted to write for class.
Just as he finished his last bite of cookie, his dad popped his head out the front door. “Heh, there you are. I was getting worried. I just realized how late it was. Why didn’t you let me know you were home?”
“I did. I said, ‘Hi.’”
“You did? I didn’t hear you. Wow, I must go deaf when I’m working on something I really like. Sorry about that.” His dad shook his head, “From now on if I don’t respond when you come in, tap me on the shoulder.”
“What were you working on so hard, Dad?”
“I’m doing a lot of research, trying to narrow down a niche that interests me but isn’t overcrowded. Boy, it’s a real rabbit hole out there in cyberspace!”
“I mean when I get on the internet, I feel like Alice in Wonderland. Remember how she chases the white rabbit down that hole. She discovers a whole crazy world in which everything familiar is somehow twisted.”
“Yeah, like the playing cards can actually walk around like people.”
“You got it. Hey, you better get inside. It’s almost freezing out here.” His dad pushed the door wide open and gestured to the front hall. “C’mon, I’ll make you some cocoa.”
In the kitchen, Lucas was still wondering about Alice and the internet. “What about the internet is twisted?”
“Remember how Alice finds herself in one weird situation after another because every time she tries to find her way out of the world she had fallen into, a new door just leads to another stranger place.”
“Yeah, my favorite is the Birthday Party. That’s a great idea.”
Dad laughed. “On the internet, each article I read links to other articles, which have links to other articles, and it just goes on and on. If I follow those links for too long, I find myself reading about something completely different than what I started out to research. I could follow it forever and get nowhere.”
Although Lucas only sort of got what his dad was saying, it felt really good that his dad was talking to him almost as though he were an adult. So, he asked, “Did you find something you want to write about?”
“I think I may have hit on just the thing. I’m going to run it by you and your Mom at dinner.”
Was he going to write about fairy tales, Lucas wondered? That seemed weird.
“Speaking of dinner, I better get hopping.” His dad hurried down the hall into the kitchen. and grabbed one of his Mom’s aprons off a hook. Lucas followed him. It was his job to set the table at night. While he was getting out the forks and knives, he watched his dad out of the corner of his eye. The apron had pictures of pink and yellow flowers all over it. It still made him feel a little funny seeing it on his dad. It wasn’t like he’s never seen a man in an apron. His grandpa always wore one when he barbequed. In fact, he had several of them. One that read “Man at Work” and another said “Don’t Burn Down the Kitchen.” He resolved that he’d buy his dad a more manlike apron for a birthday gift.
Just then the front door slammed. Mom was home. Oh, he’d forgot the pictures. He ran to his bookbag by the backdoor and pulled out a large manilla envelop. “Look, Mom, we got our class photos back.”
Dad wiped his hands on the front of the apron and followed him into the living room, “Hey, Luc, why didn’t you show me?”
Lucas stared at the floor, “We kind of got busy about other things.”
Hid dad grinned and messed Lucas’s hair. Mom dropped onto the sofa, “What a nonstop day, I’ve had. I only had five minutes to grab lunch. Let’s see those photos.”
At dinner, Dad brought a bottle of pink wine to the table and poured a glass for Mom. “I heard you telling Lucas, it was a rough day.”
“Was it ever! There’s a really bad flu going about. Parents are frantic with children running high fevers, constant nausea, and persistent diarrhea.” She took a big sip of her wine and noticed both her husband and son had stopped eating. “Sorry, not good dinner table talk. So, guys, how was your day?”
“I’m getting closer to knowing what I want to write about, Bea. Let’s pass the food, and I’ll tell you about it.”
They were all so hungry no one spoke for a few minutes, but finally Mom said, “Don’t keep us in suspense any longer, Ted. What are your new ideas?”
“Frankly, I’m super excited about one idea in particular. When I brokered flowers, I spent a lot of time in small towns and learned that for small town folks and farmers, nothing is bigger than high school sports.”
“Really, Dad, more than the Seahawks or the Blazers?”
His father nodded. “Honestly, folks out there aren’t that into the big city teams.”
Not being interested in the Blazers sounded weird to Lucas. “Why not?”
“Because they’ve known the high school team since they were little kids.”
“Like if I become a big league player someday, Grandpa will tell everyone he knew me when I was a baby.”
“Exactly. And more than that. Some of the guys following those small town teams played on the same team as kids themselves.”
“Charles Berkley and Jason Smith grew up in small towns,” Lucas added. “I read that’s true for lots of athletes.”
“You’ve got it, Buddy. Each one of their stories is amazing and most of them have never been told.”
“And you want to write about those guys?”
“Right. I understand life in rural communities, and I love sports. I think it makes the perfect fit for my writing.”
lucas’ great idea
Lucas burst out, “Dad, you’ve given me a great idea.”
Dad turned to Lucas, his jaw dropped in surprise, “I have?”
“Yep. I meant to talk to you about it earlier. I have a problem sort of like yours. I thought we were going to get a free topic for next week’s English report and started writing about a dog.”
Mom sat back in her chair, twisted her head and gave him a sidewise glance, but said nothing.
Dad just said “Yeah?”
“Turns out it has to be a geography topic. We have to write about a country.”
“You could write about French Poodles.” Mom giggled hysterically. She really was tired tonight.
Lucas glared at her. “I know I don’t want to do France. Lots of the girls are already fighting over France because they all think Paris is so fabulous. Just listen to me.”
She nodded, but smirked.
“I can still write about dogs and sort like you’re saying, Mom, talk about the country they come from and why they were bred there in the first place. See how it’s like Dad’s subject?”
She reached a hand across the table and squeezed his fingers where they were balled up in front of him. “I do and I think it’s very clever of you. Dad and I will help any way we can.”
“Oh, I have to do it myself. Maybe you can check it for spelling and stuff, okay?”
“You bet,” Dad said.
Lucas suddenly understood why his dad wanted to be a writer. His head was full of ideas. “Can I go look it up on the internet right now?”
“Sure,” Dad grabbed some plates and carried them to the sink. “I’ll help Mom with the dishes tonight so you can get a head start. He took Mom’s apron off its hook and slipped it over his head. Lucas didn’t even care.
Right now, he had to find his country. Where did collies come from?
As he raced for the family room, his dad called, “Better find a couple of countries in case one of them is already taken. Be sure to let me know if you have any ideas for another topic I could work on.”
Wow! he and his dad were writers together.
It took four evenings of internet research before Lucas had what he needed to set about writing his report. After dinner on Friday, he usually watched TV, but that week he took all his notes to his room and wrote until bedtime.
All that he had learned about collies made him want one more than ever. What he read convinced him that his parents were right about one thing – a dog was a big responsibility. He was convinced, however, that he could handle it.
On Saturday, he took the report to his Dad’s den and handed it to him.
“Sit down. I’ll read it now.” Dad said and read through it quickly. He only marked a couple of places that needed to be corrected. When he finished, he laid the report on his desk. “Wow, Lucas, you’ve not only learned a lot about collies, you’ve also laid out a pretty good argument that you’re ready to take care of a dog.”
“Does that mean I can get one?”
“Whoa there, Buddy. Give it time. Mom may need some convincing.” Then he handed the report back to Lucas to correct and started typing again.
The following Wednesday, Miss Winterbrook handed the paper back to him. At the top she had written, “A+ Very impressive.” His heart swelled at the praise. But his teacher couldn’t give him a dog. When he got home, he could tell Dad was in a great mood. He couldn’t stop smiling and huming happy little tunes to himself. Lucas was pretty sure it wasn’t his good grade that cause his Dad’s good humor. Sure enough, as soon as they were all seated at dinner, his dad raised his water glass and announced, “I sold my first article!”
“Oh, Ted,” exclaimed his mom and then she burst into tears but her face was happy not sad.
“Dad, that’s great. What story?”
“The one about the Little League player in Baker City.”
“Cool. I’d like to meet him sometime.”
“Maybe when the article is printed, we’ll drive out there.”
life looks up
On Saturday, his mom announced at breakfast that she needed to get out of the city for a day. She packed a picnic. The whole family piled into their Ford Fusion and headed south. Lucas had hoped they’d be going to Baker City to meet that kid, but that was in a different direction. So where were they going?
After an hour, Mom turned off the road on a small highway until she came to a dirt driveway. She peered at the address. Lucas looked up from the video he had been watching on his I-pad. This didn’t look like a park. It wasn’t. At the end of the drive stood a huge red barn. Over the door in black lettering on a rustic white sign, it read, “Pacific Northwest Collie Rescue.”
Could it be true? Were they getting a dog?
Both his parents turned around in the front seat with big grins on their faces.
“Dad told me about your impressive report,” Mom said. “It convinced him and your behavior since I’ve gone back to work convinced me that you are ready to take of that dog you’ve always wanted.”
“So,” Dad added, “We’re using my first free-lance earnings to adopt a dog.”
Lucas couldn’t say anything. He nodded very hard.
“Let’s go in, okay,” Dad said.
It only took Lucas one walk through the shelter before he saw the dog he wanted. She was somewhat small for a Collie, probably mixed with another breed but she looked like all the photos he has seen and her tail wagged a thousand times a minute. The name on her crate read, “Lady,” and Lucas thought it fit her perfectly.
The whole way home, Lucas cuddled in the back with Lady who watched out the window, fascinated with the passing scene. When they got to the house, she ran all over the first floor and bounded up the stair to explore the second floor. At the door of Lucas’s room, she seemed to sense that this would be her place. She jumped up on the Spidey quilt and fell immediately asleep.
Lady needed a lot of care, but Lucas didn’t mind. He especially loved brushing her beautiful coat twice a week to keep it clean and shiny. But he was glad she only needed a both every six weeks because after her bath, she shook all over and got everything soaked. It surprised him that she’d need her nails cut every week and her teeth brushed regularly but he did it every Saturday afternoon.
Just like him, Lady loved playing outdoors. She could play fetch forever and loved to roll around in the leaves. It took awhile to teach her to walk with a leash, but once she got it, the two of them walked all over the neighbor. Lucas loved how so many people stopped him to tell him what a pretty dog he had. She did have one problem. She hated being left alone when the family went out. They had to crate her and sometimes the neighbors complained about her barking. He was working on that. He also started saving his allowance so he could sign her up for dog training classes. He wanted her to be the smartest dog in town.
The best day of all came when his Dad’s article got published. He, his dad, and Lady all piled into the car and drove out to Baker City to meet the star of dad’s story. His name was Hank just like the famous baseball player, but he played basketball. Hank loved Lady and the three of them played together for an hour in the Baker City Park. On the way home, Lucas dreamed of the day Hank might become famous and invite him and Lady to the stadium as special guests.