I awoke the next morning, the sun streaming through my bedroom window, and a gentle breeze puffing the white poplin curtains in and out. I looked quietly about the room puzzled, because I had fallen asleep in Mimi’s bed the night before, to the sounds of Mr. Brown’s deep rumbling voice, telling his version of the previous afternoon’s events, and awakened in my room with the billowing curtains.
The low voices of the adults hummed almost into a frenzy, and the morning was filled with the talk about the events of the day before. They still wondered how Freddy had fallen asleep on the bumper of the Brown’s family car. Then, upon seeing me in the kitchen, the topic suddenly changed from Freddy, to me, and my talking or rather, lack of it.
Whereas mornings were filled with the voices of the grownups, and the fragrance of coffee, this morning was filled with talk of my talk, or, rather the absence of my talking. There were plenty of questions, to which I had no answers, so, I either shook or nodded my head, or, shrugged my shoulders and said “Uh?” Occasionally I would make a few vowel sounds, but no matter what sounds I made, they were not pleasing the grownups. When I finished my cereal, Mimi hurriedly helped me dress so we could go to Bess’s house for morning tea. I thought that was a splendid idea, and soon I was wearing a light little pink summer dress with butterflies, and sandals. Going to Bess’s house was a very special occasion indeed.
Bess and Henry were a very retired couple who had been a fixture in the neighborhood for decades. They lived three houses down from us, and had been there since before Freddy moved in across the street. They were there long before my grandfather, Bernard Holle, built our home with my grandmother, Mimi. They had been on board to serve tea, coffee, cakes and cookies for our community’s many parties and countless post-war reuions, and I am sure they had been there to help my grandmother in the first agonizing years after her husband’s sudden death from spinal meningitis. They had lived on Curtis Avenue since before World War I when Henry had to leave his wife and young family behind to fight with the army in World War I.
While in the service, Henry had become a World War I hero. I knew that because often he would answer the door in full military dress and his coat would be full of gold leaves, colorful bars, and shiny medals. Later I learned that he had fought in Europe, and had almost died trying to save his platoon. Henry was a very friendly, jovial, kind man who, when I came to visit would pull out a big box of great toys for me to play with during the visit. While Mimi thought I should sit very still and visit with the adults, Henry thought better of it. Soon we were down on the floor linking wooden trains and tracks up together. I liked his idea much better.
His wife of many years, Bess, was a cheerful lady with light blue sparkling eyes and very white hair who made wonderful little cakes and cookies, and who always served them to me. She would offer not just one cookie to me, but a platter, full of all different kinds of cookies where I could choose two out of the selection. There were cookies with strawberry jam, chocolate cookies, pink cookies, white cookies, brown and white cookies. It would take me forever to make a choice, with Bess sitting beside me on the couch, patiently holding the platter while I carefully looked at all the wondrous morsels.
Usually Bess and Mimi would chat while Henry and I played on the floor, but today was different. Instead of Bess and Mimi’s gentle voices talking between themselves, they sat on either side of me, on the couch. At first Mimi asked me to say thank you to Bess for the cookies. I looked at Bess engratiatingly I’m sure, opened up my mouth and uttered my usual monosyllabic utterance of some sort. Bess smiled appreciatively, and then looked at me expectantly.
“Say thank you to Bess for the cookies Dear.” Mimi asked again. Again I tried, but the same sound of thanks came out of my mouth. Again, Bess awaited for my answer. I looked up at her, and then, puzzled, I turned the other way and looked up at Mimi.
“Do you like the cookies?” Bess asked.
“Uh huh” I answered back, hoping that would do the trick.
“Cynthia, say yes. Can you say yes?” Mimi asked with a mixture of consternation and hope in her eyes – a certain expectancy. So I muttered something close to a yes, pointed to the toys, muttered something, and tried to slide off the couch to get the toys.
Mimi would have none of it. She became emphatic, pulling me back into the couch. “Cynthia, say yes. Can you say yes?” she asked with a mixture of consternation and hope in her eyes. So I gave it all I had and muttered something close to a yes, pointed to the toys, muttered something more, and again tried to slide off the couch to get the toys.
“First you say yes, and then you can play with the toys.”
I looked up at Mimi, took in the entire room, considered my plan and began again, with Mimi’s grasp almost keeping up with me.
Just as the power struggle was about to hit full swing, Henry proclaimed: “The child will talk when she is ready to talk, and not a moment before.” He smiled at me, a twinkle in his blue eyes, took my hand, pulled me off of the couch and opened up the toy box.