Thursday, August 2, 2012

Addie Meets Captain Underpants

One summer day I was invited to lunch at the house of some friends. While Mom was preparing the lunch, daughter Haley and I read Junie B. Jones and Her Big Fat Mouth. We were perhaps a third of the way through the book when lunch arrived, and I thought I might be done with Junie B. Jones forever.

Soon thereafter, a woman I had met, an eBay bookseller, suffered a house fire, leaving her, five children, a dog, and a cat homeless.

I paid them a visit to see what I could do, at which time I met Addie, among others. Addie was the youngest, six years old, I think, and the most obviously affected by the trauma. She wasn't frantic, but no matter what else was happening she always looked a little worried.

At some point her mom assigned me the job of distracting Addie, getting her mind off the fire and the house. I saw that some salvaged books included Addie's copies of the Junie B. Jones series, and told Addie how I'd had to abandon the Big Fat Mouth book right in the middle. She sympathized and I weaseled my way into listening to her read some of the book to me. She also said that she had read *all* the Junie B. Jones books and was now hoping to read the Captain Underpants series, but she had none of the books yet.

This was a lot of fun because Addie was a good reader *and* was missing her upper front teeth, which made for some strange pronunciations. She read for a few minutes and I could see she was getting restless - this book was old news to her - and suggested that we take a break. She wandered a few feet away and I heard her ask her two older sisters "Why am I so ugly?"

The children, two boys and three girls, were the closest group of siblings I have ever met, and the sisters explained gently that she was *not* ugly, she was just in a transition period and losing her baby teeth, and that they had *all* gone through that.

Neighbors each had offered to take one or two family members in temporarily, and the whole family had shelter. Mom decided that she and Addie would drive to Chicago (from New Jersey), where some booksellers were gathering, to get Addie away from the scene of the fire. I followed them during the drive.

Whenever we stopped anywhere, mainly for meals, I did my best to entertain Addie, less for the purpose of distracting her than because one of my responsibilities in life is to entertain children. That gene is from my father.

At a lunch stop, when lunch had pretty much been disposed of, Mom and Addie headed for the rest rooms, and Mom asked me to order some chocolate ice cream for Addie. Alas, there was only vanilla, and so I ordered that. When Mom and Addie returned, I explained to Addie that they didn't have chocolate, only vanilla. Can you believe that? I asked about strawberry, blueberry, coffee, ketchup, rainwater, and vinegar, but all they had was vanilla! Addie had only the tiniest of smiles as she listened, but her eyes were twinkling at full speed.

We made it to Chicago and split up, Mom and Addie continuing to the home of some friends who would put them up during their stay. The next night, the friends, Mom and Addie, some other Chicago booksellers, and I all got together for dinner a few blocks from the house. Before going there, I bought a copy of The Adventures of Captain Underpants for Addie, and at the dinner I gave it to her and received in return a copy of Junie B. Junes and Her Big Fat Mouth. We were both very pleased.

After dinner, some walked back to the house and some went in their cars. Addie was to walk with me, holding my hand all the way, but she *really* couldn't wait to get into her book, so I let her have both hands for that and I kept one hand on her shoulder. She decided to share her new book with me, reading aloud.

The uniform for Captain Underpants was just underpants over his clothing. At one point, some kids are talking about him and one says "I wonder where he gets all the underpants," and Captain Underpants thinks to himself, "What underpants?"

When she read that aloud, Addie looked at me, eyes twinkling again, to see if I understood and enjoyed it as much as I was *supposed* to.

That was the last time I saw Addie, but I have my Junie B. Jones book still, and she has my heart nailed to her bedroom wall. She must be in her late teens now, and I imagine there are many more hearts on that wall.

A few days later, Mom posted in the chat room that Addie had said I was the silliest man she had ever met. I replied that she should tell Addie that "I'm not the least bit silly. Oh, and ask her if she thinks I should change my eBay ID to Donnie_Underpants."


Somebody's Nana said...

Aww... Addie is in college now. I'm sure you're still the silliest man she ever met. And one of the nicest!

BrokenDownProgrammer said...

Hi, Mingstress.

You're very kind, thank you.

I emailed Nan a link to the post, thinking she and Addie might want to see it. Hard to believe it was a dozen years ago, perhaps even thirteen.

If you're in touch with Nan you might send her the link too, as I think she's changed ISP's. I only have her old comcast addy, and whatever eBay has, that's not it.

Hope all's well with you and the family.

Anonymous said...

Nope, the Comcast address is still it, Ken! Many thanks for sharing a memory of such a difficult but moving time, in more ways than one. Addie is eighteen now and a junior at The College of New Jersey, majoring in English Lit. She and Oliver are living in an apartment above a bagel shop, and she just got a job at Trader Joe's. I think she probably still appreciates Captain Underpants -- at least, we buy them for her nephew from time to time. :) I reposted your wonderful piece on my Facebook wall. Nan

Just Another Wannabe said...

You would have been a great father.

BrokenDownProgrammer said...

Thanks, but I'm not certain that's true. It's *easy* to entertain other people's children and then go home, leaving the children and responsibility for them behind.

Perhaps in my forties I would have been, but before that I was *much* too impatient.

Now, of course, I am the patron saint of patience. Ah ha ha ha ha ha.

Dramlin said...

The patron saint of patience? I bet you even said that with a straight face...