Getting to know someone is like learning to drive a car. Either you get the hang of it straight away or you jerk forward in fits and starts. First the gas pedal; too much gas and you lurch forward. Then you stomp too hard on the brake pedal and are thrown back and forth in the seat. You then stab at the gas pedal and jerk forward once again, all the while desperately trying to keep the car moving in a straight line. Finally, you learn how to apply the right pressure on the pedals and you’re off for a smooth ride until the next new challenge sets you back again.
So it was with Wilbur, Charlie and Lynn getting comfortable with each other. It seemed like a long time ago, to Charlie since he and Wilbur had gone through the same learning process. Now they rode steadily along together in a familial cruise control. Today, Wilbur and Charlie were taking those same learning steps with someone new and although this new person seemed nice enough. Charlie was not an entirely comfortable passenger on this new journey. The same was true for Wilbur; if Charlie was uneasy, Wilbur was too. Throw a pebble into a calm pond and watch the ripples disturb the water.
Something had happened, however, down by the river at Wilbur and Charlie’s special place. A small, unspoken connection had been made and the first fence had been climbed. There was an easing of tensions, muscles were relaxed, Lynn seemed to be walking more loosely. Even Wilbur must have felt it as he walked comfortably between Charlie and this new person.
Charlie told Lynn how Wilbur had got his name.
“After Jake had been killed, it was like there was a hole in our lives. Ellie and I had felt that before when William, our son, had died. That had been more like a crater than just a hole.” Charlie paused for a moment or two and Lynn knew better than to ask another question. Charlie blew out some air and continued. “It just so happened that when Jake died Frank’s bitch Rosie had just had a litter. Talk about timing, eh? Frank, who owns the next farm that butts up to mine, gave us one of the pups. It was just the right medicine for Ellie. She was like a mother hen, just a-cuddling and a-coddling this baby dog. Damn near spoiled him, if you ask me.
“Of an evening, we’d sit on the front porch and Ellie would take that dog in her lap, cuddling it and talking to it in baby talk. It was a bit strange, but I was happy that Ellie was happy. She hadn’t been quite the same since William had gone.” Charlie paused again. He stopped walking as well, turned and looked back at the river for a moment or two.
Lynn felt bad now and said, “You don’t have to if…”
Charlie cut her off. “No, it’s okay. I haven’t told this story in a while; it makes me smile to think of Ellie when Wilbur was a young un. Well, she’d be cuddling the pup, talking to it like a baby and I’ll be damned if the little fella didn’t talk back to her. And he almost sounded human. Ellie said, ‘He’s just like that talking horse.’ ‘What are you talking about woman?’ I asked her. ‘You know that one on TV. The one that says, Wilbur,’ says Ellie. Well, right then, just as Ellie says, ‘Wilbur,’ kind of imitating that talking horse on TV, the little puppy barks and wags his tail. Ellie and I look at each other, we laugh, and we know that we have a name for the dog.”
“Oh,” said Lynn, feeling a little foolish. She’d never heard of a TV show about a talking horse. “Wilbur, was that the name of the TV show?” She asked.
“No, it were Mr. Ed. Before your time, I think,” said Charlie graciously.
Wilbur, tired of reacting every time he heard his name, only to be ignored, had gone off ahead out of earshot.
To Lynn’s surprise, Charlie took up the conversational reins again. “Now, young lady, I ain’t much good with kinfolk; who’s related to who and who’s a cousin and what a niece is. I know what grandparents are, and I can stretch to aunts and uncles but anything past that and I’m lost, especially since I don’t have any brothers or sisters. Earlier, you said you were my Ellie’s niece. Right?”
Lynn was about to reply but Charlie continued.
“I’ve been struggling with it, but a niece is the daughter of a brother or sister, right? I’ve been thinking and I reckon I do know enough to know that you are too young to be my Ellie’s niece. So, who are you?”
“You’re right, Charlie. Can I call you Charlie, or would you prefer Uncle Charlie or just Mister Stone?”
“Okay, Charlie. I’m actually Aunt Elizabeth’s, Ellie’s, grandniece.”
“That would make you whose child, exactly?” Asked Charlie.
“I’m the daughter of Ellie’s sister’s daughter,” explained Lynn.
“Phew, that’s one too many daughters for me to figure out. I’ll have to think about this,” said Charlie, half to himself. They were now back at the house. Charlie looked up at the sun and said, “It’s darn near dinner time. You hungry?” He asked Lynn.
Now Lynn was confused. It was way too early for dinner. Dinner was a night-time meal. Charlie had to explain to her that dinner was around noon and supper was at night.
What do they call breakfast? thought Lynn.
Then Charlie said, “I wasn’t expecting company, but I’ll see what I can rustle up.”
“I have an idea,” said Lynn. “Why don’t I buy you lunch, er dinner, in town? I saw they had a restaurant as I drove through.”
Charlie laughed, “It’s more of a diner really. But lunch would be grand, thank you. Give me half an hour while I shower and put on some clean clothes. Meanwhile, make yourself at home and if you need anything, please help yourself.”
They went inside and Charlie disappeared for a couple of minutes and then returned carrying a big book. “This is Ellie’s old photograph album with pictures of her kinfolk and such. Thought you might like to look through it while I get ready.”
Until next week.